Community Agriculture Alliance: Go zero with the Zero Waste Initiative

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— Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Director Tracy Barnett was determined but nervous to have Mainstreet “go zero,” a term that meant a lot of work to train visitors and vendors on reducing their waste at the 2011 Mainstreet Farmers Markets.

But at 2 p.m. June 11, Barnett said, “I can’t believe this” when she looked into the 30-gallon trash can and saw it nearly empty. All four recycling and compost bins were full, bringing the event to a 90 percent diversion rate for the 2,000 people attending the market.

The Zero Waste Initiative, in its third summer, is the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s largest program and depends on a group effort to reduce the waste at local events. Going zero is easy, but not without the volunteers, partners and education it requires.

First, the Zero Waste Team relies heavily on volunteers for watching the bins and educating the event participants. If the bins are left unattended, the efforts are lost in a sea of contaminated and confused waste. We simply haven’t all been trained yet. But we will be.

Next, Steamboat wouldn’t have recycling without Waste Management and Yampa Valley Recycles. Thanks to our single-stream system here, plastics Nos. 1 to 7, aluminum, tin, glass, paper and cardboard can be recycled. After the event, the recycled items are sorted at the local facility, shipped to Denver to be sorted again and then shipped to facilities nationally and internationally to be made into new products.

Last, Twin Enviro Services has an industrial-sized compost facility in Milner that turns the compostable materials into rich soil, or “Twin Grow.” Food waste and compostables are piled into aerated rows that heat to a minimum of 131 degrees for three days before aging for several months. This nutrient-rich compost has been approved by local master gardeners, who have used the donated amendment at the Community Roots Garden, sponsored by the city of Steamboat Springs. Locals can pick up truckloads of the compost in Milner or buy it in smaller quantities from the Harvest of Thanksgiving.

The success of this initiative is quantifiable by the reduction

of waste. Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. “went zero” in 2009, reducing its waste from several Dumpsters per week to two Dumpsters per month. The Free Summer Concert Series “went zero” in 2010, reducing one to two Dumpsters of waste per event to one 10-gallon trash bag. Steamboat’s public schools “went zero” in 2011 and educated the students about composting, recycling and “upcycling” with regular education through YVSC’s Sustainable Schools program.

The production and reduction of cost of compostable plates, straws, spoons, etc. is a key support for the Zero Waste Initiative. Not only have these items reduced in cost by 25 percent in just two years, they also are easier to find. Restaurants buy their compostable ware from companies such as Sysco and US Foods, and now locals and smaller event coordinators can buy items by the sleeve (instead of previously by the case) at Steve Green Co.

In addition to all of these valuable partners, YVSC also desperately relies on local funding, grants and donations to keep its programs intact: staff coordination, compostable items and compost pick-ups all cost money. To learn more about, volunteer for or donate to YVSC and the Zero Waste Initiative, visit www.yvsc.org, and consider “going zero” at your next event.

Andy Kennedy is the zero waste coordinator for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.

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