Going green at BBQ: Festival exceeds 75 percent recycling goal

Published 2:15 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Festival chairman Dale Musselwhite said, &dquo;We are so proud ‐ of our Going Green team and of all our guests, vendors and volunteers who have taken on the challenge that was set before us back in 2006.&dquo;

That challenge was issued by some area environmental enthusiasts who looked at the huge footprint the festival left behind each year. They said, &dquo;We can do better than this!&dquo; and the festival committee accepted the challenge to reduce total waste going to the landfill by 75 percent in three years.

The 2008 festival was the third year, and the numbers were terrific, but not quite 70 percent. When all was counted last year, the tally was at 65 percent.

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But according to all concerned, they were not disheartened. &dquo;It just made everyone realize how entirely possible this was and more determined than ever that we would hit the target in 2009,&dquo; said one of the Going Green chairs, Betsy Burdett.

It did seem an impossible task going in. How can from 20,000 to 25,000 barbecue festival goers, 50 crafters, plus a host of musicians, vendors, carnival rides, and games operators, law enforcement personnel, plus hundreds of working volunteers enjoy a two-day event in a small Blue Ridge foothills community without leaving a huge environmental footprint?

The key, according to those first Going Green committee members, Betsy Burdett, Katie Breckheimer and Carolyn Ashburn, was in setting realistic goals and adopting a phased approach. &dquo;We had to keep in mind that the guests were here to have a good time,&dquo; Burdett said. &dquo;Our job was 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 have worked hard to make that as easy as possible.&dquo;

What the Blue Ridge Barbecue & Music Festival committee members have discovered is that people feel good about doing the right thing. They were amazed at how everybody pitched in to help.

The Going Green committee accepted the responsibility for charting the course to meet the 75 percent reduction objective. They conveniently located waste/recycling centers throughout the festival grounds. These were canopied spaces, manned by volunteers, and equipped with separate bins for recyclable drink containers, compostable food and paper, liquids, and trash.

Key to their success were the friendly, knowledgeable volunteers, stationed at the centers to help and encourage festival attendees with proper sorting.

It originally took about 140 volunteers from set-up to clean-up, Thursday through Sunday. That number has been reduced as people have become more aware of what is expected of them.

In 2007, the second year of the challenge, the committee brought in a professional crew, Clean Vibes, to assist with collecting and managing the waste. In 2008 and 2009, Cindy Walker, who serves as chairman of the Polk County Board of Commissioners, brought her crew on the field for that task.

&dquo;It really helps to have people helping who know what to do,&dquo; Ashburn said. &dquo;Clean Vibes convinced us this was the way to go, and Cindy&squo;s group brings such a strong local involvement. People are really invested in this effort.&dquo;

Each year the committee has learned more about how to make it more convenient for everyone. They&squo;ve also learned that it costs real money to enact some of these changes and have been very fortunate in attracting sponsors to help offset the costs. GDS Waste Management has underwritten the recycling centers, and St. Luke&squo;s Hospital has underwritten the installation of hand sanitizing stations throughout the park. These stations dispense a &squo;dry-wash&squo; substance that really helps cut down on hand towelettes and the packaging they come in.

&dquo;One thing we sincerely hope for,&dquo; Musselwhite said, &dquo;is that other festivals will be encouraged by our model to go out and make a difference in their own communites. And we are more than willing to share our experiences in order to help make this happen across the country. Already we have had several inquiries ‐ and this makes us even prouder.&dquo;

‐ article submitted