With large festivals inevitably comes large amounts of waste — or at least, that’s the common assumption.
Waste wise specialist for the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society, Mary Forbes sees it differently: as a challenge.
When Rogers Hometown Hockey spoke with the organizing committee before arriving in Williams Lake, they said the festival comes with a lot of trash.
Their solution (which they did) was to give an honorarium to a local hockey team to help pick up garbage.
“I was like, I think I can make it zero waste,” said Forbes.
And, with the exception of chip bags, a plastic chair and a light fixture that fell during the set up, that’s exactly what happened.
“We had one dumpster for cardboard, one dumpster for recycling and one dumpster for garbage. If we hadn’t recycled everything, the garbage dumpster would have been overflowing,” said Forbes. “As it was, it was only a quarter full. The recycling was full to the eyeballs and the cardboard was completely full.”
Forbes, along with other members of the conservation society, roamed the streets with fishing nets cleaning up disposables. One member, Oliver Berger, even refitted a hockey stick with a trash picker-upper. For once Forbes, who is known for wearing fun outfits when she is on the job, said she was “out-costumed.”
Plates from food shops were composted, and coffee cups recycled. Forbes said that not a single coffee cup was trashed — a major achievement, as Tim Hortons was giving out free drinks.
“We ripped open every garbage bag,” said Forbes. “We would get mysterious black garbage bags that would just show up at our stations, which was really awesome because that meant the people who had the garbage bag knew we were the people to deal with it.”
Making an event like Rogers Hometown Hockey waste free is no small feat. It involves energetic and enthusiastic volunteers who aren’t afraid of garbage, but it also takes some sly tactics to help change habits.
“I had to hide the garbage cans,” said Mary.
“Events where a lot of people show up, they don’t know what to do with garbage. These events are moving so quickly and they are so well organized, but the last thing anyone thinks about is garbage.”
Forbes said that Williams Lake is on the leading edge of recycling, doing presentations at conferences in B.C. and Alberta, and have been invited to a conference in Saskatchewan as well as the Las Vegas Waste Expo, simply because of past success in zero wasting big events.
In fact, Forbes’ team was so successful at Rogers Hometown Hockey, they’ve been invited to travel with the group to Kamloops this upcoming weekend, to help with waste reduction there.
“They said we have always bemoaned the problem with waste at our festival and you have done something we’ve always wanted, and we are going to Kamloops next weekend. Would you like to come,” said Forbes.
As for why they’ve gotten so good at it: “We care, and we really are interested in doing it right, and we are passionate,” she said. “We are interested in knowing the answer, we’re scientists, we’re curious, we’re like, can we recycle this?”
Recycling and garbage is something that is a personal fascination for Forbes, who said that some of her earliest memories are hunting through dumpsters at schools, to search for felts.
“I’m a trained archaeologist, so I’m basically a scientifically, professionally-trained garbage picker,” she said.
“I fell in love with the passion of discovery, and still, we’ll rip open a garbage bag and be like ‘Oh look!’”
It’s also fun.
“There is so much to be said about what we throw away.”
Additionally, she said, no one else is doing it.
“I really like cheering for the underdog and no one likes garbage, no one wants to do it, so it’s something I can do and do really well.”
The trick in getting other people to join in, she said, is making it fun for everyone.
“There is so much bad news and we are so overwhelmed, that to take the time to recycle people need to take the time away from their kids’ hockey practice and it’s heartbreaking.
“We want people to realize it’s so easy to make it fun and that it’s hopeful. We are doing it to save the species, we’re doing it landfill space, we’re doing it to save taxpayer dollars, we’re doing it for all those reasons, but our motivation as people is we want it to be visibly fun. It’s not a terrible task. You can do it and enjoy it because there is so much bad news and this isn’t bad news. This is good news.”
When asked about tips for readers is when it comes to recycling, Forbes emphasized one thing:
“Put your coffee cups in the recycling. Even if you haven’t rinsed it out. Take the lid off and put it in the recycling bin.”