Festival Food Waste

This past weekend I dug through the trash. To be more specific, I volunteered to help a local festival compost their organic waste. While this year’s numbers won’t be in for a week or two, the festival diverted 93 percent of the trash from the landfill in 2006. 

Here’s how my three-hour shift went: organizers dropped off bags of compostable materials. We weighed the clear bags, then spread their contents–food waste, paper goods and compostable cutlery–on a blue tarp to remove all noncompostables. After pulling out tin foil and non-biodegradable fast food cups, we emptied the tarp into a dumpster to be collected by a commercial composter.

As I helped the festival approach its zero waste goal, I got a glimpse into consumption habits. After all, it’s not every day one gets the chance to dig through food waste that hasn’t begun to smell. While I realize this isn’t an activity most folks would choose, I think you’re all underestimating its voyeuristic appeal.

What did I learn? What every parent already knows—that kids can be finicky eaters. I saw many watermelon slices ($1) missing just one or two puny bites. There were almost as many pretzel remains. And I hope it was a youngster that ate just the “corn” and not the dog, leaving a batter-less hot dog on a stick.

I also found that some festival food isn’t as appealing as it looks. Many fresh-made potato chips, half-eaten corn dogs and, oh yes, those turkey legs, littered the compost. As one long-time volunteer said, “In about a half hour you’ll start to see the turkey legs. They’ll usually have about one bite taken out of ‘em. I think they look and smell better than they taste.”

The saddest sight of the day–an entire bucket melted ice cream (I’d guess cookies ‘n cream) emptied into the dumpster. The vendor’s freezer was acting up, but still! Ever hear of a milkshake??

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