Special to the Tribune-Star
Fair time has come and gone, but there is one simple fact that remains after the rides have been packed up and the food vendors have driven away: The trash from fairgoers remains at the landfill. The amount of waste year after year sits in the landfill, until there is too much trash and a new landfill must be created.
In an effort to divert some of the waste and reuse it, the Vermillion County Fair took on the challenge of recycling for the first time.
“It was as simple as two fair participants who mentioned to me at the 2012 Vermillion County Fair that they thought we should be recycling during the Fair and I agreed,” Vermillion County Fair Recycling Coordinator Phil Cox said.
Cox was able to borrow a dozen 35 gallon recycling containers and set them in strategic locations around the most active areas of Cayuga Park, home of the Vermillion County Fair. The recycling containers were set next to trash cans so people could make the right choice about which container to use for their plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Roughly 560, 35 gallon plastic bags were filled with recyclables and brought to a local recycling center.
“There was tons of positive feedback from the folks that suggested this should be done. In 2012 one gentleman was actually digging through the trash to ‘rescue’ recyclables. This did not need to be done as much in 2013,” Cox said.
Cox says he is looking for funding to purchase high-quality recycling bins in preparation of next year’s fair.
“It is important to conserve our resources, energy and environment for future generations. Landfills already take up too much land and alternative uses of everything that goes into a landfill needs to be seriously considered,” Cox said.
Public recycling on a larger scale
Nearly one million people attend the Indiana State Fair each year. If each fairgoer buys a lemon shake-up, that means one million plastic cups will likely be discarded. The Indiana Recycling Coalition’s partner Keep America Beautiful received a grant from the Alcoa Foundation to use for planning, staff time and investment in large recycling bins to divert waste at the fair.
Many months prior to the fair, the IRC engaged fair staff, waste management workers who serviced the fairgrounds as well as KAB in conversation on how to best utilize volunteers to make the program impactful.
“It is a matter of working together to put together a program that will make sense for everyone and will not increase the price. If the waste hauler knows they are going to receive a lot of PET and aluminum with very low contamination, that material may offset any hauling costs and become a savings to them,” Indiana Recycling Coalition Executive Director Carey Hamilton said.
The IRC dotted the pathways around the fairgrounds with recycling bins. The most successful bins were used in major outdoor areas. Some of the largest bins were well-marked, making it clear beverage containers could be disposed of in them. These bins collected the most commodities. To encourage participation, bins were placed next to waste cans, giving fairgoers an option.
“If the recycling container got moved, oftentimes folks didn’t use it, or it became contaminated with non-recyclables by someone not willing to wait until they saw a trash can to get rid of their corn cob,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said volunteers were not allowed to push fairgoers into recycling, but they were given a booth inside the exhibition hall to provide recycling information and resources.
It was at this table that I had a chance to volunteer. IRC’s table had a simple game kids could play which involved matching up an item with the correct recycling bin. The game drove conversation with their parents about how they could recycle in their community and opportunities to do more.
“One of the things we hoped would come from this is to show people that [recycling] is possible and encourage them to try and take on the challenge themselves and to make it work where they are. I hope that happens,” Hamilton said.
In 2012 there were no plastic bottles or aluminum cans recycled. In 2013, 2.31 tons was recycled. In 2012, 16.91 tons of cardboard was recycled; in 2013 the amount was 24.02 tons. For single stream recycling, in 2012, 11.2 tons was recycled; in comparison, in 2013 15.4 tons was recycled. Metal scrap recycled in 2012 amounted to 7.91 tons; in 2013 that amount was 20.57 tons.
There was 895.7 less tons of trash hauled away, a decrease of 32 tons or about 3.5 percent from the 2012 fair. It should be noted that fair officials reported higher attendance (about 100,000 more people) and an increase in concession stand revenue. In the end, there were more attendees buying more food and drinks, but considerably less trash to hang around for generations to come.
Those interested in organizing a comprehensive recycling program at their local fair can contact the IRC to learn more about their lend-a-bin program.
Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.