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Edmonton Folk Fest replacing long

Jun 06, 2023

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival is ending its reusable plate program after nearly 30 years — at least temporarily.

In a bid to lower the festival's impact on the environment, the reusable melamine plates will be replaced with compostable ones this year.

Communications manager Muffy McKay says despite the plate program being put in place to reduce waste, the water and energy required is no longer environmentally friendly, especially as the size of the festival continues to grow.

"We have always been very concerned about our impact and try to make decisions that are the most environmentally friendly," said McKay.

"As things evolve and change, we definitely want to keep up and make sure we're still doing the right thing."

McKay says the program kept thousands of plates out of landfills through almost three decades.

The program used a borrowing system where a person would pay an extra $2 for their meal to be served on a reusable plate. After dropping off their plate at a return tent, they'd get the money back.

The plates would get washed and go back to the vendors to be reused.

Since 2011 the festival and its concessions have exclusively been using biodegradable cutlery and napkins, which are composted.

In 2020, the festival partnered with Green Economy Canada and joined the City of Edmonton's corporate climate leadership program to identify ways to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The festival will not have plastic water bottles or beverages for purchase this year.

Vendors will have aluminum water bottles and canned beverages only. Extra water refill stations will be available for those who bring a reusable bottle.

While the plates are compostable, they must be processed in industrial compost facilities.

Matthew Ross, an environmental chemistry professor at MacEwan University, said most compostable cutlery and plates are made out of polylactic acid.

"It doesn't break down if you were to go put it in your compost bin in your backyard," he said.

"If they end up in just a recycling stream or a waste stream, then I think the benefits of the compostable don't have the same effect because now they're just ending up in the landfill."

While the festival has made the official announcement that it would be retiring the reusable plate program, producer Terry Wickham is hoping to work together with Green Economy Canada to do an audit this year to evaluate whether switching to compostable plates is more environmentally friendly.

The audit could sway the festival's final decision on whether or not to permanently retire the program, says Wickham.

Wickam said the new system will mean more waste is collected — but it will be compostable.

"So it's not really waste," he said.

"We're looking at which is environmentally better to use all that power and water or whether composting is better and I'm not qualified to make that call but we have people who are going to look at it this year."

McKay says it's important to assess both sides by gathering data. She says the audit will help them make the final decision.

"When those numbers will reveal themselves, we'll know which is the better way to go."

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival will be held Aug. 10-13 in Gallagher Park.


Nishat Chowdhury is a CBC Joan Donaldson Scholar. She's previously worked as a reporter and producer for CBC New Brunswick and graduated with a bachelor's of journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. You can reach her at [email protected]