• Recycling Cans

We all have that picture in our head … 4th of July fireworks, parades, picnics, and the resulting mess left after these events that blows in the wind or drops into the river for turtles, ducks, or fish to consume and suffer. They leave bags upon bags of garbage, at least the stuff that made it into the overflowing garbage cans.

That was the unplanned scene from Incourage Community Foundation’s first community picnic in 2012. We had planned for up to 500 people and 1,000 showed up! We struggled to keep up with the overflowing garbage cans and recycling containers. “Guesstimates” put the total per participant generation at 0.8 pounds. That included plates, utensils, corn cobs and many other recyclable or compostable materials.

“When you knew better, you did better.”

At this past summer’s community picnic, we took a more strategic approach, planning to use local foods and dramatically lower our environmental footprint. All picnic supplies were reviewed to maximize recyclable or compostable elements. We increased the number of waste stations with specific receptacles for recyclables, compostables, and true waste. Each of the receptacles had examples of the specific picnic wastes being generated and where each should go: water bottles in recycling, corn cobs in composting, potato chip bags in the waste. Using the 0.8 lb. rate from the first picnic, with 3,500 attendees, the potential impact would have been 1.4 tons of garbage. Instead, with most materials recycled or composted, the garbage total was around 300 pounds. This was less than half the amount generated the first year even though we had three times as many people.

We learned a valuable lesson. IF we choose to, we can make a significant difference by the choices we make.

Waste Steward Richard Breen and fellow volunteer explain to picnic goers where each item goes.