A Zero Waster’s Experience at the State Fair

Spread the Sustainable Gospel!

Zero Waste at Fairs | As a Midwesterner, going to the county or state fair is a pastime we all partake in. There is just something about them that is so appealing. It might be the cheap carnival rides, the livestock shows, the exhibits, or the deep fried everything. When I say everything, I really mean everything, too. This year I saw deep fried Starbucks and deep fried lemonade.What?!

I’ve been going to fairs my whole life. We’d enter our homemade jams and crafts for judging, attend the nightly events like the demolition derbies and tractor pulls, and show horses. Because we lived in such a small community, fairs were an exciting time. It was something we looked forward to every year. Everyone gets together to celebrate all of wonderful things that the individual community stands for during county fairs and again for everything that Missouri stands for during the state fair. It was that sense of community that I believe to be the true reason that the fair was so special to everyone.

Going to the fair was different for me this year. Instead of stampeding through the fair grounds irresponsibly eating tons of fried food and buying several bottles of water then throwing all of that waste into a conveniently located garbage can, I focused more on what sustainable options were available to fair goers and made it a priority to enjoy the fair all day without producing one bit of trash.


I assumed that I’d quickly find an exorbitant amount of Missouri products, sustainable Missouri businesses showcasing the future of this great state, and exhibits on sustainable farming. Wishful thinking I guess. Sadly, aside from recycling bins scantly located throughout the fairgrounds and the amazing bee exhibit, that was basically it in terms of eco-innovation. Discouragingly enough, I also encountered dozens of exhibits praising genetically modified crops, a few exhibits supporting puppy mills, and one electric coop explaining how unreliable renewable energy is.

Tired piggies  

Disappointed, we decided to hang out in the livestock barns to sulk. After about an hour of petting every animal we could get our hands on, we decided it was time for dinner. It was time to put my zero waste skills to the test. I did bring water from home in my mason jar and snacks in my cloth bag but they were all gone at this point. I assumed that surely, there would be an area for me to refill my jar, so I found a fair volunteer and asked if there was anywhere like a water bottle refill station. Here was her response. “Uhh, I’ve never heard of such a thing ever in my life. The only place you could refill your jar is the bathroom.” Seriously? I don’t know why I was surprised. Instead, I decided to find some lemonade. It sounded good. On my way to the food area, I did manage to find one water fountain. It looked like it hadn’t been used by humans in 50 years. The livestock were taking full advantage of the free, perfectly clean water though  – notice the hose.


 Once I got to the food area, I chose the smaller food vendors that weren’t too busy. I figured this would increase my chances of zero waste success. Along with my jar, I came prepared with my reusable plates, sporks, and napkins for my husband and I’s food. I politely asked the food vendor if I could get my food on my plate and my lemonade in my jar and they happily obliged. I explained to them my mission to reduce what I send to the landfill and how important it is that we all think about where our trash goes and they wholeheartedly agreed.

I guess I pictured the fair being different. State fairs are supposed to showcase the best that people can do. Feature innovations and ideas people can take home and adapt to their lives. They are supposed to show their best of the best and collectively help push the state forward with these ideas and best practices. Maybe that’s what the state fair used to be. Maybe it’s just this fair. Or maybe I just missed the products of innovation and sustainability that I so desperately sought out? Despite the reason, I did manage to talk to a few fair food vendors that supported my endeavor. I guess all I can do at this point is to keep spreading the zero waste gospel. Lead by example. Oh, and believe you me, I will be writing the fair committee about installing those refillable water bottle stations!

I couldn’t resist getting a “trash free” corn dog to go. The wooden dowel came home with me and went straight into my compost! 😉


3 thoughts on “A Zero Waster’s Experience at the State Fair

  1. Since you've entered items to be judged at fairs in the past, had you considered having a booth next year to sell your hand made produce bags and reusable bags and hand out some brochures about simple baby steps people can try out at their homes.:-)

  2. I had meant to tell you how much I'm enjoying your blog but forgot when I commented. ��. Also consider giving a free small produce bag with your logo stenciled on it and have several sizes of your bags filled with different types of things as a visual “ideas” display at your booth. Keep up the good work!
    Terry in the Keys

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