Waste consultant calls on city to cut down on festival trash

Courtney Powell has been rummaging through the city’s summer festival trash and he’s not happy.

Powell, the founder of Elevated Enviro — an Edmonton business that helps companies reduce their costs by diverting waste — is calling on the city to cut down on its special event trash.

Edmonton’s big roster of summer festivals are leaving local landfills inundated with unnecessary waste, he said. 

‘Just the nature of a festival’

Powell undertook an unofficial survey of the waste being produced by the Taste of Edmonton food festival and K-Days.

The main garbage bin at Taste of Edmonton is filling up to the brim approximately three to four times a day; at K-Days, its bin is filling up twice as fast, he said.

 According to Powell’s estimates, each bin would hold around 2,500 kilograms of waste meaning the two festivals combined create a whopping 36,300 kilograms of trash.

The main culprit for all that garbage?

Summer festivals are constantly serving up unnecessary, single-use products including serving containers, utensils, plastic straws and messy food waste, he said.

“It’s just the nature of a festival,” he said. “There are a lot food vendors there, so there is a lot of single use materials and food waste and that’s the majority of the waste that’s being produced.”  

The garbage bins from Edmonton’s summer festivals are heading to a sorting facility but food waste can contaminate recyclables, sending the items straight to the landfill. 

“The season that’s a problem is that it’s all going into one bin and co-mingling,” Powell said. “It’s just the nature of food waste, it’s quite sticky.

“When that gets to the sorting facility, it’s very difficult to separate that off so a lot of that ends up going to the landfill, and a lot of the food waste gets missed.”

Over the years, another one of Edmonton’s big summer events, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, has made several concerted efforts to minimize the waste of its festival, which attracts about 20,000 people for each of its four days.

For festival-goers, the most obvious is its plate program, which started in 1995 when the festival bought 5,000 washable plates — provided to concessionaires — and implemented a no Styrofoam policy.

Among other measures, the folk festival in 2000 partnered with an organization to aid with the composting of organic waste generated during the festival.

Powell said that festivals may be inherently messy but few simple things could divert a lot of trash from the landfill.

Events can clean up their act with more biodegradable, plant-based products, bins separating organics from trash, and better sorting instructions for festival patrons. 

He said most vendors and event organizers seemed keen to shrink their environmental footprint, even when faced with his unsanctioned garbage survey. 

“Some were a bit cagey and wondering what I was doing there but a lot of them were really open to having conversations going on and what they can do as a vendor to reduce their food waste.”

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