How much trash can 420,000 people produce? Just ask the California Mid-State Fair.
On average, clean-up crews fill somewhere in the neighborhood of four to seven 40-yard dumpsters with garbage each day. The biggest haul came from the Garth Brooks concert in 2017, when attendees’ garbage — such as single-use trays, cups, napkins, straws, wrappers and paper towels — filled 10 of those large dumpsters, each of which hold between 12 and 20 pickup truck loads of garbage.
Most of what’s in the dumpster is headed to the landfill.
When a small city of people eat and drink on the go to see the sites and ride the rides for 12 days, “it creates a lot of product,” said fair CEO Michael Bradley. The fair generally has between 420,000 and 430,000 visitors a year.
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Product means garbage, recycling and green waste, like straw, shavings and manure produced by livestock.
The Mid-State Fair diverts 70 to 80 percent of that waste away from the landfill to either recycling or compost centers, according to a spokesman for San Miguel Garbage, which has the current contract with the fair to manage waste. There’s more recycling and straw and manure produced than there is garbage.
The diversion rate is above the 50 percent that is required of each county jurisdiction through the Integrated Waste Management Act, and at about the 75 percent diversion standard California shoots for, California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecyle) spokesman Lance Klug said.
And while the fair has made some efforts toward sustainability, other fairs and large events have modeled additional ways to reduce waste and increase recycling.
How much goes to the landfill?
Officials with the Mid-State Fair and San Miguel Garbage would not say how many square yards or total tons of fair waste are dumped each year from the fair into local landfills, like the Paso Robles, Chicago Grade or Cold Canyon landfills.
Bradley said of the four to seven, 40-yard dumpsters filled with garbage each day, the equivalent of one dumpster is sorted at the waste facility into recycling. He said that leaves around two to six dumpsters a day that go to the landfill. If an average of four, 40-yard dumpsters a day are filled with landfill-bound garbage, that’s a total of 48 dumpsters by the end of the fair — or between 550 and 900 loads in a pickup truck.
Aron Kardashian, operations manager with San Miguel Garbage, said the company is contracted to provide four, 40-yard dumpsters and 12, 4-yard dumpsters that are filled and emptied each day. He estimated 40 percent of it is recycled, but he wouldn’t say how much fair waste is transported to the landfill.
“The fair doesn’t even ask us,” Kardashian said.
Fair officials have increased efforts toward sustainability through the years, with energy-efficient lighting systems, increased recycling, composting all of the green waste from livestock and making sure vendors and livestock handlers understand when wastewater shouldn’t go down the storm drain.
“We’re all about conservation and sustainability,” Bradley said.
Easy-to-find recycling bins at the fair are filled with material that won’t go to the landfill, including recyclable beverage cups that vendors are required to use. And vendors use little if any Styrofoam.
This year, the Mid-State Heritage Foundation was given an $18,000 rebate check by PG&E after they replaced 142 light fixtures in the Paso Robles Pavilion with LED lights. The new lights’ reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is equivalent to the electricity use of five homes for an entire year, a news release said.
And, the recently completed Paso Robles Pavilion was designed to accept solar panels, though they haven’t yet been installed.
Yet, certain fair policies prevent attendees’ ability to reduce waste.
People who want to minimize their own waste would find it difficult; they aren’t allowed to bring their own food, and the only water containers allowed are unsealed plastic bottles.
However, guests can still consider carpooling to the fair, taking reusable utensils with them and declining to use unnecessary plastics, such as straws, Klug said.
“Reusable utensils, it might seem like a pain to carry around, but the alternative is contributing to the plastic problem,” Klug said.
He added, “You can also always say no to unnecessary packaging. If your hot dog on a stick comes with more packaging then necessary, you can just say you don’t need the extra packaging.”
Sustainable fair efforts
The Mid-State Fair isn’t the only one that has moved to more sustainable practices. Many fairs around the state are implementing solar power, waste diversion, water conservation and energy-efficient products, according to the California Fairs website.
The Del Mar fairgrounds, home of the San Diego County Fair, has been a leading example of fair recycling efforts, since 1985. In 2005, the fairgrounds were able to divert over 91 percent, which amounts to 26,558 tons, of their solid waste from landfills. The staff source separates out 30 products for recycling or composting year-round.
In 2011, the California Fair in Sacramento partnered with CalRecycle. They saved 60 tons of food waste from ending up in the landfill by requiring food vendors to separate potato peels, tomato stems and other compostable food waste. The food was composted at the Jepson Prairie Organics facility in Vacaville.
In other states, some fairs have also stood out for their green efforts.
In 2016, the Delaware State Fair asked food vendors not only to recycle plastics and cardboard, but also to collect the grease from their deep fryers, rather than throw it away. The grease was placed in separate containers then converted to bio-diesel and animal-feed additives.
The 2018 Minnesota Fair took a different approach to the green movement and partnered with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other organizations to present fair goers with educational displays about eco-friendly living.