Festival Going Green
With 20,000 people on Memorial Field over the two-week Festival at Sandpoint, Ellen's Army is hoping to set a precedent for garbage
Going green. It’s an accepted concept today, even if not widely practiced—for many, if not most, in this area it simply means pulling the aluminum out for recycling before throwing the trash away.
That’s what it meant a couple of decades ago as well, in the early days of the Festival at Sandpoint, when Barbara Veraniam approached the non-profit organization about the trash left on the concert field each night when the last notes of the music faded away. Barbara offered to put together a group of people to gather the garbage, freeing the Festival’s production crew from that responsibility, and had her volunteers separate out aluminum for recycling.
Barbara died in 2004 and in 2005, her friend Ellen Weissman had taken over as the volunteer chairperson for the clean-up crew. “Barbara used to haul all that garbage to her place, and we volunteers would spend the Monday after the Festival sorting through it and pulling out the cans,” Ellen explained. “I didn’t have a place to store the garbage and truthfully, it was a nasty job, so I looked at other ways to accomplish our goal.”
Recycling was made difficult by the times. The county only offered recycling for paper and aluminum (they took glass for a brief period until shut down by the DEQ) but the city’s contract did not allow for Waste Management to pick it up from the field—recycling was only available to private residents, not businesses and the Festival at Sandpoint, non-profit though it may be, was classed as a business.
And then it was 2009, and things began to change. The city began negotiations with Waste Management to allow the pick-up of recyclables from businesses. The county agreed to continue to pick up aluminum in return for the cash, which is used to pay for gas and drivers. Waste Management agreed to haul glass and plastic to Spokane, where it can be recycled. And the Sandpoint Transition Initiative formed a committee on garbage. Weissman gives the STI team—Tea Aunan, Aaron Qualls and Laresa Kersetter—credit for greening the Festival.
“(This group) went to two preliminary meetings with the Festival that I couldn’t attend, and they got the ball rolling,” Ellen said. “We are really helping the Festival to go green.”
For the Festival’s part, they are glad to do what they can to help make this happen. Executive Director Dyno Wahl, no stranger to recycling—she helped establish a curbside recycling program in Telluride, Colorado before moving to Sandpoint in 1999—is excited about the progress being made.
“The Festival is so huge that we can really make an impact,” she said. “Just imagine, 20,000 people on the field over a two-week period—that’s a lot of garbage!”
So what progress is it they’re making, exactly?
Start with recycling. Not only will paper (Festival programs primarily), cardboard, glass, aluminum and plastic be recycled, this year marks the beginning of the recycling of food waste.
“Aaron has worked with Heritage Farms, and they’re going to take the food waste as compost,” said Weissman. “They’ll shred it and use the compost on their hay fields.”
And that’s not just unfinished dinners—it’s the cups and plates they were served on as well. “A number of vendors this year have agreed to use compostable, biodegradable dinnerware,” Weissman said. “It’s voluntary for the vendors this year and next, because many have already made purchases of what they need at the Festival. But in two years, it will be required of all vendors.” Current participants in the program will be identified by signs which read “I’m a ‘Going Green’ vendor.”
She has arranged for new plastic containers—”clear-tainers”—for cans and plastic so that anyone throwing away garbage can see clearly which container to use. “We’re hoping that attendees will smash their cans for us before throwing them away, so that more will fit.”
Even the garbage bags used to collect compost are themselves compostable. And the Festival has purchased stainless steel, reusable water bottles for all their field crew. “Our production crew spends a lot of hours on the field, working through the heat of the day. As you can imagine, they go through a lot of water,” Dyno explained. “This will be a lot more environmentally friendly than a bunch of plastic bottles.”
The Arts Alliance booth on the field will offer water to concert-goers for a reasonable price—as long as they bring their own container.
And what about the trash that just can’t be recycled? “We’re labeling the regular garbage cans with signs that read ‘landfill,’” said Weissman, “so people know exactly what’s going to happen with whatever it is they toss.
“We’re really excited about what we’re doing here,” she added. “We feel like this is not just a partnership with the people who attend the Festival to lessen our impact, but it’s an opportunity to be an example to other community groups and events as well regarding what they can do about the waste they generate.”
The Festival’s clean-up crew—or “the green team” as they’re now called—has grown over the years. These days, 40 to 50 volunteers each night stay behind after the music ends and the field clears, picking up the enormous amount of trash that gets left behind.
“Ellen has really taken things to the next level,” said Dyno. “She’s gathered a real loyal army of people who take care of this for us, and all of us at the Festival really appreciate them.”
Weissman is less quick to take credit for the greening of the Festival, and points back to the woman who started it all, Barbara Veraniam. “She was tireless,” Ellen said of this dynamic woman whose focus was a greener, cleaner community. Friends will be gathering together on August 16 at noon at Sandpoint’s City Beach to honor this pioneer with the dedication of “Barbara’s Bench.” Weissman invites anyone interested to attend—because anyone who cares about the earth would have been considered a ‘friend’ by Barbara.
Weissman also credits Leslie Marshall with Bonner County Waste (“she’s been a goddess from the beginning”), the Sandpoint Transition Initiative, Insight Distributing, Waste Management, Selle Valley Recycling, Your Complete Wine Shoppe (for accepting empty wine bottles) and Festival Street vendors, without whom, she says, this couldn’t happen.
And, of course, “Ellen’s Army,” who will be manning the ‘clear-tainers’ all night long in an effort to assist Festival guests in how to recycle, Festival style.