I am always amazed at how passionate people are about conservation and at the power of volunteering for accomplishing a lot. Every year in the city of Stillwater there is the Lumberjack Days Festival. It is the city’s celebration to pay homage to the lumber industry that brought people to Stillwater in the first place. Lumberjack Days brings visitors from all over Minnesota – people come to enjoy the tasty food trucks, buy clothes or jewelry from local sellers, listen to live music, and of course to watch the lumberjack competition. What most don’t think of when they think of Lumberjack Days – or any other festival for that matter – is the amount of landfill waste it creates. To give a general image of this, while tabling at the festival, I noticed the waste hauler empty the waste bins every six hours or so. With 12 waste bins, that amounts to 72 waste bins of trash being picked up. This is just the nature of festivals, especially when food products so often contaminate recyclable materials.
This year, however, I was invited to participate on a low-waste committee whose purpose was to oversee organics and recycling collection at Lumberjack Days. This committee formed in just under three weeks prior to the festival, a timeline that had us quaking in our lumberjack boots. Our main goals, set up with the help of Waste Wise, a program through the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, were to ensure that vendors use compostable cups and silverware, and to place volunteers at each organics and recycling bin to monitor the level of contamination of those bins.
We had 144 volunteer “waste monitor” slots to fill…for one of the worst roles to ask a volunteer to participate in. In most cases, our volunteers literally had to stick their hands, and sometimes entire bodies, down into the organics collection bin to fish out non-organic waste.
Yet when I made phone calls to recruit to this position and when partner groups posted the volunteer need on their social media networks, Stillwater community members stepped up to the challenge. Overall, we filled 33 volunteer slots. While this was far fewer than the 144 we had anticipated needing, our volunteers’ dedication and tireless interest in reducing landfill waste led to success. In fact, thanks to our volunteers we diverted 600lbs of compostable material away from the landfill. That material will be taken to a high-heat composting site to be broken down and used.
I’ll be honest when I say I was worried at our ability to accomplish the task of a low-waste Lumberjack Days with just under three weeks to recruit volunteers and coordinate logistics. But when I made those phone calls and heard the passion in Stillwater residents’ voices, I had hope that we’d get the job done well.
The Lumberjack Days low-waste success demonstrates how any conservation effort, big or small, can be accomplished when it gets at what people are passionate about and when people step up to volunteer. If you have a conservation project you are interested in, set your goal and recruit your friends, family, and community members to get the job done. Additionally, if you are unsure of how to accomplish a conservation goal or recruit volunteers, feel free to email me at Julie@conservationminnesota.org.