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Arts Fest Goes Zero Waste

When Brad Fey volunteered on Arts Fest’s trash crew with his Rotary Club, he was dismayed by the 75 tons of garbage it produced each year.

As he filled dumpster after dumpster to the brim, Fey discovered most trash collected Arts Festival weekend could be recycled, or even composted, instead of simply deposited in a local landfill.

“Paper cups, napkins all that stuff turns into soil after you compost it,” Fey said. “Going by experience of collecting trash at arts fest, that’s a lot of what is in the trash.”

Fey recycles and composts at home. Since he started, he’s noticed a dramatic reduction in his family’s trash. He even threw his daughter a zero waste high school graduation party.

With some changes, Fey thinks Arts Fest can eliminate waste altogether. He renamed “The Trash Crew,” “The Green Crew.” He’s branding the new initiative “Fest Zero.”

This year, a recycling container will be next to every trash container. Compost bins will be placed strategically near food stands and on Allen Street, Fraser Street, and at the entrance to campus.

“The choice will be easy. In future years, trash cans won’t be needed as much and will be more spread out,” Fey said. “But the composting and recycling will be the main cans.”

Green Crew volunteers stationed near the bins will make sure people know where to put their waste. Other volunteers at an education booth downtown will discuss the benefits of a sustainable lifestyle.

Joanne Shafer from Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority says Fest Zero is changing the way Arts Fest looks at waste.  

“The real aim with something like Zero Fest, is to not create [waste] to begin with,” Shafer said. "We’re really going to be studying the food venders to see if there is a way, rather, instead of bringing in whole watermelons for a fruit cup, bringing in a watermelon that is pre-cut so they don’t have the rinds to dispose of.”

The State College borough will conduct a trash audit after the festival to make improvements for next year. 

And starting next year, food vendors will be required to use biodegradable or recyclable containers and utensils over traditional non-recyclables.

This sounds like an expensive effort, but Shafer said a zero-waste festival is actually cheaper to operate.

“There is a little bit of a cost related to recycling and composting, but it is not as high as actual disposal,” Shafer said. “Anything that we can divert from the waste stream is an avoided cost of about $70 a ton.”

The Arts Festival staff is on board with the changes, and have big goals for eliminating trash over the next few years. They hope Fest Zero can reduce trash by 87 percent for Arts Fest's 50th Anniversary in 2016.

“We here in the Centre Region are trying to be leaders in this effort to take control of our environment and do something good for our pocketbook at the same time,” said Rick Bryant, Executive Director of the Arts Festival.  

If it’s successful, Fey hopes to make Fest Zero a non-profit organization to help other festivals become zero-waste.