De-Greening of the festivals

Remember in 2007 when “EcoStations” started popping up at the festivals in Victoria Park?  The initiative—dubbed “Greening of the festivals”aimed to reduce waste by diverting recyclable and compostable materials from the garbage dump, and it came in endorsed by organizers of some of the heavy hitters such as Sunfest, Home County Folk Festival, and RibFest.  Championed by the City of London thanks to the efforts of Waste-Free World and Thames Region Ecological Association (TREA), the initiative targeted reducing the environmental impact of the festivals.

Greening of the festivals encouraged folks to bring their own dishes and drink containers or use the on-site reusable dishes, while also keeping in mind the three streams of waste disposal:  recycling, composting, and garbage.  The EcoStations provide an enormous number of volunteer hours, allowing citizens (particularly high-school students) to help out by instructing festival attendees how to properly dispose of their waste.  These volunteers  keep down the cost of running the EcoStations.

Photo courtesy of TREA

On Tuesday evening, the Special Events Public Consultation Meeting took place at the Civic Garden Complex.  Scott Stafford and Krista Kearns of the Community Services Department did an excellent job of going over the policies and procedures that will change in the 2013 manual for the 2014 season (with Ms. Kearns’s assistant taking minutes).  Unfortunately, the ratio of staff members to audience participants was one to one:  for those who don’t like mathematics, that means three staff at the front of the room and three of us in attendance.

Regardless of the turnout, the meeting proved very informative.  When Ms. Kearns began describing changes to “Section 9: Procedures for the use of Victoria Park”, she started by noting that mechanical rides can no longer sit on the grass (instead they need to situate on the road), and trailers and vehicles must also locate on the road or another paved surface.    This all provides relief for the much-trampled grass in the park.

The bombshell followed:  EcoStations will henceforth only have two streams – garbage and recycling.  Unless the event organizer requests the third stream (composting), the City of London will only provide EcoStations with two types of containers for garbage and recycling, and event organizers no longer need to provide staffing.  The standard garbage cans already situated in the park will have blue bins twinned during the festival, with emptying of both a duty of the City.  Emptying the (two or three) bins at the EcoStations remain the responsibility of the event organizer.

When I asked for the reasoning behind removing the compost stream, Mr. Stafford explained that the original idea of having the EcoStationswith three streams and volunteers—came with anticipation of a green-bin program forthcoming by the City.  Volunteers in the EcoStations instruct festival-goers how to dispose of waste properly into three streams so that residents can repeat the same process at home:  garbage can, blue box, and green bin.  London citizens become more aware of the three-stream process and don’t have to think as much about it when bringing in the green-bin program.  Pure and simple, no?

Now with no green-bin program on the horizon (the pilot project in Pond Mills concluded nearly a year ago and the current council appears to have no plans to implement a city-wide program), the staff conclusion aligns with not implementing green bins rather than continuing to make a progressive step toward waste diversion at these festivals.  The policy will continue to require one EcoStation for every four food vendors.  The City provides everything included in the EcoStations, while the event operator used to staff them (no longer a requirement).

Mr. Stafford also noted too much cross-contamination of materials for reaching the decision, with the efforts and costs going into the three-stream system not giving desired results.  They have decided to not look at re-introducing the third stream for composting until the City implements green bins (i.e. following the City’s garbage-collection policy).

My final question to the staff members asked about where the compost went after collection.  Mr. Stafford didn’t know for certain, but knew that the compostables went to an appropriate collection site (not Jay Stanford’s backyard!), and promised to get the information to me.

I encourage the festival organizers to request the three-stream EcoStations going forward, while also continuing to recruit volunteers to run them.  The learning process must continue, lest the lessons of the past seven festival seasons become for naught.  This important initiative must not die because of inaction at City council to implement green bins.

Other topics included noise levels in Victoria and Harris Parks, which I shall cover in a future post.