Standing in the long queues for the food and drink stalls at a festival this year, I couldn’t help but be confronted by the excessive amount of rubbish said food stalls were creating. Just two weeks before I had been at an event with a zero waste policy. Does a zero waste policy at a festival work? Yes and no.
The 2017 Byron Spirit Festival in Mullumbimby collaborated with Mullum Cares, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes reducing our ecological footprint by reducing waste.
“The Spirit Festival donated $1000 worth of bamboo plates and cutlery so that patrons could choose to reuse”, Mullum Cares founder Sasha Mainsbridge shared in conversation with Spirit Festival founder Alex Grant.
“We have a vision for future festivals where we don’t need bins. I’d say 90% of the rubbish in the bins at this festival is from food.”
The idea of bamboo items came about because regular crockery is too heavy and can break, and people prefer not to take their own utensils to a festival. Compostable single use disposable items are expensive for the vendors to buy, and there is a huge cost to the Festival to cart the rubbish away. Mullum Cares system saves money in the long run.
That system needs to be tight. Patrons are encouraged to wear a black a wristband when they go to buy food. All the food vendors have stocks of the reusable plates, cups and cutlery and they are given to people with wristbands. Patrons then take the items to a wash station when they have finished their food.
“We actually charged $15.00 for the wristbands initially but we found that that was a little prohibitive. We are now relying on the goodness of patrons and we are handing out the wristbands for free then making it really obvious where the donation tins are because we want to be able to pay for the wash station,” said Sasha.
Sasha started Mullum Cares after the Nepal Earthquake and saw how the community rallied together.
“Mullum Cares is a statement of collaboration and sharing.”
That feeling of collaboration and sharing may take a little longer to reach larger festivals, although it’s certainly a good start.
“When we feel a discomfort (around change) we tend to say no thanks, I’m going to stick with what I know”, said Sasha whose background is in change programs.
Alex Grant feels that the Spirit Festival should make reusable utensils the only option next year.
“The only way to eat will be to get a reusable plate from Mullum Cares.”