Majority of Aspen’s Food & Wine waste diverted from local landfill
It takes a village to divert between 70% and 90% of the waste generated by the Food & Wine Classic from the Pitkin County landfill.
It’s too early to tell how the classic’s “green team” fared from this past weekend, but last year they achieved a 75% diversion rate.
That means 13.2 tons of recyclables and nearly 4.3 tons of compost that did not go into the landfill, which has about 15 years before it’s full.
The local effort is the envy of festival organizers around the country, where a 20% or 30% diversion rate is considered aggressive, according to Devin Padgett, producer of special projects for Food & Wine.
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Padgett’s team achieved their highest diversion rate in 2016 with 92% of all waste being recycled.
“That’s a landmark,” he said. “It’s unheard of in the land of festivals.”
Padgett attributes the success of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen to the on-the-ground work of Jeremy Frees, who manages the all-volunteer, 150-person green team.
Frees, who works for Carbondale-based Mountain Waste & Recycling, said the reason the festival has such a high diversion rate is because of the micro-management of every single person in the Grand Tasting Tent.
“There are 5,000 people here and we are engaging with every single person,” he said.
At nearly every turn, there is a station in the tent that is manned by at least two volunteers who help festival-goers dispose of their rubbish into three different bins — recyclables, compost or trash.
There are signs posted all over the tent indicating what should go where but Frees said they learned over time that isn’t enough.
“People don’t pay attention to signs, so the second layer of defense is the green team standing there,” he said.
The same goes for what’s being put in the dumpsters outside of the venue.
Frees’ team makes sure that anything that’s going to be recycled isn’t contaminated.
He told the story of a past festival in which bags of compost material generated by a cooking demonstration were thrown into the dedicated dumpster but he soon discovered that tiny Tabasco bottles got into the mix.
So he took it upon himself to get in the dumpster and pick them out.
It’s that kind of pride and care that everyone on the team carries which makes the green program work.
The dumpsters set up Monarch Street behind the Grand Tasting Tent are predominately for compost and recyclables; the trash container is miniscule in comparison.
The festival has been working on the green effort since the early 1990s, and organizers are constantly finding ways to improve.
“Over a decade ago, we had a lot more trash containers,” Frees said.
The team also works with vendors and sponsors to ensure they understand where the bar has been set.
“This is what the expectation is when you come to Food & Wine,” Frees said. “These guys know what we’re about and they understand the world of sustainability.
“It’s become part of the psyche of the event,” he added. “I wish more events did this and cared this much.”
Liz O’Connell Chapman, the city of Aspen’s environmental health specialist, said Food & Wine goes above and beyond what the local government requires of events.
“They take the initiative and do some things that we wouldn’t expect them to do,” she said. “Their diversion rate is astounding.”
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