Mountain of trash diverted from Whistler outdoor events

A Whistler environment advocacy group says a zero waste strategy is leaving a lighter environmental footprint from the busy summer schedule of outdoor festivals, concerts and races.

Zero Waste Heroes program helps event organizers work towards diverting 90 per cent of waste

Claire Ruddy, executive director of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, at one of the zero waste stations provided for outdoor events. (AWARE)

Whistler's spectacular landscape has made it a go-to destination for outdoor events, but the trash left behind afterward has led a local group to devise a solution.

The busy summertime schedule of races, festivals, farmer's markets and concerts could end up producing a mountain of garbage, ranging from food packaging to discarded running shoes.

The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) decided to step in to help event producers reduce their waste footprint.

"We were asking ourselves, 'how do we make it easy for people putting on these events to manage waste?'" Claire Ruddy, the executive director of AWARE, told On the Coast guest host Tanya Fletcher.

The resulting program called "Zero Waste Heroes" was launched two years ago.

The organization helps event organizers devise waste management plans, which are a requirement for event licences.

As well, AWARE staffs zero waste stations at events to sort recyclable, compostable and landfill items. They also weigh the trash produced at the event and report the result to the organizers.

Rethinking freebies

Ruddy said the key to achieving zero waste, which they define as diverting at least 90 per cent of waste from landfills, is not just recycling but reducing the amount of waste produced.

That can mean reconsidering giveaway items such as water bottles, or for vendors, serving food on a napkin instead of a disposable plate.

"If you don't produce it you don't have to dispose of it," she said.

In one instance, recyclable yogurt cups provided at the end of a race meant hundreds of discarded foil lids and spoons.

"Our team was in the washrooms trying to rinse all the plastic yogurt cups," Ruddy said,

The problem was solved the following year when organizers handed out fruit instead.