If you’ve never heard of “sustainable festivation”, then chances are you’ve never been to a Planet Bluegrass festival. For more than two decades, “The Planet”, based in Lyons, has been delivering world-class musical experiences in magnificent natural settings with an unrelenting focus on reducing their environmental impact. Co-founder Steve Szymanski credits their original inspiration to lessen their impact to the “visionary” example set by long-time partner New Belgium Brewery.
Planet Bluegrass hosts three premier festivals: the Telluride Bluegrass Festival , Rocky Grass, and the Folks Festival as well as dozens of smaller concerts each year, entertaining thousands of Festivarians from all fifty states and twenty different countries.
Festivals are multi-day events and thousands of guests generate tons of waste, much of which can be minimized or avoided altogether by taking the simplest of ideas and committing to their implementation. Education and buy-in on the part of Festivarians is key to success. For example, the festivals serve beverages exclusively in reusable cups. There is a $2.00 charge for the cup; significant enough for the user to bring it back when it’s time for a refill and even take it home where it can be used for years to come. As Festivarians bring cups back to the festivals every year this has reduced the amount of new reusable cups ordered to just 10% of what it was 15 years ago. You won’t find bottled water being sold on the grounds either: Festivarians refill their reusable water containers at filtered water stations conveniently located throughout the grounds. Looking for a trash container? Not happening. Everything sold on the festival grounds is reusable, recyclable or compostable; Festivarians who generate trash take it with them when they leave.
Perhaps the most ambitious program, which also takes aim at one of the biggest sources of waste, is the reusable plate program. For more than a decade, festival food vendors have been required to provide compostable plates and flatware. But the volume of waste generated serving thousands upon thousands is staggering, not to mention the environmental and financial cost to ship and process food waste, making compostables a less than ideal solution. In 2016, Planet Bluegrass innovated once again by introducing compostable, reusable dishware made from bamboo for food service; this BambooWare can last up to three thousand dish washes.
Plates were collected at the zero-waste stations located adjacent to the recycling and compost bins, then transferred to a local restaurant to be run through the dishwasher. Logistics were tricky and labor intensive and dish washing had to take place on the restaurant’s off-hours; traditional compostables were used as a backup. Undeterred, but wiser (Szymanski says they always give themselves at least two years to perfect a program or process), the 2017 program incorporates a traveling dishwashing trailer, funded in part through a Boulder County Zero Waste grant, so dishes can be washed on site.
“We’ve developed a reputation as a national leader in voluntary environmental action.” Says Steve Szymanski. “One of our greatest hopes is that our voluntary efforts will inspire and encourage festivarians to take action in their own communities.”