Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Waste not want not at WOMAD

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The Volunteer Waste Station in action at WOMAD. Photo / supplied
The Volunteer Waste Station in action at WOMAD. Photo / supplied

Last weekend I was lucky enough to go to the excellent WOMAD festival in Taranaki.

The home of oil and gas and a stronghold for dairy farming - this region is not usually recognised as a pinnacle of environmental performance, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a very high standard going into the festival.

The first thing I noticed was how clean the site was.

Festival organisers provided 146 tickets for volunteers, who dutifully ran the waste stations around the site and removed the relatively small amount that people dropped throughout the weekend.

This involved separating materials for composting and recycling, with a goal of diverting over 80 per cent from landfill.

The initiative was run by impressive social enterprise Beyond the Bin, who have an aim to enable people to better manage waste at events by running workshops with food vendors and festival organisers that teach hands-on waste minimisation systems.

"The best part of the job is working with the team of volunteers" says Kim Renshaw, operations and strategy director from Beyond the Bin.

"It is certainly hard work, but we have many that come back year on year and all of them leave the experience changed."

And it is not just the lure of headlining international acts as St Germain and De La Soul that the volunteers come for.

Surveys of waste diversion crews by Beyond The Bin have found that 95 per cent of them get involved so that they can feel like they have contributed to the environment and society.

I think it is wonderful that festivals are enabling this to happen and that sponsors are getting behind such initiatives as it is always easier to change behaviour when people are having fun.

Music is a great way to make it fun.

Most importantly though, considering that recycling alone - with its high energy use and downgrading of materials - will not actually by itself save the world from our consumption habits - there were several initiatives at WOMAD that helped to reduce the footprint of each festival goer and should - I think - become mandatory for publicly-funded events.

All the vendors were required to use compostable, rather than recyclable materials to hand out their food and drinks and it was great to see New Zealand company Globelet providing reusable cups. This initiative has seen a reduction of over 55,000 plastic vessels that would otherwise have ended up in landfill.

In addition to this there were reusable coffee cups, the sales of which went towards conservation efforts bringing back the Kokako to Taranaki.

It was good to see this program supported by Shell - the world's third largest company by revenue with average revenue of over $US379 billion over the last three years.

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Plastic is of course, produced by oil, so the fact that an oil company is contributing dollars and being publicly associated with waste minimisation to feels like a good start on producer responsibility.

It feels right.

What is even better is that we are starting to see the education programs sink into what festival goers care about. A Berl Economic Report, collated from a survey of 3000 people at the festival last year, showed that Zero Waste was second only to the music as the top element that enhanced the festival experience.

This is great news for social enterprises like Beyond the Bin, who are now looking forward to running vendor education and sorting waste at the Field days event, as it seems like our community are starting to care more about the materials they use, which will in the end, make New Zealand a better place to live.

Do you think that it should be mandatory for publicly funded events to have a goal of zero waste to landfill? What could we do to make this happen?

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