St. Louis event organizers working to turn green

Monday, August 13, 2007
Cuc Steed, left, and David Page, right, maintenance workers at Strassenfest, collected bags of trash along Market Street Aug. 3 to place into a large dumpster in St. Louis. Members of the staff regularly supply fresh trash bags for the garbage containers and return with carts later to place the trash into a larger bin. Festivals, attractions and stadiums generate tons of waste, but that may change as both St. Louis and St. Louis County demand festivals go green. (DAWN MAJORS ~ The St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals fans throw away more than 6 tons of garbage at every game. Blues fans generate about 4 tons per game. And at this year's Fair St. Louis, the heaps of trash left behind weighed in at 40 tons.

Memories of special events like these may last a lifetime, but the trash they generate will last centuries. Festivals such as last weekend's Strassenfest, Live on the Levee, attractions such as Six Flags and venues such as Busch Stadium generate tons of plastic water bottles, cardboard boxes, steam-table pans and wine bottles.

But while most of that trash could be recycled, almost none of it is.

"The plastic in those bottles is in high demand, but instead we put it in landfills," said Jean Ponzi of Missouri Botanical Garden's Earthways Center. "We haven't shown yet that this is a community with green awareness."

That soon may change. This year, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race and the Greentree Festival are among events that will introduce recycling. And next year, St. Louis events such as Strassenfest and Fair St. Louis may face mandatory recycling requirements.

"It's not good enough to put out a couple of recycling cans like we've done in the past," said Ann Chance, St. Louis' director of special events.

Not been a priority

No event organizer sets out to assault Mother Earth; it just happens that way. Securing sponsors, booking entertainment, herding volunteers -- festival production is a complicated and costly affair.

With so much to do, Soulard Mardi Gras organizers acknowledge that recycling has not been a priority.

"We would like to reduce our trash footprint. But we are so focused on moving the trash out of the neighborhood, we haven't thought about how we could do it," said Mardi Gras spokesman Mack Bradley.

Even events that recycle find some visitors and vendors fail to go green. At the St. Louis Art Fair, patrons throw trash in recycling bins and vendors use Styrofoam. Last year, a Clayton committee sponsored a $300 food-vendor award for reducing waste, conserving energy and using sustainable food. No one won.

"We had a checklist, and we could not give anyone any points," said Clayton public works director Paul Wojciechowski. "That was disappointing."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 40 percent of municipal waste is generated at public spaces, such as parks, sports arenas and shopping centers. But what is now a costly burden could be a green opportunity.

Terri F. Reilly of St. Louis Earth Day looks at clear water bottles and sees green. With help from the EPA, she developed Recycling on the Go, a program that will be used at some 20 concerts and festivals this year.

The more bottles, cans, cardboard boxes and other materials the program recycles and sells, the less money event planners must pay to haul trash away.

Convenience is key

Already, the program has recycled 644 pounds of trash at the Laumeier Art Fair and 622 pounds at the Jefferson Barracks Blast. That's less than 30 percent of the trash generated at those events, but Reilly expects those numbers to climb as the public and vendors get used to recycling.

The strategy is simple: Place recycling bins -- lots of them -- throughout the fairgrounds. The St. Louis County Fair and Air Show will have 400 recycling bins Labor Day weekend; Live on the Levee, in contrast, has just 10.

No need to separate plastic from aluminum. Today, many haulers offer "single-stream" recycling.

Convenience is key, said Wojciechowski. He's noticed some St. Louis Art Fair visitors throw bottles in the nearest trash can rather than walk the extra few feet to recycle. So this year, Clayton will pair almost every trash can with a recycling bin donated by Anheuser-Busch Recycling Corp.

"They are going to stick out, and they are going to be everywhere," said Wojciechowski. "I want to prove that we can do this. At home, I recycle about half of my waste. And if you can do it at home, you should offer people the same choices in public."

The next challenge, Reilly said, is to convince area stadiums and attractions to recycle. Safeco Field in Seattle recycles 97 percent of its plastic cups and bottles.

Comiskey Park in Chicago, the SkyDome in Toronto, AT&T Park in San Francisco and Miller Park in Milwaukee also recycle much of their trash.

But in St. Louis, fans at Busch Stadium, the Edward Jones Dome and Scottrade Center have nowhere to toss their empties, though the venues recycle the aluminum cans that vendors pour beer from in the stands.

"We experimented with recycling containers about 10 years ago, but we found people just threw their stuff in the trash," said Fred Corsi, who runs operations at Scottrade Center. "When you have eight hours to clean up four, five tons of trash, there is not time to separate plastic bottles from the rest of the trash."

But that's exactly what workers do at the St. Louis Zoo. In addition to 5,300 pounds of plastic, the Zoo recycles 100 tons of cardboard, 390 pounds of aluminum, 35,000 gallons of cooking oil and 400,000 pounds of manure. Zoo campers must bring trash-free lunches, in which everything is edible, compostable, recyclable or reusable.

And at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the staff is striving to recycle or compost 80 percent of its trash, from fluorescent lights in the offices to plant waste in the gardens.

"We are walking the walk," said Ponzi. "It is so much easier to recycle today, but it takes people with green brains."

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