Zero Waste by 2020 Initiative

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With so many festival-goers flocking to the Wingham Akoostik Festival, there’s bound to be an environmental impact.  We speak to Donna Ballard about the festival’s aim of zero waste by 2020. 

The Wingham Akoostik Music Festival is presented annually by a committee of eight volunteers, who share a passion for music and the arts. The committee formed in 2006 with the aim of raising the cultural profile of the Manning Valley and is auspiced by Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services.

The festival is three brilliant days of music and aims to attract visitors to the rural town every October. The festival is one of the most vibrant arts events on the NSW MidCoast calendar, attracting headline acts including Russell Morris, Kasey Chambers, Joe Camilleri, Ross Wilson, James Reyne, Richard Clapton and many more.

What does zero waste really mean?

In order to preserve the natural beauty of the region, the committee have set the target for the festival to be waste free by 2020, aiming to send zero waste to landfill.

Is it possible to actually get zero?

Whilst it is an ambitious target, it can be achieved if we recycle all waste generated. In 2016, through contamination of recycled materials, all festival waste went 100% to landfill. 

In 2017 we returned a really amazing outcome, to have 49% of waste diverted from landfill. This indicated that communication and education to event-goers was well received, and they were responsive to the requests made by the strong team leading the project and the dedicated volunteers who enforced their aims.

In 2018, with improved processes and communication strategies, an even better diversion result will be delivered. By 2020, the event will be waste free.

What was the driving force behind zero waste by 2020 for the festival?

Many music festivals leave their festival sites littered with rubbish, and then for efficiency in a quick clean up push, all waste goes straight to landfill. At the end of the 2016 Akoostik Festival, I personally felt like we had let our community down when I saw three skip bins of mainly food waste and rows of bins all lined up to go to landfill. We were looking for options to address waste, as our volunteers had always passionately pushed for us to be more responsible with recycling.

It’s a massive goal; how do you aim to get there?

It is a sizeable goal to reduce or recycle 30 cubic metres of waste! We aim to communicate our goal and educate our audience to adopt the waste free philosophy. We are also ensuring we make the most of the return and earn station by returning our cans, glass and plastic bottles. The funds from this will be donated to the local heroes of our Rural Fire Brigade.

You mentioned in 2016 that all waste went into landfill. How have you managed to divert this, and where does all the waste go?

In 2017, despite a 10% increase in festival attendance, overall waste was reduced by more than 20%, to 24.5 cubic metres. Of this, 49% (11.9 cubic metres) was diverted to recycling, with approximately 2 cubic metres from the event composted for soil for the Wingham Community Garden via Islands in the Stream Vermiculture – letting the worms do the work!

In addition, the Akoostik Festival and MidCoast Waste Services put a number of key strategies in place in 2017 to reduce event waste going to landfill. The strategies include:

  • Requesting that stall holders provide compostable packaging
  • Placing clear signage on all bins, indicating what goes where
  • PA announcements promoting “Waste Free by 2020” aim
  • Our waste team attending to bins across the entire weekend
  • Water refill station to reduce single use water bottles
  • Promoting reuse of coffee cups

Stall holders would create considerable waste; how did you manage to change this?

Many stallholders are already on board with the concept of using packaging that can be recycled; in fact, many of the local weekend markets insist on this. We state it as a requirement in our stallholder applications, and ensure they are also on board with our Waste Free by 2020 target.

It must take an army to pull this off. Who else is on board, and what do they do?

Besides our incredible Akoostik volunteers, of which approx. 20 are on the waste team, we collaborate with local service providers: MidCoast Council, MidCoast Waste Services, JR Richards, Islands in the Stream Vermiculture, and the Community Garden committee of Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services.

All are focused on providing practical solutions for diverting and recycling waste to meet the Waste Free by 2020 event aim.

What where some of the biggest challenges you face?

In 2017, people were not sure if their waste belonged in recycling or rubbish, and if their scraps could be sent to the worms! In 2018 we will staple samples of the waste items above the bins they belong in, to save any wrong decisions at the time of tossing.

If festival goers can bring their coffee keep-cups, that will assist greatly. MidCoast Waste officer Megan Griffiths installs drink stations on site too, so people can refill their water bottles and save waste from plastic water bottles. We also ask they follow the instructions from our well educated waste team and dispose of their rubbish in the right bin. We also invite festival-goers to visit our “Akoostik Art of Recycling”, to witness local artists converting “waste” into pieces of art across the festival weekend. Those who attended last year may recall our rainbow chandelier made from plastic soft drink bottles.

Where can we find out more? and

Thanks Donna. 

Interview: Bronwyn Davis.

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