OKAY, like you, I feel helpless whenever I see those images on social media of endless currents of spoons and straws and plastic Q-Tips floating in ocean waves. What the hell are we doing?A garbage patch the size of a city. Whale babies dying, turtles screaming in agony. It’s stark. It hurts to think about these things. I used to feel powerless to stop it.
Used to? That’s cool. That’s new. That just happened. I saw things change. For one weekend, I saw the way things could be, if we just gave it a shot.
I spent the weekend with the Food Action team at Roots & Blues as part of the Festival’s innovative new waste reduction strategy. This year, Roots & Blues decided to reduce food waste by teaming up with Spa Hills, a local commercial composting facility. The festival wanted to compost as much waste as possible. They provided composting cups for the Beer Garden and the Wine Lounge. They asked their food vendors to source compostable food wares to use on site. They banned sales of water bottles and provided water stations for refilling reusable water bottles, FOR FREE, all weekend long.
Since I also run a non-profit, I could tell this initiative was incredibly important to them and they were going all out to make it happen. These types of products cost about a third more than plastic-ware. Not to mention the added expense of bringing in water and the compost pickup! Kudos, Roots & Blues. I know how hard the decision to spend your budget this way must have been. Respect.
Okay. So our job was to man the new waste bins. We’ve got compost, recycling, refunds, and garbage in every station. We have Friday morning to figure out what goes where. This is tricky, because along with festival waste, we need to deal with outside materials coming in. We don’t know what all the vendors have. We need to keep an eye on Recycling, since it’s mixed paper and plastic and bloody confusing to begin with. (Refund is easy; everyone knows where bottles & cans go.) Whatever’s left over is garbage. We’ve got signs, but compost & recycling are a nightmare.
What have I done? This is what I’m thinking about after three hours of operating OMG how confusing can this be? Part of the problem is that some of these new products are too good. The compostable cups look just like plastic. I spent most of Friday afternoon turning containers over to see if they said “100% compostable” or “biodegradable plastic”. Gah.
Friday also involves a lot of sorting. Totally gross and oogy. It’s 30 degrees Celsius and I’m wearing latex gloves, sweat rolling down my face, picking things out of the garbage at a music festival where some skookum performers are playing. I can kinda hear music now and again. I’m picking garbage, and sweating like this, in public. While talking to people.
I love my job.
Honest, y’all. You know why? Because every single person I talked to said Thank you. Thank you for doing this. If that wasn’t great enough, I’m watching an incredible team of volunteers doing the same damn thing right alongside me.OMG these people. Volunteers, you made my weekend. These people worked extra-long shifts, in the heat and smoke, sorting crap. They did this disgusting, filthy task with great big smiles on their faces. They were proud. They felt powerful. They were making a difference.
And that is exactly what they did. They communicated hope and pride and empowerment to everyone who saw them; to everyone they talked to. I never saw such smiling, happy people as at this festival. I never heard so many thank yous. And it swept through the festival, going everywhere.
Laughter might be contagious; but this weekend, I learned gratitude is infectious, too.
Roots & Blues relies on volunteers, and a staggering 800 people give their time and energy to this event. Doing our job depended completely on the Environment team, who emptied our bins and brought us supplies. Remember, this is all new, none of us has ever done this before. Right from the start we had to make on-the-fly adjustments, and that changed Environment’s job too. Sometimes every hour. They were with us every step of the way, not a word of complaint, and to top it all off, they started sorting the unmanned stations for us. While smiling. Wow, people.
By Saturday, we’re able float around, because Environment was picking up our slack, Recycle BC was manning another bin (whoa thanks guys!) and people were starting to get it. The hardest part was convincing them compostable cups and lids and straws are not plastic. Lucy was the best – she’d just say “Made from plants”- boom, into the compost. I wish I’d thought of that at the start. But then I might not have had so many interesting conversations. 👍
Some of the volunteers drove in from Kamloops, Armstrong, Vernon. One of the volunteers worked a morning shift, drove back home to let her dogs out, and drove back to do the whole night. My word.
By Saturday night, I had to order people to go off shift. I’m sure it was hard to take me seriously because I couldn’t help laughing. I’m still shaking my head and grinning.
By Sunday, we’re all pretty tired. It’s still smoky and it makes you loopy and soupy after a while, but I’m still grinning like an idiot because I’ve got Saturday’s volunteers texting me to see if I need them earlier, or to stay later. I gotta say here: Jenn, our Food Action volunteer coordinator, was the main reason anything worked at all. Damn, woman. Good job. You rock.
SIDEBAR: I can’t write about everyone’s awesomeness here or this post will end up being TL:DR. Probably already is. You know who you are. You also rock. I have a million stories to write about this weekend.
By Sunday afternoon, we’re exhausted and nobody can even say “compost” anymore. I get to see a workshop, which is awesome, and drum with some of my drum circle peeps. I only do this because by now the public is bringing us cigarette butts off the ground (not their own) and we are having to stop people from reaching in and sorting bins themselves. All I’m doing now is walking around and checking. Things are looking good. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. Environment doesn’t have a lot of sorting to do. I’m watching festival goers help other festival goers get things in the right bins.
By Sunday night, my volunteers have all had to go home (many had to work the next morning) and I’ve got a few die-hards hanging on. And the bins are still right. Not perfect, but close. A far cry from Friday.
I didn’t take many pictures. I’m sorry. There was no time. But Sunday suppertime, I walked around and took some video of my feet, mostly. What l noticed is that all you see is grass and my sore dirty feet. You might see some other feet, but you won’t see much of anything else. Just plain grass.
In fact, late Sunday night, I took my sandals off and walked around barefoot on a grassy field. A grassy field where thousands of people partied this weekend, with their food, their cigarettes, their cans and bottles, lids, cups, forks, spoons, straws.
Barefoot. All I felt was earth under my soles.
You’re all my heroes.