The Zero Waste Mission: Who’s doing it, how your company can too.

REGION ­­- Used to be at the end of big events or festivals, you could look around and see overflowing garbage containers everywhere, a towering reminder of the good times.

The times may still be good, but they are a-changin'.

While some events still leave the grounds looking like a tornado has passed through, many others are designed to minimize or totally eliminate the detritus of those in attendance. In other words, waste-free events.

How? And who's responsible?

Timothy Young, owner and chef at the Benzie County-based Food For Thought, a wild and organic food company, has been one of the primary movers and shakers in the local green movement for many years. He lives on an organic farm located between Empire and Honor.

"We've always been a mission-based company, creating and raising awareness around just and sustainable foods," Young said.

For the last several years, Young's farm has been the site of Green Cuisine, an local food-tasting event that has generated near zero waste since its inception. "The first year, we had about 250 people and had six ounces of waste. The next year we had around 1,000 people, and still had six ounces of waste."

One of Young's secrets – though it's really no secret at all – is his commitment to composting. He has three large compost piles on his property, each at a different stage of decomposition. Food For Thought composts 100 percent of its food waste from its food preparation facility, along with approximately seven tons of cardboard every year. This compost is then used on his farm, as well as on those of local farmers that grow crops for Food For Thought.

In addition to his own operation, Young has worked with many other companies and events, spearheading the effort to turn one of the region's biggest – the annual NMC BBQ – into a green event.

"This year, we composted 95 percent of the food, and used no disposables," Young said. "We took all the compostable plates and tableware out to my farm for composting."

The recent Michigan Schooner Festival is another event that strives for green-ness. Mark Thompson, Executive Director of the Michigan Heritage Alliance, said event planner Allison Beers was the driving force behind the zero-waste initiative.

"I give Allison credit for that. We embraced it. It just makes sense," he said.

Beers is the owner of Events North, an event-planning company. Many of her clients, such as the Schooner Festival and the Traverse City Film Festival, have embraced the zero-waste ethos.

"For the Film Festival, the first year we had a dumpster full of garbage. This year we had one small bag," she said proudly.

Beers said she believes there is a perception that making an event green somehow involves much more work and more expenditures. She says that is usually not the case.

"I don't think it's perceived to be as easy as it really is," she said.

Beers says one of her most valuable partners in creating zero-waste events is Bay Area Recycling for Charities. Andy Gale founded BARC in 2008 with the goal of making recycling easier. BARC has worked with the Empire Asparagus Festival, the Leelanau Wine and Art Festival, Traverse City Wine and Art Festival, and Porterhouse Productions events.

"We provide a program to handle the waste stream," Gale said. "Most we do with upwards of 95 percent of the material either being recycled or composted."

BARC is also a distributor of Eco Products (compostable cups/plates/serviceware), which are available at ecoproducts.com. That idea came in part from Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions.

"I suggested Andy set up wholesale with EcoProducts, who we worked with for years in Montana," Porter said.

Porter said creating a zero-waste event is often just a matter of planning ahead.

"The key is careful planning to build a near zero-waste public event that uses compostable and reusable materials," he said. "We coordinate with event insiders [food vendors], haulers [like Bay Area Recycling] and venue operators to establish effective waste-diversion systems."

Brian Lawson of Crystal Mountain Resort agrees with Porter that preparation is the key to keeping a festival green.

"It just takes a little bit of extra planning," Lawson said. He points to the resort's recent hosting of the Taste of Michigan, which involved food vendors from across the state and attracted approximately 800 people.

Rather than going with compostable or recyclable flatware or plates, Lawson said the resort decided to use its regular silverware, plates and cups. The result was that there were fewer items in the waste stream.

"There was very little paper – basically the napkins – and they were composted with the food," Lawson said. "The bottles for beer and wine were recycled. "

Porter said the challenges involve both economics and simply getting people to change their ways.

"The toughest part is forcing zero-waste practices on vendors who have for years used non-recyclable or non-compostable serving systems that can cost less," he said. "Another tough one is not using bottled water for bands or artists who have them in their riders."

Porter said they come up with a number of ideas to showcase the advantages of going green, from having a pile of the previous year's composted cups at the front door of Beer Fest to show how it looks after one year, ready to go in the garden, to using local food and products for greenrooms and hospitality, cutting shipping and fuel waste as well as supporting local farmers. BN

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