In an attempt to leave less of a scar on the environment after our events, the Guild Board of Directors started researching different options that would minimize the amount of waste we send to the landfill after each festival. This whole concept came up after we received several requests to consider using a “corn cup” for sampling as opposed to our normal plastic cups. Once we started looking into these new cups it opened a whirlwind discussion amongst the Board and other interested parties. Here is a summary of what we found out during this extremely educational process.
Corn plastic is becoming more and more popular these days, especially in the packaging industry. Think about how many things you buy that are enclosed in plastic. It is also readily available in the form of “plastic” cups. It is called PLA (polylactic acid) which is an industrial resin made from corn (also beets, potatoes, or wheat). The initial benefit of using PLA is that it is not made from petroleum, but rather a renewable resource – and it is biodegradable. But after digging a little bit we found some mixed reviews about the concept and felt that the jury was still out on the benefits of using PLA. In order for PLA to biodegrade fully, it has to be in a “commercial composting environment.” This is very different than your backyard compost pile. And PLA that heads to the landfill has been reportedly lasting as long as the more common PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic. Recycling centers say that PLA that gets tossed in with recyclable PET plastic causes problems in their process and it has to be removed and disposed of; a very costly effort. So, after hearing these controversial reviews we decided that the best way for us to make a difference was to recycle everything that we can and minimize our actual waste.
After that decision was made, we partnered with Recycle Ann Arbor, a local company that examined our event and the waste that is generated in order to propose a solution. With their help, the help of dozens of volunteers from the Sierra Club, and the organizational efforts of Greg Burke from Woodward Avenue Brewers, we have come up with a goal of zero waste for the Summer Festival! That means any trash generated will either be recycled, composted, or reused for animal feed and not be sent to the landfill. This is a HUGE step for the Guild and we are proud of the decision to make our events more earth-friendly. During our research we did find some biodegradable plates and flatware that are also made from renewable resources. Michigan Green Safe Products is working with us to provide these items for our food vendors to use in place of traditional plastic. So, when you’re at the Summer Festival this year, keep an eye out for our “sanitation engineers” throughout the event. They will gladly assist you in making sure your trash goes into the right receptacle. Your cooperation will make it that much easier for us to achieve our goal. If you have any questions or comments about our zero-waste initiative, feel free to contact me.