Roots N Blues improves eco-friendly options at festival

The sustainability team is working with vendors and attendants to limit waste during the festival this year.

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Event planning for this year’s Roots N Blues N BBQ festival focused on more than just creating the music lineup and choosing which local food and craft vendors to bring in. It also included a sustainability team that worked on planning ways to limit waste production during the event and overall be more environmentally friendly.

Because Roots N Blues takes place at Stephens Lake Park, a nationally accredited arboretum as of 2017, establishing sustainable practices during the festival is important. Not only does it limit environmental impacts overall, but it preserves the venue as well. Sustainability Director Scout Merry said it’s important to think about limiting environmental impact, especially at festivals where it’s not something people are actively thinking about.

“People come to festivals to have a great time, and it’s easy to set a lot of things aside,” Merry said. “Our team is out there to just help people see basically how easy it is to either keep up their habits or hopefully even start new habits.”

This is Merry’s second year as the sustainability director for Roots N Blues. After last year’s festival, Merry decided to implement several new sustainable practices for this year’s event, both on the planning side of the festival and on the community side.

Merry realized last year that him and his team were using large amounts of zip ties, so he decided to look for cheap, reusable options to replace them. Additionally, the sustainability team partnered with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture to compost more during Roots N Blues this year.

Food Vendor Coordinator Morgan Williams reported that Roots N Blues will discourage vendors from using styrofoam serving options for the first time this year. In conjunction with the city, food vendors will also be provided paper, glass, plastic and fry oil recycling drop-offs.

“We are going to be somewhat lenient if something comes up, but we’re definitely strongly encouraging from here on out no styrofoam,” Williams said. “Styrofoam doesn’t break down the way that other options do and it’s not recyclable. Plastic cups we can recycle and paper obviously can be recycled or composted but styrofoam kind of sticks around forever.”

One of the biggest waste contributors at festivals like Roots N Blues are food vendors. For example, the University of San Diego student newspaper reported that Coachella produced 107 tons of solid waste per each day of the event. Merry explained that food vendors create a large amount of waste, not only from the food itself but from containers as well. Combined, this can be very heavy.

Andrew DuCharme, one of the owners of Lakota Coffee, a vendor at Roots N Blues this year, credits the large amount of waste to a lack of options and the necessity of being prepared for the crowds.

“When everything’s completely throwaway, it just creates more waste because there’s no options,” DuCharme said. “Your cinnamon rolls can’t go on a plate, it has to go in a bag, there’s no option. It’s just a lot more waste … There’s not much else you can really do besides just try and help reduce as much as you can … In a restaurant, you don’t cook a cheeseburger until somebody orders a cheeseburger, but in a place like this you gotta have cheeseburgers ready to go during lunchtime.”

Vendors have to cater to the customers while also trying to create as little waste as they can. However, DuCharme said that consumers also need to be held accountable for doing their part. For example, Lakota Coffee uses paper cups which are recyclable, but it is up to the consumer to recycle the cup once they have it in his or her possession.

The Roots N Blues volunteer group, the green team, helps with sustainability on the consumer end of things. The 75 volunteers on the green team go around the festival, making sure none of the trash or recycling receptacles are overflowing. Also, if they choose to, the team removes recyclable items from trash bins if possible and moves them into recycling. The green team is also available to go around the events throughout the weekend and talk to people about sustainability.

“We aren’t trying to be recycling police by any means, but just kind of do a couple of things: show people that sustainability is important to the festival, and also … to kind of show that it can be fairly simple,” Merry said. “We’re not trying to make people work any harder, we’re just trying to make people a little more aware.”

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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