Well, who knew that helping festival punters choose the appropriate bin for their rubbish would be so damn entertaining?
Last Saturday morning, with the sun beating down and loud samba drumbeats pulsating out from the nearby soundcheck, I wrapped on a bright blue Zero Waste apron and listened intently, along with a handful of other volunteers, while Ron from Auckland Community Zero Waste Alliance (ACZWA) briefed us on the ins and outs of recycle/compost/landfill.
Ron walked us through some potential stumbling blocks…dubious “eco” labelling, containers that looked recyclable/compostable but were actually landfill-bound, and vice versa. Those packaging manufacturers sure don’t make it straight-forward. And if we were confused, spare a thought for the general public, many of whom have never heard of “zero waste”. It was evident that our package labelling system needs a serious overhaul.
“We are not here to be the rubbish police”, said Ron. “We want to give people a positive experience so they come away thinking “that was fun…zero waste is great!” It was a good call. As much as a small part of me was hoping I’d be allowed to quietly boo anytime someone threw rubbish into the ‘landfill’ bin, the reality is that positive encouragement is a powerful and empowering strategy.
I’ll be honest though, before arriving onsite at the Brazilian Day Festival, I suspected that this volunteer stint might result in a long and somewhat boring day. I also wondered whether it was really necessary to have people standing at bins telling festival-goers which one they should use. Couldn’t folks work it out for themselves?
Minding the Zero Waste stations requires a good dose of vigilance. A dude saunters up outside of your peripheral vision to casually throw a paper napkin into the landfill bin or a kid drops a can into recycling, but there’s a straw inside it. One thing I was learning was that, in terms of sorting rubbish, there is a LOT of education that needs to be in place before people can be trusted to put things in the correct bins. The other thing that amazed me was the number of people who don’t realise that food is compostable (?!).
The biggest surprise, though, was just how much I was enjoying the interaction with festival-goers and their responses to the Zero Waste stations. Most folks were genuinely interested in what goes in which bin and so stoked with themselves when they got it right, especially if none of their rubbish was on the road to landfill.
With a backdrop of joyous Brazilian music and mass zumba action, the day came to an end with a debrief for the volunteers and a look-see at what we had collected.
I was super impressed with Ron and the team from Auckland Community Zero Waste Alliance. Prior to the festival, they managed to convince the majority of the vendors to use compostable packaging, they ran a well-oiled machine on the day and are just an all-round great bunch of people.
With ACZWA’s support, the Brazilian Day Festival managed to divert 95.3% of its waste away from landfill. Yay!
And as for me, I would quite happily throw on a pair of gloves and grab a rubbish picker-upper thingy-majiggy again for the next Zero Waste event.