PICTURED: A ClearStream intermediate container. Photo by Rod Cordova, Thousand Oaks Public Works Department.
by David Goldstein
Last weekend, for the first time in over a year, I attended a large public event. Being in a crowd felt unfamiliar and a little frightening, as thousands of people filled Camarillo’s Constitution Park with their lawn chairs and picnic dinners for an outdoor concert featuring Twisted Gypsy, a talented and energetic Fleetwood Mac tribute band.
The continuous stream of well-known hits, the lead singer’s vocal and dance imitations of Stevie Nicks, and the rockin’ keyboards of a Christine McVie character were not the only familiar recycling at the event.
Although most people packed out their own waste, rather than trying to wade their way through the crowd to the park’s containers, the event still collected two three-cubic-yard bins of recyclables and two full bins of the same size for garbage.
Recycling bins, and intermediate containers facilitating the use of those bins, at public events is not just a basic public service. It is also a legal requirement in some cases. Local ordinances require recycling at public events in most cities, and organizers of events charging more than 2,000 people for admission are required by state law to provide recycling service. In fact, California Assembly Bill 2176, passed in 2004, requires organizers of all events expected to draw over 2,000 paid attendees to submit plans to their city or county recycling coordinator for approval before the event and to report waste and recycling results afterwards.
The three main refuse and recycling companies serving Ventura County provide not just final bins for collection, but also intermediate containers for special events. Charging around $7 per container, they provide cardboard boxes with lids and labels for trash and recyclables. Containers are reusable if kept clean with plastic liners.
The city of Oxnard, which hauls garbage through municipal service, offers free containers to facilitate event recycling in the city, although large event service has not yet resumed following COVID-19 social distancing protocols. Better than cardboard boxes, Oxnard uses ClearStream containers, which are metal frames holding a labeled lid on top and suspending a clear bag underneath, so contamination and fill-levels can be easily monitored.
The city of Ventura’s Environmental Services Division and the city of Thousand Oaks’ Public Works Department also loan ClearStream containers to special event organizers in their cities.
Labeling and lids are keys to the public event recycling success. Containers should be labeled on sides and lids. More importantly, lids for boxes collecting bottles and cans should have small circular holes. Some people do not read English and many people do not bother to read signs in any language, so it is important for recycling containers to look different from garbage cans. A round hole at the top not only is a visual cue; it impedes the disposal of some types of garbage.
Similarly crucial for avoiding contamination of recyclables is placing garbage cans next to recycling containers. Making it slightly more convenient to use a garbage can prevents problems caused by those who insist on simply using whichever container is most convenient.
Within the next few years, a new state requirement will apply to large events. In addition to recycling cans, bottles and cardboard, event organizers will be required to divert food waste from landfills. Leftover food good enough to be fed to people must be recovered for that purpose, and remaining food must be sent to a compost facility.
The most unusual recycling from a local event came from a Civil War reenactment. Over a three-day period, several hundred people feverishly poured gunpowder from finger-sized paper pouches into replica rifles so they could point at an opposing army, make a loud noise, and watch smoke curl upward. The pouches littered battlefields, even after the Union and Confederate “dead” had risen and gone back to their respective campsites. After the event, organizers combed the grounds, collected the paper, and added it to bins filled with the crowds’ cans and bottles, bound for a recycling center.
The biggest single waste item from an event was from a golf tournament at the Lake Sherwood Country Club. The PGA event there last year did not include public attendance, but in previous years, organizers used green carpet to protect turf in areas of high foot traffic. After the event, to keep this barely used carpet from a landfill, event organizers transported these carpets to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Simi Valley or Oxnard. Early next year, a new ReStore will open in Simi Valley, making re-sale of gently used items like this an even more convenient option.
David Goldstein, Environmental Resource Analyst with the County of Ventura Public Works Agency, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-658-4312.