The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Making a new product requires a lot of materials and energy - raw materials must be extracted from the earth, and the product must be fabricated then transported to wherever it will be sold. As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment and save money.
Environmental Protection Agency
Recycling is great as a last resort, but it’s not the best option for mitigating impact. As a society, we often recycle single-use products and assume they are molded back into the same quality product they came from. However, recycled materials often produce lower-quality materials (for example, high quality paper fiber is turned into toilet tissue) and rarely prevent the harvesting of new virgin resources from the earth.
For many years, we provided plastic beer cups made of #2 plastic (otherwise known as high density polyethylene or HDPE) because it was a sturdy material. This is the same type of plastic used to make milk jugs and is often recycled into plastic lumber, which can then be used to make everything from decking to benches. We didn’t want our beer cups to break and cause folks to buy a new cup. Because HDPE was highly recycled, our decision to use #2 cups was the best possible choice - at the time.
We recently learned that #5 plastics (polypropylene) have come a long way. In the past, very few recycling facilities would accept #5 plastic - today, they are widely accepted in Colorado. Polypropylene (also sometimes referred to as ‘PP’) is light-weight - containers made from #5 plastic require 30% less materials than #2 plastic. Not only does this reduce the amount of virgin materials used, it also means decreased emissions from shipping and transport.
Plastic in general has its limitations, however. So why use plastic cups at all? The main reason is accessibility. These cups are low-cost and allow the highest number of Festivarians to enjoy themselves with a delicious beer from festival partner Avery Brewing.
We’ve worked with our partner Klean Kanteen to bring alternative options to our Festivarians who are interested in avoiding plastic. In addition to the low-cost plastic cup, we also provide a moderately-priced steel pint and a more expensive insulated pint.
We’ve done a pretty incredible thing at our Lyons festivals: our vendors stopped using all single-use plates for food service. Let that sink in - two festivals, at three-days each, with 4,000 to 5,000 guests per day eating an average of two meals per day…we are saving in the vicinity of 50,000 paper plates per year from entering our waste stream.
Instead, we converted to a reusable plate system. Working in partnership with the Boulder County Health Department, we implemented a program in which vendors serve food on plastic-like plates made from bamboo, corn starch and sugar cane, and Festivarians return them to be washed and used again.
At this time, we’re still ironing out the logistics of bringing a similar system to Telluride Bluegrass Festival. There are nearly 12,000 people over four days, and a different set of health codes. Accessibility of resources is a different story. Space to set up a dishwashing trailer is a different story. There are a number of variables to consider, but we are tackling them all one by one and hoping to introduce reusable plates to our flagship festival in the near future.