Greening the Dodge Poetry Festival
A green army of volunteers were on hand at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival when thousands of people flocked to downtown Newark this October to hear more than 70 renowned poets read, perform and discuss poetry.
Their mission was simple but by no means easy — make sure as much paper, plastic bottles, compostable utensils, and other recyclable items as possible stay out of our landfills and incinerators.
For the third time, Clean Water Action, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the City of Newark and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation teamed up in an effort to recycle and compost all the waste from the four-day festival, the largest poetry event in North America held October 23-26.
“We want to make New Jersey Performing Arts Center a model in zero-waste events not just once every two years, but to move NJPAC and other key venues in Newark and beyond to become zero-waste venues on an ongoing basis,” Clean Water Action State Director Amy Goldsmith said. “If enough businesses in downtown Newark get on board, we could create a zero-wasteshed. Newark could save millions of dollars it is currently burning up while creating green jobs and making the city more sustainable.”
More than 125 Green Team volunteers wearing green Festival T-shirts were posted at resource recovery stations throughout NJPAC — each with four bins for all types of recyclable and compostable items — to help assist festival-goers and ensure there is no contamination between bins.
The volunteers inspected, weighed and prepared all collected materials for pick-up and reuse, and also answered any questions the public has about the effort.
At the 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival, nearly 3,000 pounds of food waste, more than 600 pounds of bottles and cans and mountains of paper and cardboard was recycled. In comparison, a waste audit by Clean Water Action showed 1,020-pounds of trash was collected during the event.
“We’re committed to sustainable practices at Dodge and the Poetry Festival is no different,” said Michele Russo, Dodge Poetry Coordinator. “It takes a lot of effort but it’s worth it when you see how much is kept out of the waste stream.”
Newark’s trash is hauled to an incinerator in the City’s Ironbound section, Goldsmith said. These waste facilities, she said, are huge sources of water and air pollutants and linked to climate change and health disorders such as asthma.
“We know that in an ideal world, we would starve the incinerator because of its effects on the community,” Goldsmith said. “Reducing the amount of trash fits in with Newark's Sustainability Plan to reduce asthma and greenhouse gases and improve local healthy food production.
“We’re trying to create a healthy, vibrant Newark in a way that engages people that live in the City rather than having to bring in solutions from the outside,” she said. “There is plenty of talent, resources and ingenuity here and we’d like to see that shape Newark.”
This year, Clean Water Action developed a new food waste training program for NJPAC and the NICO restaurant kitchen staff and created new signs to make it easier to tell exactly where each item should go. The non-profit organization, whose mission is to support energy policies and global warming solutions that create jobs and protect our water, also worked with all Poetry Festival food vendors ahead of time to minimize food packaging and source compostable paper goods and utensils.
Chad Spies, Assistant Vice President of Site Operations at NJPAC, said NJPAC’s recycling program includes paper, cardboard, plastic, metals and glass but stops short at food waste.
“NJPAC already takes a lot of effort to recycle everything we can,” Spies said. “It matters for everybody, no matter what line of business you are in. It would be great if we could all be zero-waste, so we’re always looking for ways to get there.”
Leftover food waste from the kitchens and anything attendees don’t eat from their meals will be sent to Ag Choice in Andover, New Jersey’s first on-farm composting operation. The 5-acre farm spreads out everything from fruit, vegetables, bread, meats, spent coffee beans and leaves in 125-foot-long rows and uses a machine to aerate and mix it to let the microbes do their work of breaking the materials down into rich compost.
Recycling food waste makes sense for not only homeowners but also for businesses because each ton of garbage can cost more than $150 to cart offsite, Goldsmith said. Eliminating dense, heavy food scraps means less garbage and less money.
Goldsmith said the public is invited to bring refillable water bottles or stainless steel bowls and utensils with them to the Dodge Poetry Festival and bring home the tips they learn to continue doing their part.
“We know people want to do the right thing and we want to make it easy for them to do the right thing,” Goldsmith said. “Everything we do matters.”
To learn more or volunteer as a Green Team member, visit Clean Water Action's website.