Greener Pastures: Be a Zero Hero in world of waste |

Greener Pastures: Be a Zero Hero in world of waste

Cassie Pence
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

On April 5, volunteers from the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability will gather for Taste of Vail’s eighth annual Colorado Lamb Cook-off in Vail Village with one common goal – to make the event waste free.

Zero Heroes, as EVAS and the town of Vail call the volunteers, will man Zero Waste stations to help direct and educate all the happy eaters at the Lamb Cook-off to know exactly what to do with their plates, cutlery, napkins, uneaten food and drink containers. Because at a waste-free event, these items that normally would end up as trash are now diverted from the landfill and turned into resources and compost. It’s called waste diversion, and though not as common a household term as, say, recycling, in its essence, recycling is a form of waste diversion.

So is composting – the biological process of breaking up of organic waste such as food scraps, manure, leaves, grass trimmings, newspaper, worms and coffee grounds, etc., into an extremely useful humus-like substance by various microorganisms including bacteria and fungi in the presence of oxygen. Compost is gold for gardeners. It improves soil health and structure, increasing drought resistance and reducing the need for supplemental water, fertilizers and pesticides. That said, when food waste is not composted and then sent to the landfill, it has significant environmental consequences.

According the Environmental Protection Agency, when food is disposed of in a landfill it quickly rots and becomes a significant source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide. Landfills are a major source of human-related methane in the United States, accounting for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions.

The town of Vail, led by its fearless Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia, has worked really hard to reduce waste at its signature events, such as the Vail Farmers’ Markets. Bertuglia said they measured a 95 percent reduction in waste at one of last summer’s markets and an overall diversion of 75 percent of the waste stream.

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That’s a huge accomplishment. The town of Vail achieves this by requiring any event with more than 2,500 attendees and more than three food vendors to participate in its Zero Waste Events Program, which includes composting and recycling, and all food vendors are required to have compostable serving material. This means the plates, cutlery, cups, etc., must be able to be composted in a commercial composting facility. Eagle County doesn’t have one of those facilities – yet – but Summit County does. So town of Vail stores compostable material after events in a huge yard and only hauls it when it’s full, as to not add to the carbon footprint of trucking it to Summit after each event.

But waste diversion also needs you, dear friend, to volunteer as a Zero Hero. Without educating people at events, it could never happen. The Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability calls you to action to man Zero Waste stations for the Lamb Cook-off on April 5 and other Vail events, such as Sunday Farmers’ Markets, Gourmet on Gore, Teva Games and October Fest. The Alliance will organize and staff and train all Zero Waste volunteers.

For those of you who don’t know the Alliance, it’s a nonprofit in Minturn dedicated to making our community more sustainable, from helping businesses use energy more efficiently to collaborating on a countywide waste-diversion plan to teaching kids about sustainability in schools to supporting the local food movement.

Alliance director Tracy Anderson said the Zero Waste Events Program is a great volunteer opportunity for groups of friends and clubs, such as high school sports teams and band or the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The Alliance will donate as much as $120 to your club if you send 10 volunteers to staff one event.

Free money and feel good about diverting waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions? “Zero-wasting” is a win-win for everyone involved.

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle, She owns Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company, and is actively involved in the Eagle-Vail Community Garden, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Slow Food Vail Valley. Contact her at

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