Summerfolk banning single-use plastic bottles as part of quest to become a zero-waste event

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Bottled water, pop and juice will now be banned from Summerfolk.


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The move, announced this week by the Georgian Bay Folk Society, is part of the cultural organization’s greening initiative, which aims to eventually make the annual music and crafts festival in Owen Sound a zero-waste event, according to GBFS general manager Roxane Davidson.

“That’s our biggest push this year is to eliminate the plastic and disposable items,” she said Wednesday.

“We’ve already told our food vendors that they have to offer either cans or compostable products. And we’re asking our patrons and volunteers to bring their reusable mugs or reusable water bottles and if they don’t have them, we’ll have them available at the general store at the site.”

Food vendors will also be asked to use only compostable plates, cutlery and cups, she said.

The beer tent, which is operated by the GBFS, will be transitioning away from plastic to compostable/reusable cups, but there’s still stock to use up before that change becomes official.

Patrons who arrive at the Summerfolk gates with single-use plastic containers will be asked to leave them in their vehicles, Davidson said.

“And they will be able to come out and enjoy those refreshments whenever they want because they’ll have a wristband,” she said.

Water refill stations will be set up at Kelso Beach Park. There will also be some bamboo cutlery sets for sale at the general store.

This year’s 44th annual Summerfolk, which is presented by the GBFS and attracts 14,250 people to Kelso Beach Park during the festival, is set for Aug. 16 to 18.


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While greening initiatives have been introduced at the event over the years, the GBFS board and management decided last year to really focus in on the waste issue at Summerfolk, Davidson said.

A new Green Team crew, headed by Barry Randall, was created.

The organization then secured funding from Community Foundation Grey Bruce to contract the Grey Bruce Sustainability Network, which, in collaboration with Busch Systems, completed a “greening audit” of the festival and provided compost bins.

The audit will establish a benchmark year that will be used in developing a three-year transition plan to a zero-waste event.

Davidson said the GBFS is planning to apply this fall for an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to help finance its transition plan. The money would be used for things like buying multi-compartment bins for waste/recycling/compost, signs and marketing materials to promote the greening program and reusable mugs and water bottles.

Along with the new ban, an information booth will be set up this year to educate patrons about ways to keep Summerfolk green, Randall said.

“It will be staffed and that’s a big function of the greening team is raising the awareness of it and also going around the festival and visiting the various collection points and being there,” he said.

Davidson said she thinks “it’s time” to enact the ban on single-use plastics at Summerfolk.

Other Ontario music festivals, like the Hillside Community Festival near Guelph and Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, are ahead of Summerfolk in terms of greening initiatives, she said.


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The ban at Summerfolk is also timely, she noted, given the announcement last month by the federal government that it will ban harmful single-use plastics, such as straws, bags, cutlery and stir sticks, as early as 2021.

Liz Zetlin, chair of the Owen Sound Water Watchers, applauded the GBFS for showing “great leadership” by enacting the ban on single-use plastics at Summerfolk.

“I would encourage the city to do the same with their events,” she said.

The Water Watchers’ group tried unsuccessfully in 2017 to get Owen Sound to approve a water commons framework to become a “Blue Community.”

The previous council didn’t support the classification’s requirement for Owen Sound to ban or phase out bottled water sales at city facilities or events. It instead supported only a phased-in program to increase bottle-refill stations at city properties over five years.

However, the current council approved a committee recommendation this spring to direct staff to develop a strategy for how the city can reduce plastics in the community in both the short-and long-term.

That report is still being developed.

Zetlin said she hopes the strategy will include a ban on single-use plastic water bottles.

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