Here’s how Arts Fest goes green -- and how big the payoff is

Luke Fey and Denise Fey of Fest Zero organize leftover food from vendors at Arts Fest to donate in downtown State College.
Luke Fey and Denise Fey of Fest Zero organize leftover food from vendors at Arts Fest to donate in downtown State College. psheehan@centredaily.com

Thousands of people came through downtown State College over the weekend for the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, which also means a whole lot of trash.

But the amount of waste from the festival has reduced quite a bit in recent years thanks to efforts by volunteer group Fest Zero and Arts Fest’s Green Crew.

“The main thing we’re doing is expanding the opportunities for festival-goers to recycle or compost,” said Brad Fey, founder of Fest Zero.

Five years ago, Fey said there were only two options to dispose of unwanted items throughout the festival: trash bins and the occasional generic recycling bin. Festival attendees now have several options that make recycling simple, including individual bins for compostable items, plastic bottles, miscellaneous plastics and metal cans, in addition to trash cans.

Fey said that since all the various recycling options were introduced, the amount of recycling that’s captured during the four-day festival is 10 times more than what it was previously. Fest Zero volunteers join the Green Crew during the event to empty all the bins and make sure waste and recycling make it into the right spots.

“I think that everything we can do as students to promote (sustainability) is good,” said Green Crew volunteer Angelina Santemaria, 18.

She’s one of the about 40 students in Penn State’s Millennium Scholars summer program who joined the festival’s recycling efforts this year.

More than 5,400 pounds of organics and recyclable material were collected during last year’s Arts Fest and the People’s Choice Festival, according to a press release. Between the two festivals, more than 33,000 water bottles, lemonade cups and aluminum cans were recycled.

Last year, Fest Zero in collaboration with State College borough and health inspectors introduced a new initiative where vendors, such as Chan’s Chicken, donate their leftover food and produce to local shelters, including the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, Housing Transitions and the Youth Service Bureau’s Stormbreak girls group home. Fest Zero volunteers collected the leftovers and made the deliveries Sunday evening.

“If we can’t compost that food, we might as well reuse it ... and take that opportunity to give it to somebody else to use,” Fey said.

Cozy Thai, which sells food outside its Allen Street restaurant during the festival, also has been dedicated to reducing waste.

Owner Suk San said all the containers and silverware they used are compostable. This year, they had plastic straws available, but he said next year they may change that because they aren’t recyclable.

“The cost of this is not cheap, but we decided to go with it anyway because we know that it’s going to help,” San said.