Beginning in 1980 with one staff and 300 volunteers, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival has grown and matured to become one of the leading folk festivals in the world. This year’s festival features Loreena McKennitt, Bruce Cockburn, The Avett Brothers, Rosanne Cash, Feist, and many more.
It is also a model green event. Since the 1980s, its team of volunteers have included an environmental crew, and every year, the festival finds ways of tweaking its ways of reducing waste.The environmental crew now includes 12- to 15-year-old “Enviropower” volunteers, who pick up trash each morning on Gallagher Hill, where the festival is held. There is a volunteer kitchen enviro crew, a beer garden enviro crew, a crew that picks up trash in the neighbourhood streets surrounding the site, and a volunteer-run secure bike area to encourage cycling to the festival. Some cash registers run on solar power, compact fluorescent lightbulbs are used wherever possible, and volunteers who don’t bring their own reusable water bottle and coffee cup simply go thirsty.
One of the festival’s most effective green initiatives is the reusable plate program, which has been in place for a few years and was an idea the Folk Fest stole from the Vancouver folk music festival, says volunteer coordinator Vicki Fannon. Folk Fest purchased thousands of Melmac plates and “sells” them to the concession stands for $2 a plate. Customers pay an extra $2 for the plate when they purchase food. They then return the plate to a plate booth once they’re done, and receive a $2 refund. The plates are washed on site, and the cycle continues.
The 2013 Folk Fest marks the fourth year of a partnership with Cleanit Greenit, an Edmonton composting company, to reduce food waste. The festival stipulates that all concessions use only biodegradable packaging — this means corn-based cutlery, glasses, and straws — and Cleanit Greenit turns all of this organic waste into compost. As a result, almost nothing gets thrown out, and what does gets sorted by Edmonton’s cutting-edge Waste Management Centre.
Information in the Folk Fest program booklet and on the giant screens set up on the hill educate people on the plate program and recycling and compost stations, but for the moment, “compost supervisors” remain stationed next to bins to ensure everything ends up where it should.