"Trash Free Festival for the Eno
celebrates its Independence from the landfill.
2012 marks the 33rd year of the Festival for the Eno in Durham, North Carolina. Each year, for 3 days anchored by the 4th of July, more than 20,000 people from around the State come to the West Point on the Eno to dance, eat, hear live music, browse great crafts and learn about regional environmental topics.
Organized by the Eno River Association, the Festival for the Eno offers an array of activities with an underlying theme of community action and environmental awareness. Festival exhibits, activities and programs highlight the relationship between the river, the surrounding land (its watershed), and the community. The premise of these educational programs and activities is that participation will foster ecological awareness. It is believed that increased awareness and understanding of one's environment leads to informed choices and ecologically responsible behavior.
How the "Trash-Free" Festival Works - Trash Free 101-a primer
We began our Trash Free Program in 1992. Disturbed that an environmentally focused event such as ours shared one of the principal traits of most other special events – a mountain of waste left at the end– we set out to find a better way to bring a lot of people together at the Festival to celebrate the preservation of nature and not create tons of trash in the process.
Through the years the specific tactics and techniques to of our program have change, but the ultimate goal has been consistent: to minimize any negative environmental impact while still maintaining the attractions, features and comfort expected of a main-stream, mass-market event.
The founders of our program realized that the most important method to eliminate waste is to simply not to allow it on site. We work year-round with the folks at the Orange and Durham Solid Waste Departments and our composter to ensure that we only allow items into the Festival which they can process. The largest source of waste within the Festival is from food production and distribution. Thus, most anything handed to the attendee (you) must be either recyclable or compostable. This is why Charlie –“the Hot Dog Guy”– doesn’t give you a little packet of catsup to go with your hot dog and why your coffee stirrer was made of wood. Condiments are usually served from bulk containers, most of which are ultimately recyclable, and your food is served on paper plates or waxed paper. I say “most anything,” because there are increasingly other compostable options available Festival organizers and vendors work together before, during and after the Festival to reduce excess packaging and other waste, and to ensure that items such as plates and cups are recyclable or compostable.
Each of our Trash-Free Centers is staffed by a volunteer Steward, who guides the attendees in sorting their disposables into the applicable categories, currently: Trash, Festival Compost, and Recyclables such as aluminum, glass, plastic, paper, and cardboard. (We also collect and recycle other items, such as drink booth by-products like ice bags, bottle tops, six pack rings and shrink wrap.) The Trash Free centers are placed in very visible locations and are made to be as eye catching as possible (you may notice the “Smurf Blue” centers of years past have been replaced by the new “Electric Banana” version). Additionally, signs and samples above each receptacle serve to educate our guests. The typically mindless act of throwing something away
suddenly becomes a "teachable moment" when attendees are given the opportunity to think about where their waste really ends up. Workshops, tours, exhibits and demonstrations help to add a deeper understanding of our Trash-Free program, and the larger issues of consumption and waste disposal.
The March of Progress
Increasingly, technological innovations and societal changes affect our procedures and practices. Until 2004, we allowed the use of Styrofoam (polystyrene) at the Festival, and even used it to serve the drinks in our own drink booths. We did not do this because of the “Green-ness” of the product, but rather, because until that time there was no consistently available alternative to plastic cutlery, also made of polystyrene. We painstakingly sorted the cups and cutlery and paid to deliver them to a recycling company. Once the production and distribution of biodegradable cutlery (see Reference Guide-below) became reliable, we eliminated polystyrene as an allowable item and switched to waxed paper cups, which are compostable. Similarly, we operated a state-permitted compost site from 1996–2007 on the north bank of the river to handle the Festival organics. As the industrial composting industry has grown, other options have become available to us. Now our collected Festival compost is carted away by Brooks Contracting of Goldston, NC- eliminating hours of volunteer and staff labor to screening the organic from non-compostable waste, building the pile, watering the pile, taking daily temperature readings, turning and rescreening the finished compost before ultimately returning to the gardens of West Point Park as rich, fertile soil.
In 2009 we began using biodegradable "plastic" bags to collect food waste.
Conclusion and Reference Guide
The hard work and vision of the Trash-Free program's founders (many of whom are still actively involved) have paid off. From 1997 to 2012 we have increased our percentage of waste reduction from 75% to over 95%. This increase does not even include the collection and recycling of used vegetable oil by Piedmont Biofuels for refinement into bio-diesel. We has won numerous awards for our work and have provided guidance to events, organizations and governments from Vermont to Florida to California. We have advised (pro-bono) clients including churches, restaurants, municipalities and other festivals (e.g. Durham & Raleigh Earth Days, Hillsborough Hogday and the Durham Latino Festival). You may have recently seen our centers on loan to other local events, which is a major reason for the construction of the new and improved “Electric Banana” Trash-Free centers – which are designed to be durable, lightweight and portable.
We intend to continue to improve our program and to share our lessons learned. Our goal is not just a truly Trash-Free Festival but a cleaner world.
To learn much, much more about our program you can download our handbook “Developing Trash-Free Special Events” from our website.
- Biodegradable cutlery - made of various materials such as corn, wheat and potato starch. Sometimes clay or other agents are added for extra stability.
- PLA organic “Plastics” - usually transparent and made of corn starch closely resemble conventional petroleum based plastics, but have a lower melting point and are not suitable for foods served at high temperatures. Can be fashioned into a variety of forms including plates, cups bowls, clamshells and film (garbage bags).
- Compostable paper plates – just good old paper plates, without a poly lining. We use the cheapest plates possible but for something a little nicer, most Chinette products are plain fiber.
- Bagasse – is a paper product made from sugarcane fiber after juice extraction.
All of these products are usually available locally at Not Just Paper 1010 W. Main Street- Durham, 27701 919-688-6886
PLA cups are available at Whole Foods Markets and Harris Teeter (look for their “HT Naturals Brand”
Thanks to our Trash-Free Partners: Orange County Solid Waste Dept (Muriel-you ROCK!), Durham County Solid Waste, Duke Sustainability Office, Brooks Contracting, Whole Foods Market, our vendors, and especially our attendees!