Garlic Fest waste management a success

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BENNINGTON — This year's Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival was successful in a number of ways, one of them being how well the trash was taken out.

In keeping with state regulations on recycling and composting, the festival — organized by the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce — stepped up its waste management efforts under the leadership of local, Peg Mulligan.

"I love recycling; I've been doing it for a long time," said Mulligan. "You give back to the planet that gives to you."

Overall, the festival composted over half a ton of food waste and recycled 1,789 pounds of appropriate materials. According to TAM Waste Management, which assisted in the effort, the amount of food composted offset approximately 390 gallons of equivalent greenhouses gases.

"We attempted it last year without someone like Peg in charge, and it just did not work," said Lindy Lynch, one of the event's organizers. "This year we wanted to make the effort first of all because it's the best thing to do for the environment, but also because we wanted to comply with state regulations for festivals."

In 2012, the Vermont Legislature unanimously passed Act 148, also known as the Universal Recycling Law. Under that law, regulations on waste management including recycling and composting will become progressively more stringent until 2020.

"The idea was to institute an incentive to recycle through a ban on the material [recyclables in trash, for example]," said John Kelly, Materials Management Section Chief for the State's Waste Management and Prevention Division. "What's coming now in phases as a part of this law is that the larger producers of food waste are required to separate those from trash and recycling this year."

While a limited event like Garlic Fest will not be required to separate food waste until 2020 according to Kelly, the Chamber hopes to stay ahead of the curve by ramping up composting efforts alongside requirements for recycling.

"I spoke with [Trevor Mance, founder of TAM Waste Management,] to get a sense of what we needed to do, and he provided us with bins and instructions," said Mulligan. "When you have so many people attending an event, you need to be as responsible as possible about disposing of the waste produced."

To promote composting, vendors were provided with five-gallon buckets by Kevin Lynch -- former proprietor of Kevin's Sports Pub & Restaurant alongside his wife Lindy --with larger containers provided for those producing larger quantities. The collaborative effort was also bolstered by Athena Lee Bradley of the Northeast Recycling Council, and Milt Surdam of Bennington's LM Realty.

"The staff and volunteers were just wonderful," said Mulligan. "We also have a number of visitors who were glad to see the effort being put into composting and recycling."

Though all composting bins at the Garlic Festival were manned by volunteers, Lynch hopes that waste management can become more comprehensive in the future.

"The State was on site the entire time, and gave us some ideas," said Lynch. "Maybe even by next year we won't have any unmanned stations, particularly for recycling. When you have a human being there, it makes things go a lot more smoothly."

"Sometimes people just aren't sure what's allowable in food waste or recycling," added Mulligan.

Despite this year's success, the Chamber hopes to improve waste management efforts going forward.

"Marie Shutts had sent surveys out to vendors via email early in the process as part of her correspondence to them, and Athena did a booth-to-booth survey on Saturday," said Mulligan. "We'd like to see them using more compostable containers in future, but I know that sometimes container price is a big factor."

"Garlic Fest is truly a Vermont festival, and we're known for being a green state, so it's just the right thing to do," said Lynch. "For the amount of compost we did, it was pretty incredible."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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