Recycling at Special Events.Where Crowds Gather, Recyclables are Sure to Follow

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

 Special events pose a challenge to recyclers because the waste stream often contains large amounts of single-use products and food discards, and multiple vendors often serve participants. While the type of materials generated varies by event size, venue, and theme, quantities can be substantial. For example, the 30,000 patrons at the Davis, California 1999 Whole Earth Festival produced more than 7.5 tons of discards. The 50,000 attendees at the 1998 Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine produced an average of 0.56 pounds of discards per person for a total of nearly 14 tons. The estimated 110,000 ticket holders and tailgaters that converge on Penn State University’s Beaver Stadium produce approximately 22 tons of recyclables and trash at each football game.

Recycling at special events is growing. The Common Ground Country Fair recovered 89 percent of its discards in 1998. Recyclers at Penn State football games recovered 36 tons of material and achieved a recovery rate over 26 percent during the six games held at Beaver Stadium in 1999. Results at other events are equally impressive: The 5,000 riders at the 1998 Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour recovered 95 percent of their discards through recycling and composting. Recyclers at the Rib Run marathon in Kansas City, Missouri diverted so much that disposal averaged less than one ounce of trash per participant from 2,300 runners, 300 Junior Marathoners, 500 volunteers and many spectators.

COORDINATING RECOVERY METHODS

Special events organizers often establish and coordinate recycling and composting programs themselves. Another, and perhaps easier, way is to choose a venue that already has a recycling program. The staff will be trained in proper techniques and the event organizer will not need to purchase equipment. However, cost savings and revenues from recycling may be retained by the venue and an existing program may not accept materials event organizers would like to recycle.

 Recycling at special events is growing. The Common Ground Country Fair recovered 89 percent of its discards in 1998. Recyclers at Penn State football games recovered 36 tons of material and achieved a recovery rate over 26 percent during the six games held at Beaver Stadium in 1999. Results at other events are equally impressive: The 5,000 riders at the 1998 Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour recovered 95 percent of their discards through recycling and composting. Recyclers at the Rib Run marathon in Kansas City, Missouri diverted so much that disposal averaged less than one ounce of trash per participant from 2,300 runners, 300 Junior Marathoners, 500 volunteers and many spectators.

COORDINATING RECOVERY METHODS

Special events organizers often establish and coordinate recycling and composting programs themselves. Another, and perhaps easier, way is to choose a venue that already has a recycling program. The staff will be trained in proper techniques and the event organizer will not need to purchase equipment. However, cost savings and revenues from recycling may be retained by the venue and an existing program may not accept materials event organizers would like to recycle.

Other options are to hire a waste hauler that can provide recycling services at the event or to hire a company specifically to implement the recycling effort. In Australia, for example, Visy Special Events provides full-service recycling services to stadiums, exhibition centers, and cultural events. The company’s services include waste characterization; serving as a liaison with vendors; collection, sorting, marketing, and transportation of recyclables; and assistance with education and public relations. (See “Organics Recycling for the Olympics” in this issue’s report on Australia and New Zealand.) Event planners with insufficient members or expertise to implement their own program can partner with a volunteer organization. In addition, community solid waste agencies may have corps of volunteers that may be able to help.

WHAT WILL BE COLLECTED AND HOW?

The design of a recycling system for a particular event or venue must be based on an understanding of waste stream composition and available markets for materials to be recovered. Research by the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education found the waste stream from two large 1997 festivals consisted of nearly 70 percent food, paper, and plastics, by weight, with the remainder comprised of waxed cups, cardboard, wood, glass, aluminum, and other miscellaneous materials. More than half of the plastics were #6 (polystyrene). This waste composition may be typical of events with many food vendors.

Event organizers can influence waste stream composition by working with vendors and controlling what attendees may bring into the festival. Product substitutions to consider include serving all beverages in cans or bottles (preferably not glass); and choosing cups, bowls, and utensils made of recyclable or biodegradable materials.

Once organizers have an idea what their event’s waste stream consists of, they must decide what portions to collect for recovery. Focus first on the most prevalent materials, however, all decisions must be made with an eye toward local markets.

Food recovery is crucial to maximizing recycling at special events. Options for food recovery include donation, use as animal feed, rendering and composting. Vendors often generate substantial amounts of preconsumer scraps, unsalable food and cooking oils. It may be easiest to ask vendors to set these materials aside and collect them outside event hours. Alternatively, vendors could bring the materials to one or more centrally located collection points that should be as close to the vendors as possible yet away from high traffic areas where odors and vectors could be a nuisance. To reduce these problems, collection containers need to be covered and emptied and cleaned regularly. Some food scrap recyclers will deliver clean containers when they collect filled containers. Vendors also produce most of the cardboard discarded at special events. Generally, cardboard collection points can be located “behind the scenes,” near dumpsters.

Public recycling areas should be near vendors, bathrooms, and at event entrances and exits. Ideally, trash receptacles should not be placed alone. If space constraints or equipment shortages prohibit locating a recycling station at every existing trash receptacle, consider covering or removing those receptacles. Possible sorting categories include: deposit containers, other recyclable containers; food and food contaminated paper; clean recyclable paper; and trash. In general, the less sorting the patrons must do, the better. Use signs to clearly indicate which materials belong in which containers. Consider using containers with lids designed to accept specific recyclables.

Staffing recycling stations can help reduce contamination and ensure recyclables are not put in the trash. Materials collected at unstaffed stations often need secondary sorting. If continuous staffing is not possible, frequently check bins and remove contamination. Once a bin becomes contaminated, it can quickly end up filled with trash, as many people ignore signs and look into bins to see what should go into them.

Top managers of the event need to be fully supportive of recycling initiatives. Equally important is gaining vendor cooperation. Vendor operations can be strongly influenced by recycling program requirements, such as substituting recyclable goods for more traditional nonrecyclable ones. Event organizers may want to involve vendors in the recycling program planning to ensure the implemented program is convenient and acceptable. Organizers can assist vendors by providing staff training, educational brochures, and contacts for sources of recyclable and recycled-content products. Finally, venue managers can require vendors using their sites to recycle through contracts and rental agreements.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

It is impossible to overtrain recycling crews or provide too much education to event participants. Organizers need to ensure that vendors, recycling crews and attendees have enough information to properly recycle. Provide vendors with recycling program details well in advance, as well as in their contracts, during event registration and as they arrive or are setting up their booths. Continue interaction throughout the event.

Temporary or volunteer recycling crews also need training well in advance of the event. In addition to information on how to recycle, they need to know why the program is being offered. Recycling staff will have contact with the public and should expect to be asked about the need for and purpose of the program.

On-site training immediately prior to the event allows recycling crews to become familiar with the stations and venue layout. This is also the appropriate time to offer detailed information on sorting materials.

Finally, recycling at special events cannot succeed without the participation of attendees. Use every opportunity to publicize recycling efforts. Display the recycling logo (and more information if space allows) in advertising prior to the event, including newspaper and television ads and outdoor signs. For events where participants preregister, such as road races and animal shows, include recycling information in registration packets. During the event, make recycling as easy as trash disposal.

COSTS, ECONOMICS, AND BENEFITS

Integrating recycling into waste management systems often does not increase total waste management costs and can sometimes reap savings for event organizers. Costs include equipment, labor, transportation, tip fees, advertising and administration. Revenues from the sale of recyclables and avoided disposal costs often can offset program costs.

Additional equipment for recycling includes containers, roll-offs for storage and signage. Venues that own their trash collection equipment may be able to save money by converting existing equipment for use in the recycling program. For example, as trash disposal decreases, extra dumpsters could be used for storage of recyclables.

Like equipment, labor often can be shifted from trash to recycling programs. Even so, total waste management labor needs likely will be higher when handling event discards in multiple streams. Event organizers can keep these costs in check by using volunteers. Penn State reduced labor needs for post-game stadium and grounds cleanup by 15 percent after it began recycling. Local Scouts staff recycling stations before and during the games. Afterward, a corps of recycling volunteers remove discarded recyclables left by game attendees and tailgaters. During the 1997-1999 football seasons, Penn State’s stadium recycling effort saved over $5,000 in trash tip fees and earned over $27,800 in revenues from materials sales.
Transportation costs may increase or decrease depending on recycling program characteristics and the existing waste management system. For example, if markets for recyclables are nearer than the waste disposal site used, total transportation costs may decrease and vice versa. Implementing on-site systems for handling some materials, e.g. compostable organics, can eliminate transportation costs.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT MANDATES

Communities can play a proactive role in special event recycling by establishing programs and policies to assist event planners reduce waste. San Francisco has an ordinance that requires planners of street fairs, athletic events, or any other event requiring temporary use or occupancy of a public street at which beverages will be dispensed or a large amount of other materials generated, to submit a recycling plan with their permit application.

 New York City has a mandatory recycling ordinance that applies to all special events. The Department of Sanitation (DOS) has issued rules for different types of events. For example, the DOS requires sponsors of the more than 5,000 street fairs held in the city each year to meet with department staff prior to the event to review recycling procedures. All street fair recycling programs must collect corrugated cardboard at a minimum. At events in which vendors sell food and/or beverages, the program must also collect metal cans, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles, and aluminum foil.

Another option is to ban use of materials for which recycling markets are weak or do not exist. This can increase the proportion of waste available for recovery at special events. Sonoma County, California bans the use of polystyrene containers at all county-owned facilities. As a result of the ban, vendors and event organizers often choose recyclable paper and #1 and #2 plastic products in lieu of polystyrene.

Numerous German communities ban some single-use products, while others tax them heavily. One company, Cup Concept, developed a returnable system using polycarbonate and polypropylene mugs, cups, champagne glasses, deep and flat plates, dishes and cutlery suitable for use at outdoor events. Cup Concept supplies the reusable items, delivers them, collects them after the event, and washes them at centralized points. The company plans to extend its service area all over Germany and in neighboring countries.

Communities that provide residential and/or business recycling services may consider offering recycling services directly at special events, especially in areas not served by private companies. Those not providing services directly may be able to work with another organization. Corporations Support Recycling (CSR) — a nonprofit, private sector organization — works in partnership with Ontario municipalities to develop sustainable recycling and waste diversion systems. CSR operates the “Can Van” to support special events recycling. The van goes to special events in the Metropolitan Toronto area. Students staffing the van set up a display and provide receptacles for used beverage containers.

DEL MAR FAIRGROUNDS ANALYSIS

Del Mar Fairgrounds is a 375-acre facility located in Del Mar, California, which is owned and operated by the 22nd District Agricultural Association. The facility hosts the annual Del Mar Fair (a 20-day fair with average annual attendance of over 1.1 million people), the Del Mar Thoroughbred Racing Meet (an annual 43-day racing meet), and a Satellite Wagering facility (open annually mid-September to mid-July). In addition, the fairground rents facilities to an average of seven or eight events per week. The facility also rents stable facilities for boarding horses. In total, the fairgrounds hosts over three million in attendance annually.

Del Mar Fairgrounds started its recycling program in 1985 by targeting office paper. Since that time, the program has expanded to include recovery of over 17 different materials including food discards, beverage containers, mixed paper and cardboard. The fairgrounds achieved a 90 percent diversion rate for its solid waste in 1998 and has set an ultimate goal of “zero waste, or darn close.” (See “The Last 10 Percent Is The Toughest,” January, 2000.)

Recycling staff numbers vary according to needs. There is one year-round recycling worker and additional temporary staff members. During the annual fair, the recycling crew grows to eight or more people. Del Mar Thoroughbred Club provides additional recycling staff during the Thoroughbred Racing Meet.

Vendors and exhibitors are required, by contract, to flatten cardboard and take it to one of several collection points adjacent to buildings, and to collect preconsumer food scraps, unsold leftovers, and cooking oil. Fairgrounds staff provide two-wheeled carts for collection of food scraps and a local rendering company supplies covered barrels for collection of the oil. Recycling crews collect the scrap containers every other day and haul them to a private composter. During the 20-day Del-Mar fair in 1999, vendors recovered 42 tons of preconsumer food residuals. The rendering company collects the oil barrels from the grounds, as needed. Failure to comply with the fairgrounds’ recycling requirements can result in a $100 fine/incident.

Preconsumer fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps generated at the Satellite Wagering Facility and the grandstand kitchen facility are vermicomposted in wood framed boxes that sit directly on the ground on the racetrack’s infield farm. The scraps sit for a few days in a container to partially decompose prior to being loaded into the worm box. A water dripline for use during the dry periods runs through the boxes, which are covered with cardboard and a shade cloth. The worm castings are used by the fairgrounds.

The two largest components of the Del Mar Fairground’s waste stream are yard trimmings and animal bedding and manure. Landscaping crews collect grass clippings, leaves, brush, and branches and deliver them to a local composter. The fairgrounds has three outlets for animal bedding and manure, one of which is a private company that collects and composts shavings from horse shows and the boarding facilities. Fairgrounds crews collect straw and deliver it to a local mushroom grower. Staff delivers the remaining bedding and manure to a private composter.

Del Mar Fairgrounds also recovers construction and demolition (C&D) debris from its facilities. Asphalt and concrete from parking lots, building foundations, and rest-room facility projects are sent to a local C&D recycler. Wood from C&D projects also was recycled in 1998. The fairgrounds reuses as much wood as possible, but sent more than three tons from temporary structures, signs, and a barn deconstruction project to a company that chips and composts the wood scraps.

To increase the recyclable proportion of its waste, Del Mar Fairgrounds prohibits use of polystyrene containers on its grounds. The Fairgrounds Concessions Office maintains a list of companies that offer alternative products to vendors who typically use polystyrene containers. The fairgrounds also has a program for purchasing products with recycled content.

In 1998 the fairgrounds paid less than $15,000 in tip fees for the 7,222 tons of material it recycled and composted, and earned over $9,500 in revenues. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club earned nearly $13,000 in revenues from its recyclables. Del Mar Fairgrounds and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club paid $36 and $38/ton, respectively to tip their trash. Much lower tip fees were paid for compostables — $16/ton for yard trimmings and less than $1/ton for straw and shavings. In 1998, recycling by the two organizations accounted for more than $600,000 in avoided landfill tip fees.

BAY TO BREAKERS FOOTRACE

The Bay to Breakers Race in San Francisco is billed as the “world’s largest footrace” with 75,000 participants for its 88th running on May 16, 1999. The 12 kilometer race course stretches across the City of San Francisco, starting at the Bay and ending at the Pacific Ocean. “Footstock,” a post-race festival held at the Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park, features food and entertainment for race participants and their friends.

The current recycling program started in 1992. The Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center (HANC Recycling) provides recycling at two water stops along the race route, at the finish line, along the one mile path to the post-race party, and in the polo fields during Footstock. Local independent cardboard vendors assist HANC Recycling in return for revenues from cardboard sales. These recyclers collect stacked cardboard along the race route and at the Footstock Festival. Volunteers from the Guardsmen, a local service organization, also assist the recycling effort.

Prior to the race day, HANC Recycling works with event staff to ensure the water containers used are recyclable. They also inform vendors and race participants about the recycling program. Organizers include recycling information in the race registration packets.

Along the race route, at the finish line, and along the route to Footstock, HANC Recycling focuses on recovering plastic PET water bottles and cardboard. At Footstock, there are 12 to 20 individual recycling stations, each with six to 12 sorts for recyclables. The stations are well-signed and sometimes staffed by volunteers (which significantly reduces contamination). Materials targeted include glass bottles and aluminum cans sold by vendors, HDPE and tin foodservice containers used by food vendors, and wine and juice bottles from picnics held by participants. Cardboard also is recovered from food and t-shirts booths. Vendors can either stack the cardboard for collection or take it to a central collection location.

Race organizers pay HANC Recycling about $2,300 each year for recycling services. The organization uses eight staff members, three 35-yard roll-off containers, and three trucks to implement its program. Sale of PET and other containers generates approximately $500/year, which HANC Recycling retains. By diverting recyclables, organizers eliminate the need for six to eight trash roll-off containers each year. At a cost of $300/roll-off, savings have averaged $1,800 to $2,400/year in trash hauling and disposal costs. Furthermore, recycling reduces the labor needed for post event garbage pick up on the field and along the race course.

To date, HANC Recycling has not had sufficient staff and/or resources to implement a food recovery program. Discarded clothing makes up a large portion of material generated along the Bay to Breakers race route. (Many of last year’s 100 nude runners got that way by shedding clothing along the race route.) HANC Recycling hopes to partner with a nonprofit organization, such as Goodwill, for collection and ultimately reuse of the discarded clothing.

By Kelly Lease, is a senior research associate at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington, D.C. This article is based on an in-depth case study Lease prepared this report for the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB). The Board will soon be making this and 23 other case studies of innovative waste reduction initiatives available on its website: www.ciwmb.ca.gov./lgcentral/events/innovations/

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