The disgusting job is part of a serious effort to move this street festival to zero-waste status.
September 11, 2018. Milwaukee is a city of festivals. Dozens of events, including Summerfest, Bastille Days, Irish Fest, and German Fest attract hundreds of thousands of people every year. But after the food, fun, and music is over, the trash barrels overflow with waste, most of it destined for a landfill.
Two Milwaukee nonprofit groups, the Kompost Kids and the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates, envision a more sustainable path. At this year’s Bay View Bash, held September 15, volunteers will do what no city festival in Milwaukee has done so far: conduct a real-time waste audit. It’s smelly, dirty work that requires individuals to open up trash bags, dump out the contents of recycling containers, and sift through composting bins at regular intervals to sort and record the waste as it piles up. Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds. But the data these dedicated dumpster divers gather will help festival organizers and sustainability leaders understand what attendees throw away, how much garbage from the street fair enters landfills, and what can be done to reduce waste in the future.
“We’re contributing data collection methods and people power–some brains and brawn–to help create a more sustainable Bay View Bash,” said Nora Sadik, president of Milwaukee Area Science Advocates.
About 90 volunteers are expected to be on hand for this year’s festival to collect and sort approximately 75 percent of the waste. That’s a significant notch up from last year, when 45 volunteers helped sort about 40 percent of the waste. At one- and two-hour intervals throughout the afternoon and evening, the trash coming into the sorting station will be audited. Volunteers will weigh the contents from designated bags, dump the items onto a table where they’ll be photographed, and as the cigarette butts, compostable cups, aluminum cans, and food containers are sorted, a volunteer will write everything down. These fine details will shed light on exactly what’s being thrown away, when it’s being discarded, how much, and whether it was put n the correct container.
“We’ll be checking how full the bins get, tracking how quickly they fill up, and seeing if the contents differ over the course of the day,” said Miranda Schwabe, a member of the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates, who is coordinating the audit.
To date, these precise details have been a mystery to volunteers from Kompost Kids, who have been working with the Bay View Bash since 2010 to move the event toward a zero-waste status. That means eventually preventing 90 percent of the trash generated at the event from entering a landfill. Each year, the volunteers hand sort the trash to be sure compost and recyclables enter the correct waste stream–because even if festival attendees have good intentions, not everyone tosses their aluminum cans into the recycle bin or throws their leftover food into the compost receptacle.
Informal surveys from previous years have suggested some waste patterns. For instance, food containers have seemed more prevalent around dinnertime and people have tended to toss waste into the wrong receptacle later in the day, after they’ve likely had more to drink. The formal audit will show whether these patterns exist and no doubt expose others. The audit could inform new strategies for encouraging better disposal of waste or ways to communicate with vendors on how to reduce the amount of garbage sent to landfills.
“We are so proud to be part of this effort, and we hope to become an example for all of the other festivals and events in the area on how to reduce our waste footprint in the community,” said Nicole Rouleau, president of the Bay View Bash.
Currently, there are no zero-waste festivals in Milwaukee. Although the City of Milwaukee has been working to reduce residential waste since 2014–striving for a 40 percent reduction by 2020–a communications representative from Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office told MASA that the city gives the responsibility of festival waste pickup to individual event organizers.
After the audit, Kompost Kids and the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates will produce a comprehensive report that they’ll make available to the public, as well as the City of Milwaukee.
“Kompost Kids wants to make zero-waste the norm for any festival in the city of Milwaukee,” said Renee Scampini, a member of the group’s board of directors. “It’s a long, stinky day, but it will be worth it.”