How to be Zero Waste at Festivals

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How to be Zero Waste at Festivals | Fall is finally upon us! Hooray for apple picking, hay rides, cooler weather, pumpkin patches, and Fall festivals! In the Midwest, there is usually a festival or 3 about every weekend until the end of October. They are the best thing ever.

Artisans from far and wide set up shop to sell their amazing goods, musicians serenade the enormous crowds all day long, and massive amounts of food stands sell heavenly, delicious, sinful piles of food. Seriously, festival food is the absolute best thing in the world. In years past, I’d do my usual thing by zig-zagging through the festival grounds grabbing my usuals, pulled pork sandwich, corn dog, and a funnel cake, with no regard to the amount of waste I was creating. Thinking about it, that would have been 3 napkins, 2 plastic forks, 3 styrofoam plates, and at least 1 plastic bottle of water. Multiply that by the hundreds of people that attend these festivals and you have a huge amount of trash created in a relatively short amount of time. Festivals are very wasteful.

Well, luckily there is a way that you can enjoy the festivities and delicious food without contributing to the waste. You just have to come prepared. I made a slight modification to my Zero Waste Kit so that I was prepared for the vast selection of food that I was yearning to consume.

  1. Reusable Plates – I dug through my camping gear and pulled out our reusable plates. Yes, they are plastic which is not ideal, but I had already purchased these before my zero waste, plasticless initiative. Instead, I would have used stainless steel plates. Check your local military surplus stores for some package free options.
  2. Reusable Cutlery – We used stainless steel sporks from Life Without Plastic.
  3. Cloth Napkins – We bring multiple so that we have something for our faces and hands and others for wiping our plates off before we stow them back into our big bag.
  4. Mason Jars – for drinks
  5. Tea Tumbler – Again, this is something that I had already owned. I brought this along because the restaurant that I purchased this tumbler from was allowing free tea refills at the festival. I love me some sweet tea!                                                                                                                                         
  6. Large Cloth Tote – Of course, you’ll need something to carry all of that in!

On Friday evening, Ben and I walked down to the annual South Side Fall Festival that takes place just a mile from our house. It’s the one time of the year that the whole neighborhood smells like deep fried food. It’s pretty great. I’m always interested in local, zero waste wares, so I just had to check those booths out first. There seems to be more and more people crafting homemade soaps nowadays. I love it!

Handmade soap smells SO much better than the artificial junk that you buy at the store. It doesn’t seem to dry out yours hands either.

I also stock up on my candles in the fall. These were soy candles in just about every seasonal scent you could imagine.

 And of course, my favorite booth of all. I buy my lotion bars and package free beeswax from this couple who has an apiary about 20 miles away. They are going to let me tour their farm soon and I’m super excited about it.

After checking everything else out, Ben and I listened to a few bands before we decided to grab some food. We opted for our usual pulled pork sandwiches. Now, asking a vendor to use your reusable plates and glasses can be really intimidating. I usually have to psych myself up for a little bit and rehearse what I’m going to say before I order. Also, I never attempt to use my plates or glasses at busy stands. I always wait for a booth to have no line so that I have plenty of time to explain my request. This also allows for them to not get confused with other orders they are putting together at the same time. What I usually say is, “Would you be able to put my order on this plate, please?” Yes, it’s that simple and direct. So far, I’ve been 100% successful with this line. After, I receive my food, I always always ALWAYS, leave a tip in the tip jar.  Acting very gracious towards the vendors, makes it easier for someone else to be successful at asking the same request without getting turned away. That pulled pork sandwich was pretty darn good, by the way!

The next day, we had a friend join us for a zero waste lesson. She was totally on board with the zero waste thing and was completely intrigued by the thought of getting food without creating any trash. I was bound to prove to her that you can! Since you can pretty much smell the funnel cakes from a mile away, that was what we were after. Again, I looked for a vendor that had no line, asked them if it would be any trouble to use my plate, and tipped once my request was granted. Success!

It was so much fun sharing my tips and tricks with someone that is also passionate about her carbon footprint. It also helps give me that extra bit of confidence that I sometimes need when asking food vendors to do the not-so-norm.

So, can you enjoy festivals without producing any waste? Yes, yes you can!

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