My name is Sidney Barbier, a returning intern with YVSC. I just finished my freshman year at the University of Denver where I am pursuing a double major with a B.S in Environmental Science and a B.A in Music. Last summer, my project was focused on developing and implementing a successful zero waste initiative at the Steamboat Farmers market in which I learned so much and made great strides forward for zero waste in the Yampa Valley. My current project is focused on assisting in monitoring proper waste diversion practices at high traffic events, such as the Steamboat Farmers Market and the Free Summer Concerts. My goal is to focus on achieving successful zero waste events in order to leverage waste diversion as a climate solution.
To start out, I think it is crucial for people to understand the need for waste diversion in the first place. The purpose of zero waste is to minimize the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill through actions such as recycling and composting. Through waste diversion, we can reduce the need for extraction of raw materials, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve energy, and more. Composting is a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. Typically, food and organic waste is sent to the landfill where it breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen) and produces a compound known as methane. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse that has the global warming potential nearly 30 times that of carbon dioxide. On the other hand, all materials that are composted are able to be broken down over time in an aerobic process that releases significantly fewer greenhouse gasses while also producing nutrient rich soils that can in turn be used to sequester carbon, improve water retention, and reduce erosion. In the end, correctly sorting what seems like just “trash” into the correct bins can have tremendously positive rippling effects for the economy, environment, and society.
Currently, the City of Steamboat Springs has a program which financially incentivizes event organizers to make their event zero waste. In coordination with YVSC, the City of Steamboat has budgeted to allow event organizers to plan a successful zero waste event. This is a huge step towards Advancing Zero Waste in our community and has even bigger implications on climate action. In addition, according to the 2022 Routt County Climate Action Plan, the city set a target of increasing waste diversion to 46% of solid waste diverted from the landfill by 2030 and 85% diverted from the landfill by 2050. These goals are imperative to climate mitigation and zero waste events are a simple solution to help achieve these goals.
Zero waste events provide a unique opportunity to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills while also educating the public about waste diversion processes. Education is such a crucial part of these zero waste initiatives. Most people want to do the right thing but just don’t know how. Knowing where to put their paper boats and plastic silverware can seem overwhelming and confusing which is why having knowledgeable volunteers and staff members at each waste station guiding people through the process is so crucial. Based on a behavioral assessment I did last summer for my internship, we found that unsupervised stations lead to increased contamination rates. We saw contamination rates of up to 49% at the unsupervised stations due to recyclables and compost being thrown in the trash. Simply having volunteers supervising the stations led to an average contamination of only 6%! In addition, the average contamination of unsupervised recycling was about 28% compared to less than 5% contamination with the supervised stations. I know that for me personally, monitoring zero waste stations at events gives me the opportunity to engage with the community and help educate people not only about the basics of waste diversion, but also about why waste diversion is so important in the fight towards climate action. There still is much work to be done to make each of these events truly zero waste, but it starts with having a conversation with vendors as well as educating the public, consumers, and volunteers on the what and why of zero waste as a whole.
We can always use more volunteers to be zero waste heroes and help divert waste from our landfill! Please sign up via the link below and help work towards a zero waste future. Zero waste is a simple and easy solution that can have a dramatic impact on our community, our climate, and our future.