Bluegrass Makes Black Gold: Compostables versus Trash at Planet Bluegrass

Black Gold is a term used by gardeners and farmers for prime compost, a delightful soil amendment that adds nutrients and tilth. EcoAction Partners has been working with the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for several years to help turn the “trash” from the “grass” into that “black gold.” We supervise nearly 40 volunteers who help make sure the waste streams are clean. What does that mean?

Since the 30th Telluride Bluegrass event some nine years ago, Planet Bluegrass has supported major waste diversion efforts. In 2004, the Bluegrass team began requiring compostable products to be used by the food vendors. Recycling was already in place, but composting was pretty new to the festival scene. The first year, compost from the festival came up to Tomten Farm under a pilot project approved by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. I quickly realized that the volume produced was far beyond our processing capacity. For several years we searched for the right home for the compost – and were fortunate when The New Community Coalition, now EcoAction Partners, received a grant from CDPHE for composting and recycling equipment that is now operating at the SMARTS Park just down the road in Ilium. Bruin Waste has been the hauler for the last several years, so all the recycling and composting is processed within seven miles of the event.

The final numbers are coming in but this year saw small and steady improvement in CRT (compost/recycle/trash) numbers. Overall trash was less than 2011 by nearly 40 cubic yards. The amount of recycling was up substantially to 219 yards, cardboard was down, and compostables, up slightly at 127 cubic yards. Planet Bluegrass has been educating its Festivarians over the past few years in a strong effort to reduce the amount of waste generated by the big event. In years past we’ve dealt with old couches, enough broken chairs to fill the Palm, tents, tarps, and things we don’t even want to know the origin of. They’ve asked attendees to take home what they bring, a novel concept for some. Unused, still in the wrapper tiki torches (no open flame) to astroturf, we request that those items brought just for the festival go back home. Some people don’t like to be told what to do, or what they can and can’t recycle, but that’s the job of our CRT volunteers and staff. By and large, Festivarians really appreciate those efforts.

So with a positive attitude, lots of great volunteers and dedicated staff, we can report steady progress in making the compost/recycling and trash at Telluride Bluegrass Festival cleaner and greener in 2012. With great partners like David and Justin who empty the polycarts all weekend, to the folks at the SMARTS Park, SUNRISE, and Bruin Waste, the job gets done. We’re pleased and proud to work with the exceptional folks at Planet Bluegrass including Craig Ferguson and Steve Szymanski, whose  steady position at the cutting edge, with carbon offsetting, a hybrid diesel/electric truck to keep the beer cold, and many, many more initiatives make our job of Sustainable Festivation that much easier. If you can’t imagine compost for 12,000, come see us next year at the 40th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival!

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