Calgary Journal

Posted by on 29 July 2010

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Folk Fest treads lightly: Several environmental efforts in place, more to be added this summer

Calgary Journall
By Sean-Paul Boynton, July 12

The most infamous scene from the 1970 documentary Woodstock has nothing to do with music, but rather takes place near the end of the film, when the filmmakers survey the miles of garbage that the hippies had left in their wake.

Fortunately for us, that fate won’t be befalling Prince’s Island Park, thanks to the continued efforts of the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

Although this year marks the festival’s 31st celebration of all things folk, the organization’s eco initiative program has only been in effect for the past five years.

“We’re not only making sure that the festival is as green as possible, but we’re also looking to affect the culture of Calgarians,” says Leor Rotchild, manager of eco initiatives for the Calgary Folk Fest.

Volunteers at the Calgary Folk Fest supervise compost bins, in order to assure as much waste as possible can be diverted away from landfills.
Photo: Dave Kenney/Calgary Folk Festival
Educating festival-goers about the benefits of a green lifestyle is Rotchild’s top priority, he says, and many programs are in place during the festival to do just that.
Most notably, various waste centres throughout the park are supervised by volunteers who will help guests separate their waste and deposit it into the appropriate place -- recycling, compost or garbage.

“People are surprised by how much they attempt to just throw away [that] can actually go somewhere other than the landfill,” says Rotchild. “The volunteers help people make the right decisions about where to put their waste, and hopefully they go home a little wiser.”

Another initiative that has been widely popular amongst attendees is the plate program, which allows patrons to buy a plastic plate for a toonie, use it as much as they want, and then return the plate to get their money back so the plate can be washed and reused.

There’s also widespread use of compostable cutlery (made from corn starch and potato) amongst the various food vendors, and Big Rock Brewery uses compostable cups in the beer gardens, significantly reducing the amount of plastic waste that goes to the landfill.

Even the volunteers get involved, as illustrated by one ambitious volunteer who invented a device that sucks up and neatly stacks the compostable beer cups, resulting in less plastic bags being needed for collection.

“We always take ideas from the volunteers into consideration, and when a great idea like that one comes along, we figure we may as well use it,” enthuses the festival’s volunteer coordinator Talia Potter.

“One of the great benefits of working for the Folk Fest is that it grows programs based on the individual interests of the staff. I came into this organization wanting to see a change in the way eco initiatives were being handled, and before I knew it, I was seeing recommendations I was making almost immediately being adopted.”

Potter’s push for more focus on green issues resulted in Rotchild’s position being created three years ago. Rotchild took on the role in order to make sure a single, responsible manager was handling the festival’s initiatives.

Feedback from volunteers regarding the festival’s environmental programs has been “very enthusiastic,” says Potter, who notes that she’s experienced a 75 per cent return rate this year, while the overall number of volunteers has risen to 53.

Barbara Bruederlin will be returning to the Folk Fest for her fourth year as a volunteer this month, and she says she’s proud to be part of a festival that takes such a green approach.

“There are so many different ways to promote an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, and I’m glad the Folk Fest has adopted so many of them,” says Bruederlin.

“Some things were evident the first time I attended, like the reusable plates, but others I didn’t know about until later, like the compostable cups. There are so many good things going on that it’s hard at first to realize the scale of it, but they’re doing a great job.

“It’s never a bad thing to be reminded about your effect on the planet, and what you can do to avoid it,” she continues.

Every year, the Folk Fest continues to grow its environmental program by adding new initiatives and even removing some that proved unsustainable. This year is no different, as Rotchild and his team are tackling one of the largest environmental issues of them all: bottled water.

“We’re devising a system that would see reusable cups being used by the patrons, and water stations being set up throughout the site,” he says.

If you’re thinking less about the sun-parched crowd and more about the sweat-soaked performers, Rotchild’s way ahead of you.

“We know that the performers do favour having bottled water on stage, so the folk festivals around Canada got together and purchased stainless steel water bottles that the artists can fill up backstage. We’re even going to have a washing station so that they can be reusable amongst the various artists.”

Also new this year is a tree seedling program. By calculating the carbon dioxide emissions caused by artists’ buses and air travel, volunteers hand out an equivalent number of tree seedlings to patrons, with the hopes those trees will eventually cancel out the negative effects those emissions create in the atmosphere.

Rotchild is confident that as he continues to roll out new initiatives, the ticketholders will continue to embrace the effort.

“The Folk Fest audience is unique,” says Rotchild. “They understand the environmental concerns of the festival, and they’re willing to let us teach them a thing or two. There’s never any concern that this will all go over their heads.”

The efforts of Rotchild and the rest of the festival team seem to strike a chord with many of the Folk Fest fans that set foot on the island each July.

“It’s definitely made me think about getting my composter working again,” laughs Bruederlin.