The Edmonton Folk Music Festival is a model green event. Since the 1980s its legions of volunteers have included an environmental crew, and every year the festival finds ways of tweaking its ways of reducing waste.
That environmental crew now includes 12- to 15-year-old "Enviropower" volunteers, who pick up trash each morning on Gallagher Hill, where the festival is held. There is a volunteer kitchen enviro crew, a beer garden enviro crew, a crew that picks up trash in the neighbourhood streets surrounding the site, and a volunteer-run secure bike area to encourage cycling to the festival. (This is a good option, as there's no parking whatsoever on site.) Some cash registers run on solar power, compact fluorescent lightbulbs are used wherever possible, and volunteers who don't bring their own reusable water bottle and coffee cup simply go thirsty.
One of the festival's most effective green initiatives is the reusable plate program, which has been in place for a few years and was an idea the Folk Fest stole from the Vancouver folk music festival, says volunteer coordinator Vicki Fannon. Folk Fest purchased thousands of Melmac plates and "sells" them to the concession stands for $2 a plate. Customers pay an extra $2 for the plate when they purchase food. They then return the plate to a plate booth once they're done, and receive a $2 refund. The plates are washed on site, and the cycle continues.
The 2011 Folk Fest (held August 4th to 7th) marked the second year of a partnership with Cleanit Greenit, an Edmonton composting company, to further reduce food waste. The festival stipulates that all concessions use only biodegradable packaging— this means corn-based cutlery, glasses and even straws—and Cleanit Greenit turns all of this organic waste into compost. As a result, almost nothing gets thrown out, and what does gets sorted by Edmonton's cutting-edge Waste Management Centre. Of course, it would be ideal if everyone remembered to bring their own cutlery and drink containers, but in the meantime such extensive composting seems the next-best option. Especially considering Cleanit Greenit sells the compost at a break-even price to community groups like Girl Scouts, who then turn around and sell it at fundraising events.
Patrons are still getting the hang of what goes where. Information in the Folk Fest program booklet and on the giant screens set up on the hill educate people on the plate program and recycling and compost stations, but for the moment, "compost supervisors" remain stationed next to bins to ensure everything ends up where it should.
Cary Glenn, a first-year volunteer for Folk Fest, is one such compost supervisor. He says that by the end of the weekend, patrons were starting to get the hang of it, but he still had to explain the sorting rules to most people. "People are surprised by what they can compost," he says. "For some reason, people think bubblegum can't compost. And they have trouble with the glasses too, since they look so much like plastic — so much like the Starbucks cup they've brought here that can't be composted." Glenn likes to joke with people who have never heard of corn-based glasses or cutlery; when they ask how it's made, he says, "We carve them out of corncobs."
Generally, however, Glenn notes that people are open to learning and eager to dispose of their trash properly.
Fannon agrees. "Our patrons get it," she says. "We have an excellent group of people who come to the festival, and it's not really messy. If you keep everything clean in the first place, people respond." Judging from people's actions on the hill, it seems she's right. On Sunday night, I overheard a teenager reply to her parents' call to keep up with them, "Wait! I'm recycling!"