There are greenfests, then there's Portland's Pickathon, which runs Aug. 3-5. Not as well known as some of the other national gatherings, the 14-year-old boutiquefest on Pendarvis Farm near Portland, Ore., draws 6,500 attendees per day, and has taken low-impact to a whole new level.
Founder Zale Schoenborn has made the intimate, three-day fest the greenest in the country by implementing a strict no-single-use policy regarding cups, dishware, utensils and containers. The only event to use such strict measures, Pickathon has replaced the traditional plastic beer cups with branded stainless steel cups from Klean Kanteen, which each attendee keeps for the weekend. He estimates this effort alone reduced total waste by 21 percent per person and landfill waste by 16 percent per person in 2011.
“We decided early on that charging money for water is wrong,” said Schoenborn about efforts to eliminate all plastic bottles as well. “When you make that decision you have to figure out how to enable free water … and you essentially have to build that loyalty with the audience.” One way Schoenborn does that is by opening up changes in the fest's policies to a vote, which resulted in the introduction of the $5 Kanteen beer cups three years ago. That direct line with a dedicated audience that preapproves changes is one of the key factors in Schoenborn's ability to undertake such wide-ranging waste reduction efforts with the confidence that his attendees will buy into the changes.
“You have to carry it around all weekend and it's your responsibility … so we provide a way to rinse them and store them and you carry it around with a gasket that fits around the cup,” he said. The immediate impact was 25 percent less waste the first year plastic cups were eliminated at the six-stage gathering held on an 80-acre farm. “By getting them to buy in it gave us the confidence to do it and, in our case, it was super easy … a nonissue.”
Schoenborn said he realizes that the more grass-roots, scaled-down nature of his festival makes it easier to implement those kinds of efforts, but even his boldest initiatives start out with a simple idea that seems obvious as both a money and earth saver. In 2011, Pickathon decided that the usual method of using compostable plates and service items made no sense. “All that energy that goes into making corn-based items is the same as plastic, except you can recycle that and corn just turns into water … there's no way to reuse it,” he said. “If you can reuse the dishes you're winning on all vectors.”
For the second year, the attendees this summer were offered microwaveable, 100 percent biodegradable, dishwasher-safe bamboo plates with bamboo sporks, or the option of bringing their own plates and silver and using the fest's free dishwashing stations.
For a $10 fee, when you purchase a meal the vendor serves it on the bambooware. Then, attendees could either turn the plates back in and get $5 tokens, which they could keep and use at local Go Box Food Carts around town, or take them home. “All these things are high-end design-y items that you can use in your kitchen all year long,” he said of the dishware that he's heard fans use well after leaving the farm.
This year, you could also turn in your Klean Kanteen cups to get washed, and receive tokens which could be turned back in at any time so fans didn't have to carry them around. “Just going to that system reduced our trash by another 25 percent,” he said, bringing the total amount of waste created in 2011 down by nearly 60 percent over the two previous years.
“We're not losing any money on these systems,” he said. “They essentially pay for themselves. We want to prove that you can do all this stuff and have a huge ecological impact and make the festival so clean it pays for itself.” The $10 cost of the token helps pay for all the plates and the dishwashing, while saving Pickathon the cost of more trash hauling.
Contacted for this story: Zale Schoenborn, firstname.lastname@example.org