These summer festivals are trying to send less garbage to the landfill

Festival season is in full swing and that means great music, good food — and lots of garbage. But some festivals in southwestern Ontario are making an effort to reduce their waste and even go waste free.

Canterbury Folk Festival in Ingersoll aims to be waste-free

Volunteers wash reusable dishes at the Canterbury Folk Festival in Ingersoll. The annual summer event has worked with local non-profit Transition to Less Waste to cut back on garbage. (Canterbury Folk Festival)

Every summer, more than 12,000 people visit the Canterbury Folk Festival in Ingersoll each day, but you wouldn't know it if you went through their garbage.

"This past year we had less than one garbage bag worth of garbage," said volunteer Emily Cude.

Cude works with a local non-profit called Transition to Less Waste, which for the past eight years has partnered with the festival to help cut down on waste.

In recent years, they've had a lofty goal to make the festival completely waste-free.

"It's a huge feat. When we started even just while there was recycling happening, they were still filling a 30 cubic yard dumpster and this thing was full to the top," Cude said.

All of the waste at Canterbury Folk Festival is carefully sorted by volunteers, to make sure that everything is properly recycled and composted. (Canterbury Folk Festival)

One change that made a big difference was eliminating the styrofoam containers used by food vendors and switching over to reusable dishes and cutlery, Cude said.

There are stations set up all through the festival where volunteers collect and wash the dishes, and help people sort their recycling and composting.

Once everything is sorted, Cude said they usually only end up with items like diapers, straws and coffee creamers for the landfill.

"Each year we've kind of looked at what's left over and then made it our goal to eliminate the use of those, so this past year we provided paper straws to the festival to eliminate those from the waste stream and then this year I've worked with the board of health to allow the food vendors to use pourable cream that's kept on ice, rather than the little creamers," she said.

Volunteers like Emily Cude use tricycles to transport reusable dishes between vendors and dish washing stations, to make sure that festival-goers don't need to use styrofoam containers for their food. (Transition to Less Waste/Facebook)

The Canterbury Folk Festival isn't the only summer event that is trying to be more waste-conscious.

This year, Sunfest introduced composting with the help of Reimagine Co., a "zero-waste hub" in downtown London.

"For the last five or six years Sunfest has not composted any of its food waste. They've had eco stations where you can sort garbage into landfill and recycling, but … a lot of what goes into landfill can be composted," said Heenal Rajani, one of the founders of Reimagine Co.

Rajani said one of the challenges for the festival in the past was finding enough volunteers to help people properly sort their garbage and recycling. 

That's where Reimagine Co. came in. They've also volunteered at other events in the city, including VegFest and the Go Wild Grow Wild Green Expo.

Sunfest had 15 eco stations run by volunteers set up around Victoria Park this year. For the first time those stations included a bin for composting. (Reimagine Co./Facebook)

"We really wanted to this because a lot of us go to Sunfest anyway and we have a good time, but it's such a big event for the city," Rajani said.

"We can connect with a lot of people, we can have good conversation with people and we can keep a lot of garbage out of the landfill."

Cude hopes to see more and more festivals make a concerted effort to cut down on waste. 

She has even worked with Oxford County to put together a zero-waste guide for events, and says all it takes is a little planning and some trial and error.

"When you get to the larger events sometimes you do have to say, okay, rather than washing dishes for every single patron, we're going to require that the vendors bring compostable dishware," she said.

"I think it's more up to those event organizers to require those sorts of things from anyone who wants to participate in their event."


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