Frisco commits to zero waste Fourth of July, Fall Fest as part of sustainability efforts

Eva Havlova works a zero waste disposal tent June 15 during the 26th annual Colorado BBQ Challenge on Main Street in Frisco.
Hugh Carey /

FRISCO — Officials in Frisco are pushing forward with efforts to expand the town’s sustainability goals, beginning with new waste-diversion initiatives at a couple of the town’s biggest events.

For more than a decade, Frisco has prided itself on making the Colorado BBQ Challenge a zero waste event, diverting as much waste as possible from landfills and into recycling and compost bins. But earlier this month, the Frisco Town Council passed a resolution to bring other big events under the zero waste umbrella, including Fall Fest and the town’s Fourth of July celebration.

The move is not only meant to help achieve the town’s sustainability ambitions outlined in the Frisco Strategic Plan adopted earlier this year but also to encourage visitors to become better environmental stewards in their hometowns.

“Since we are a tourist destination, it’s not just our residents that we can help to educate,” Frisco Town Manager Nancy Kerry said. “The fact that we get tens of thousands of visitors means that we can inform them, and create new environmental advocates just with simple things like composting food and separating recyclables.”

Nora Gilbertson, Frisco’s events manager and self-described “recyclopath,” said the barbecue challenge has continued to evolve over the years, helping to work out some of the kinks in the town’s waste diversion processes and serving as a sort of proof of concept for further zero waste events. Gilbertson noted that this year the event achieved a record 43% diversion rate, and perhaps most importantly, community members have begun to embrace the message and do their best not to contaminate the disposal tents.

“What is really nice is it’s becoming a lot cleaner,” Gilbertson said. “It used to be that as these dumpsters were being brought up to the landfill, (High Country Conservation Center) or even myself would dumpster dive to further clean things because they were too contaminated, and we don’t have to do that anymore. They’re going to the landfill as good product, and we don’t have to have staff wading through four-day-old dumpsters to clean them out further.”

While town staff and officials point to the barbecue challenge as a growing success, they believe the inclusion of other events could make an even bigger impact.

The new diversion efforts officially kicked off last month during the 2019 Fall Fest, and while the town didn’t have any means to measure diverted waste, staff thinks it went well.

“It was good,” Gilbertson said. “We definitely increased our diversion rates. We didn’t have scales to measure, but what we did have was cleaner compost and cleaner recycling. We were definitely able to pull more out.”

Fall Fest diversion operated similar to the barbecue challenge, with volunteers and staff helping to inform individuals of the proper way to dispose of their trash. But as the initiative continues to expand, the town will have to find different ways to keep up with the flow.

Finding alternative diversion techniques is important because of the manpower often necessary during events — the barbecue challenge requires about 400 hours from conservation center volunteers every year — and because each event features different kinds of crowds with different kinds of trash.

For example, for the next Fourth of July celebration, Frisco will be hiring a third party contractor to sort through the trash on the back end, which could create an even more robust diversion rate.

“It’s the behavior of the people after the parade you have to look at,” Gilbertson said. “People have been sitting, eating snacks, having a soda, and they want to throw away their trash and walk away. Our trash bins are overflowing within minutes, and there’s no way you could receive that many people and provide them with that education. Nobody wants to stand in line to throw away trash. So we can figure out another way to intercept it. It’s going to be sorted on the back end. We’ve never done this, but my guess is that it will have a huge impact. … Fourth of July produces more trash than we see during our town cleanup day. My guess is we can divert at least 50% from the landfill to be recycled.”

For now, the zero waste event initiative will include just the three events, though Kerry said the ultimate goal is to expand it to all town events, along with developing a process to someday require private events to do the same.

While the term zero waste is somewhat aspirational for now, staff believes a holistic approach and new sustainability initiatives can help the town reduce its footprint.

“What the council wants is to go beyond trash,” Kerry said. “Everything now is about our path to net zero. That path is multifaceted. It might be waste diversion, multimodal transportation, incentivizing carpool or not driving at all. We’re just developing some of these strategies now because council is really focused on this.

“This council has said we are going to act in the way we speak. We’ve said environmental sustainability matters; we’ve had green teams, initiatives and sustainable goals. But unless we speak across the board with how we invest our money, how we prioritize the goals of the town itself and making climate action a high priority — unless we actually take bold action, we’re not going to make the progress we want.”

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