Living local: Brad Fey and his Fest Zero initiative

July 6, 2014 

Brad Fey has rather trashy thoughts about the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

Fey, 42, a State College musician and entrepreneur, specifically imagines the plastic drink bottles and cups, soda cans and food that will be discarded by festivalgoers this week in downtown State College.

He hopes the garbage goes into new recycling and composting bins instead of filling waste baskets and eventually landfills.

This spring, Fey started Fest Zero, an initiative to make Arts Fest as zero waste as possible and reduce the 75 extra tons of trash the borough estimates is produced locally during the annual summer event.

Partnering with the borough and local recycling experts, Fest Zero will have blue recycling bins around the festival area and black and green composting bins near food vendors.

“We’re eager to see what happens this year, how much reduction we see, how much of a dent we can put in the 75 tons,” Fey said.

Emptying the bins into recycling dumpsters on the festival grounds will be familiar volunteers —only with a different name. They’ll still empty the regular trash as well, but they’ll no longer serve on the vaunted Trash Crew.

Instead, in honor of their additional duty, they’ll bear the motto “The Proud, the Few, the Green Crew” on their shirts.

Fey traces his inspiration to the rise of State College’s recycling and composting programs in recent years.

“We’ve seen our landfill trash just diminish,” he said. “From a family of five, we used to have four or five bags in the trash at the end of the week, and now we have one or two, and the rest is going into recycling and composting.”

His eyes opened, he noticed how much refuse Arts Fest generated while serving on the Trash Crew for the past two years with fellow Rotary Club members.

This bothered him. He grew up in Westmoreland County to the east of Pittsburgh with a mother averse to throwing away things. He takes after her.

“I saw a need for more recycling in Arts Fest because I saw firsthand all that plastic that was going into the regular trash, and I thought, ‘Whoa, we’re in the borough, and in the borough we can do this,’ ” he said.

But he knew that an Arts Fest recycling effort would take time, money and manpower — none of which the borough or festival had much to spare.

“I didn’t want to just be a complainer at a public hearing,” Fey said. “It really interested me, and I’m passionate about it, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I get a group of volunteers together and start with experts?’ ”

So he did.

Among other sources, Fey enlisted the advice of Mark Whitfield with State College, Joann Shafer with Centre County Refuse & Recycling Authority, Rob Andrejewski with Penn State’s Sustainability Institute and Al Matyasovsky, a recycling advocate with Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant.

“Everybody I asked was willing to help with whatever they could,” Fey said.

Once Fey knew the Fest Zero plan was feasible, he approached Arts Fest officials, who liked the idea of becoming a zero-waste event.

“Or as we joke in meetings: It’s a zero-waste event, or damn near close,” Fey said, noting that 100 percent is hard to achieve in a public setting without control over what people bring.

For its debut, Fest Zero will have a recycling bin next to every trash can and composting bins near food vendors. The goal, Fey said, is to have the festival eventually require vendors to use compostable materials for serving their wares.

That wasn’t possible this year because the vendor contracts already had been signed.

“We don’t want to make this a hindrance for the event itself,” Fey said. “We want it to be a gradual change. It’s just the most logical way to do it.”

So far, Fey said, the Fest Zero advisory board consists of 10 to 12 members dedicated to helping the borough trim the $5,000 spent for disposing of the extra festival-related trash. During the festival, the board will staff a recycling education booth on South Allen Street.

Fey hopes festivalgoers are inspired to start similar efforts elsewhere. He imagines Fest Zero some day advising other arts festivals about becoming zero-waste events.

Eventually, he said, he would like to make Fest Zero an official nonprofit, and draw on the knowledge gained from working with municipal planners this year — an educational experience even for someone with a Penn State political science degree.

He knows that any long-term work will mean fundraising, grant writing and other drudgery.

“But I welcome it,” he said. “I’m ready to take all that on.”

— Chris Rosenblum

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