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Styrofoam: taboo at Frisco BBQ

JULIE SUTOR
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
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FRISCO – The meat may be red, but the mood is decidedly green as the Town of Frisco kicks off its 17th annual Colorado Barbecue Challenge.

2010 will mark the first year Frisco’s signature summer event will be “zero waste” – a concept that requires event planners to think about the end destination of every bowl, bone, knife and napkin.

The Town of Frisco Special Events Department, in partnership with High Country Conservation Center, hopes to send at least 60 percent of the barbecue event’s waste to recycling and composting facilities rather than to the landfill. Each of the 95 barbecue teams and other vendors will serve their fare in compostable or recyclable containers. And scores of “Waste Warriors” will be on hand all weekend to help event attendees sort through the discard process so that compostable cups, for example, don’t end up in recycling bins.

“This is an ambitious effort, because, of all our events, this one involves the greatest number of vendors and has the largest waste stream,” said Suzanne Lifgren, the Town of Frisco’s marketing and events director.

This weekend’s high standard for sustainability is five years in the making. In 2005, the town’s events department started tackling waste at smaller events, like Town Clean-Up Day, where staff controlled all the materials purchased, used and tossed. From there, the ethic spread to larger events, in which the town offered incentives – such as reduced registration fees – for event vendors and participants who voluntarily adopted waste-reduction strategies. This year, going green is mandatory.

The town required all vendors in the 2010 Colorado Barbecue Challenge to sign zero-waste contracts, committing them to do without any service items headed for the trash. Plastic utensils, plastic bowls and plates, plastic-coated paper plates, Styrofoam in any form, and plastic beer cups can’t be recycled in Summit County, and are all taboo at the barbecue. In their place, event organizers are requiring vendors to offer compostable cups, utensils made from corn, uncoated plates, aluminum foil or other eco-friendly options.

“I like the idea,” said Chris Theis, a member of the Missouri-based Rubbin’ It and Lovin’ It barbecue team. “We recycle at home, so we’re glad to do it here.”

Theis said he was unable to find some of the approved service items in Kansas City, but he was able to procure the goods in Frisco, with the help of High Country Conservation Center. The local nonprofit served as a contact, consultant and supplier for all teams’ zero-waste needs from the beginning, as they sought to comply with the zero-waste contract.

Theis’s mother, Ruth, and wife, Mary, said this weekend’s contest is the only one they’ve entered that has had such a strong focus on reducing waste, and they wish more events would take sustainability as seriously.

Not a deterrent

Lifgren said any concern over whether the zero-waste requirements deterred entrants has vanished, given that the waiting list for barbecue teams was 20 deep on Friday.

“All the vendors we have worked with have been really agreeable and on-board with the program,” said Erin Makowsky, the Conservation Center’s waste-reduction coordinator.

According to Makowsky, reducing the event’s resource footprint isn’t the only ecological advantage to taking the zero-waste approach.

“There are also pretty significant greenhouse gas reductions when you’re composting at this level, preventing the release of methane that you’d have in the landfill,” Makowsky said.

Even with all the effort and planning that has gone into making the Barbecue Challenge zero waste, some trash is still inevitable. For example, meat may be transported in nonrecyclable plastic wrap; potato salad and cole slaw may come in tubs not accepted at the local recycling facility. Last year, a large compost container became contaminated when people mistook it for a trash bin. But challenges in one event inform improvements in the next, according to Lifgren.

“This year, all the compost bins we have are enclosed, and it shouldn’t be easy for passersby to toss plastic in,” she said.

And Lifgren thinks the organization could achieve waste-diversion rates as high as 80 percent in the near future.

“Each year, we get better, and overall, I think Frisco’s doing a great job educating the public. In a couple years, it’s our hope that this will be the new norm,” Lifgren said.

SDN reporter Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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