Sustainability Tip: ‘This is our first rodeo’

Amelia Kovacs
Sustainability Tip
The Walking Mountains Zero Waste Team at the Eagle County Fair & Rodeo.
Courtesy photo

Country music blasting, slurping of fresh lemonade, cowboys lounging and the consuming of maybe an unhealthy but unregretted amount of funnel cake — not the first event you’d imagine having zero waste at the forefront. At this year’s Eagle County Fair and Rodeo, for the first time in its 83-year history, Walking Mountains was invited to introduce its zero waste services throughout the event.

Now, what makes this year’s rodeo “zero waste?” Since February of this year, Walking Mountains and leaders from the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo had been planning how to minimize the impact of the event on our environment and local resources through waste diversion. Waste diversion, in short, is finding alternative and more sustainable ways to dispose of waste instead of the landfill.

Zero-waste events take that concept to the public by diverting as much as possible to recycling and composting. The Zero Waste team sorts and weighs all of the trash, recycling, and compost by hand, ensuring that everything is in the right place. For our events, the goal is to divert 90% of the event’s waste from the landfill through recycling and composting.

These events help to minimize our community’s resource use, as landfills are a finite resource, and recycling and composting put materials back into the production cycle. They also help us to reach our climate action goals, as composting organic waste (like food scraps and yard waste) reduces methane emissions that come from landfilling those materials.

To make this possible, several sustainability efforts were implemented to strive for a high diversion rate. These sustainability efforts include:

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  • 23 zero hero tents with detailed signage that collect compost, recycling, and trash, were stationed across the event footprint.
  • A large sorting station was set up near the grandstands for the public to observe Walking Mountains’ zero waste efforts where every bag of waste collected was sorted.
  • Every food vendor was provided with sustainable vendor guidelines that outlined what service ware products they should bring to make sure that we could successfully recycle and compost as much event waste as possible.
  • On-site recycling/composting training given to Fair & Rodeo staff.
  • 20-25 high school volunteers were given on-site recycling/composting training.
  • 4H and the Cowboy Lounge were equipped with compostable plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Event attendees were educated on the sustainable waste stream options at the event.

And these efforts went far — of the 9,457.22 pounds in total collected from the event, an astounding 7,285.92 pounds of waste was diverted from the landfill and into composting and recycling. That comes out to a 77.1% diversion rate — huge for a new event, a large event with lots of waste and lots of vendors. We saw overall great participation and cooperation from vendors, and so much support from staff for this new layer to the event.

Many kudos and thanks to the whole Eagle County Fair & Rodeo staff and volunteer teams, Walking Mountains Zero Waste team who worked late nights — some until 2 a.m. — to get the job done, Vail Honeywagon, and all of the vendors for making sustainability a priority this year. And lastly, thank you to our community who showed immense support for our efforts. We could not have done it without you all.

Sustainability can start anywhere. Walking Mountains looks forward to working with the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo in the future to see how these efforts can grow to reach that 90% — or beyond.  Now we can officially say that it’s not our first rodeo anymore! Cheers to that.

Amelia Kovacs is a sustainability programs coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. In her free time, she likes to play soccer, dabble with photography, and ski.

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