Barbecue festival on track to cut waste 75 percent

Published 4:18 pm Monday, June 8, 2009

Burdett explained why the last mile is often the most difficult.

&dquo;We took the route of least resistance the first year, taking out of the waste stream the most obvious items‐bottles and cans, plus food waste suitable for composting. The next year we were able to collect paper with our food waste as well as cardboard, which is pretty weighty stuff,&dquo; Burdett said. &dquo;Last year we had hoped to start dealing with plastic eating utensils and foam containers‐but the cost for compostable replacements was quite high, and no sponsor stepped forward to help us with that part. So we just went after every scrap of recyclable or compostable material we could find in order to meet the goal. Our slogan was &squo;Everything Counts!&squo; Unfortunately, we fell a little short, but no one lost hope.&dquo;

The barbecue festival committee is measuring waste reduction according to weight rather than volume, in accordance with how the county and state determine total waste generated. However, much of the waste consists of foam containers and light plastics, which greatly adds to the total volume of waste generated.

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In order to address this issue in 2009, the committee is requiring that all food and liquids be served in compostable containers, mostly paper. There will be no plastic except for plastic cutlery. Costs have decreased somewhat since last year for compostable replacements for food and beverage containers‐less so for the cutlery.

No longer will festival goers have to scrape food off plates or other food containers to go into the compost collection bag. Everything except for the cutlery will go into the same waste container, and paper plates, cups, food and liquids will be composted together. It will be easier for festival folks, there will be much less waste, and all the organic matter will be composted over the summer to be put on gardens and lawns next spring.

The 2008 barbecue festival produced 2.3 tons of food waste which, mixed with wood chips, produced over 6 tons of fertile compost that is being used now by local residents.

The whole committee is hopeful. They note that enthusiasm is high and, after three years of reductions, they certainly don&squo;t want to fall short of the original goal. Burdett said that festival guests, competition cookers and vendors have been very cooperative.

&dquo;Plus,&dquo; she said, &dquo;we have great sponsors and volunteers who help make this painless for everyone.&dquo;

When the challenge was first issued to the festival steering committee, the immediate question was: How can 25,000 barbecue festival goers, up to 100 cook teams, 50 crafters, plus a host of musicians, vendors, carnival rides and games&squo; staff, law enforcement personnel, and hundreds of working volunteers enjoy a two-day event in a small Blue Ridge foothills community without leaving a huge environmental footprint?

&dquo;I guess it did seem impossible,&dquo; Burdett recalled. &dquo;But thanks to excellent cooperation from all concerned we&squo;re proving it can be done!&uot;

The key, according to the committee heads, is setting realistic goals and adopting a phased approach.

&dquo;We have to keep in mind that the guests are here to have a good time, and the cook teams&squo; main concern is putting out their best barbecue,&dquo; Burdett said. &dquo;Our job is to help folks sort their waste materials and give those resources another chance at being useful. It&squo;s a matter of setting up a new and better system. Anytime a system changes there is a period of adjustment, and we are working to make that as easy as possible.&dquo;

The Blue Ridge Barbecue & Music Festival is conducted annually under the auspices of the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce (formerly Polk County Chamber of Commerce). Proceeds from the festival help support chamber operations, and any additional funds go to the Carolina Foothills Chamber Foundation to be returned to the community through distribution to a variety of programs and projects throughout the county. Funds are generated by admission fees, contestant entry fees and sponsorships. For more information and a coupon for $1 off Friday&squo;s admission cost, visit