38th Annual Maple Syrup Festival

To ensure the health and safety of our staff, volunteers, and guests in 2021, we opted to make Maple Syrup Festival 2021 a carry-out event. That has created some logistical challenges in our zero waste goal that we have not completely overcome. While we are using compostable to-go containers for our festival this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is always a way to compost it in a household or municipal compost operation.

The composting facility in Iowa City can handle compostable plates, clamshells, and cutlery, however, the composting facility in downtown Cedar Rapids cannot. Cedar Rapids residents who have curbside compost pick up should not place these items in their Yardy. 

The Linn County Solid Waste Agency has a state of the art methane collection and energy generating system. What does that mean? Organic material in the landfill breaks down and creates methane gas as part of the decomposition process. That gas is captured and used to generate power for the surrounding area. However, there is more methane being generated than can currently be used and this is not reason to be negligent of personal or household waste generation.

Acknowledging & Combatting Waste at Maple Syrup Festival

Several years ago Indian Creek Nature Center began its journey to zero-waste. The Maple Syrup Festival was our flagship zero-waste event where we implemented a diverse number of strategies to eliminate, off-set, or provide an alternative for the trash typically produced at this event. Beginning in 2018 we: added compostable plates, cups and cutlery from Ecocare; we replaced our butane long-stem lighters with 12” long wooden matches; partnered with Terracycle to recycle all of our disposable gloves; partnered with Compost Ninja to take the compost generated onsite to a facility in Iowa City that can handle the compostable plates, cups and cutlery; organized volunteers to help guests learn about what is recyclable, compostable, and actually trash.

Our quest to zero waste uncovered both challenges and cool things.

???? Plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable. When returned to the grocery store, they are shipped to Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls where they are turned into plastic lumber.

???? Many other recycling streams are not doing so well. Co-mingled recyclables were traditionally sent to China, and are currently caught in the trade war.

????Compostable plates and other single use items have come a long way in stability and usability. Some use virgin materials in their creation, and others use recycled materials (which is the better choice).

???? What makes single use compostables tough enough to handle hot pancakes and coffee makes them tough for both backyard and some industrial compost facilities to break them down. This means it may be a challenge for households and communities to actually compost the compostable single use items.

???? Compostables are still single use, and they are all imported from overseas. That means they have a large carbon footprint.

???? Ecocare is researching developing locally-sourced compostables. Where items are sourced, made, and shipped from is an important factor in deciding which single-use item is the most responsible choice.

What can you do?

  • Understand that the recycling, compost and waste industry is always adapting, and learn what you can about where your things ultimately end up.
  • Support businesses and organizations that are working toward creative solutions.
  • Evaluate and categorize your choices as “Good, Better, and Best.” For example, the best choice is to use dishes that can be washed and reused. A better choice is purchasing a single use item that is made from recycled materials, sourced and made locally, and can be composted. A good choice is using a single use item that can be recycled. Single use Styrofoam should never be the choice.

If you learn information that can help us and others come closer to our goal of operating as low waste as possible, please share those ideas.