As promised, we spent the day of the Tour de Fat staffing the "Compost Offices" for New Belgium. It was a fun day, and a chance to learn a lot about how waste reduction works on the ground, and a bit about the company (check out their sustainability page - it's impressively comprehensive).
- An event like this can be run with minimal environmental impact: for example we managed a 95% waste diversion rate. I lost track of the exact amounts, but most of that was compost, with a small proportion of recycling, and only the remnant 5% going to landfill.
- Doing this takes a lot more work on the day than just dumping everything, and a lot of planning; one thing I was impressed with, for example, was that the food vendors had been pre-vetted for their ability to provide all compostable packaging.
- Staffing the waste stations makes a huge difference—we found a lot of inappropriately sorted garbage on the morning, from having left the bins out in the park overnight, but everyone is co-operative when pointed to the right bin.
- It didn't matter that the beer cups said COMPOST in big black letters on one side, or that there were signs up listing what went into which bin - people are creatures of habit enough that most automatically took those towards the recycling bin.
- But there are visual cues we can give people which help; a sort of Design With Intent for waste sorting. Here are two examples:
- If you look at the picture below, the tiny office trashcan is for landfill waste, while the other two were recycling and compost - that made everyone who wanted to landfill stop and think. It was an accident originally—I hadn't realised we'd be handling landfill waste too, until it was too late to get official-looking bins for it so I improvised and raided our office—but it worked so well that I'll definitely repeat this next year and get intermediate-sized bins for recycling.
- After this picture was taken, one of our volunteers (Tysan) hit on the idea of closing the lid on the recycling bins, to make people pause before dropping compostable cups in.
- And finally, one that I was taught repeatedly as a computer science student: document everything. Sustainable Seattle has done this job at the Tour de Fat before, but the people who did it in previous years have moved on and I had to rediscover a lot of things. I'm writing it all down, so even if it's not me next year they can do a better job of co-ordinating and spend half as much time on it.
A huge thank you goes out to:
- Everyone who volunteered on the day, especially the couple of people who stayed for much longer than you had signed up for.
- New Belgium Brewing for taking the sustainability of the event so seriously, and Brian Bogan there for being patient when I had to ask all these things he expected me to already know from last year.
- Cedar Grove Composting for collecting the material and turning it into lovely compost that will be used in Seattle parks, among other places.