Waste not want not

Words by Rochelle West
Andy Jackson Andy Jackson

WOMAD NZ’s early zero waste adoption shaping today’s public events

In a country where single-use plastic shopping bags are now banned and councils, more than ever, are encouraging communities to reduce, reuse and recycle, it was WOMAD NZ that shaped the future of waste management in New Zealand.

It’s coming up 12 years since WOMAD NZ organisers, the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (TAFT), put in place a comprehensive waste minimisation programme, now called Todd Energy Zero Waste, for the hugely popular event, held annually in New Plymouth.

Single-use plates, cups, cutlery and packaging at stalls were replaced with biodegradable or reusable options. Zero waste refuse stations in highly visible areas throughout the picturesque Brooklands Park venue were introduced, with friendly volunteers ensuring festival goers put the right item in the right bin for recycling, composting or general waste. 

The festival organisers’ enthusiasm to reduce, reuse and recycle has been contagious and they have achieved a high level of buy-in from all sectors of the festival – from ticket holders to acts, from food stalls to drink stations – a buy-in that has not only continued but grown throughout the years.

“That first Zero Waste programme at WOMAD 2008 was a spectacular success,” says WOMAD NZ Event Director and Programme Manager, Emere Wano. 

“Almost three quarters of the almost 15 tonnes of waste material that left the site that first year was diverted from landfill to composting or recycling, making this project highly successful for all those involved, and far surpassing estimates and goals.”

It was certainly a far cry from the uncomfortable truth of other large public gatherings, concerts and festivals, where rubbish was left strewn throughout venues long after the music had stopped. 

Waste reduction has only improved for WOMAD NZ since those early days. Across the past five festivals, an average of 80% of waste has been diverted from the landfill, with a whopping 90% – or 23,060kg – of waste being recycled or composted following the 2018 festival alone. 

“We constantly strive to make WOMAD an environment that encourages people to embrace reducing, reusing and recycling,” Emere says. 

At WOMAD, all vendors are required to use compostable rather than recyclable materials for food and drinks; no single-use items are sold on site, with reusable bottles, globelets (reusable plastic cups) and coffee cups used instead; people are encouraged to bring only recyclable items to the festival and take any items that can’t be recycled or composted home with them; and TSB Wai Water stations are scattered throughout the site so festival-goers can refill their water bottles, helping to reduce plastic.

Years of audience education, coupled with the strong Zero Waste programme, a hard-working and innovative team, and a ban on the sale of disposable plastic water bottles on site are some of the reasons for the impressive waste diversion, Emere says.

The long-standing success of the Todd Energy Zero Waste programme has prompted other public event organisers, including councils, to introduce rubbish and recycling initiatives at community events and concerts. 

The New Plymouth, Stratford and South Taranaki district councils joined forces with TAFT earlier this year to make it easier for Taranaki concert-goers to go green, with new rubbish and recycling waste stations.

Supporting the Zero Waste programme is a good fit for WOMAD NZ partner Todd Energy, which has also been driving business programmes that reduce environmental effects.

“Todd Energy’s commitment to making a positive contribution to the community means it is always looking to support initiatives that enhance the local environment,” says General Manager People & Community, Jane Snowden.

“WOMAD’s Zero Waste programme is one such initiative that delivers a meaningful environmental outcome for the festival and for Taranaki. We’ve really enjoyed seeing the programme’s success grow over the years. 

“As a company our focus is on continuously working to lower emissions, and on encouraging positive behaviour changes across our communities when it comes to recycling and reducing waste.  

“We’re really looking forward to continuing our support of WOMAD’s Zero Waste programme, encouraging and empowering festival goers to reduce their environmental footprint.”  

Emere says WOMAD is proud to have helped lead the way in zero waste event management, but knows work is still needed to make sure no waste goes to the landfill after the festival ends.

“Zero waste means just that – no waste from WOMAD ending up in landfills. We’ll continue to push to make that a reality for each and every event.”

Working together for a Zero Waste future

The success of WOMAD NZ’s zero waste programme comes down to a coordinated combination of waste-reducing initiatives along with sustained public education. Here are a few of those initiatives.

Volunteer ‘eco-warriors’

During the festival, WOMAD’s Todd Energy Zero Waste stations are manned by a large team (usually about 100) of friendly volunteer eco-warriors, who help festival-goers compost and recycle as much waste as possible. They also pick up rubbish and separate it themselves if need be. PIC right: Tim Worth

Separating waste streams

Encouraging festival-goers to deposit the correct item of waste into the correct shute at the waste stations – whether it be recycling, compost or landfill – makes people think about where their waste will eventually end up. Part of this is also encouraging people to bring only reusable items to the festival and taking any non-recyclable items home with them. PIC right: Tim Worth

Reusable bottles, globelets, coffee cups 

If you’ve been to WOMAD in the past, chances are you have a globelet (reusable cup), reusable aluminium drink bottle or coffee cup – or all of them.

Not only are they durable and able to be used for years and years, they have become collectors’ items in their own right. The on-site bars only fill globelets, with all food stalls required to serve their customers using either reusable, recyclable or compostable plates, cutlery and packaging. 

TSB Wai Water stalls are throughout the venue to make it easy for people to refill their water bottles and reduce plastic water bottles on site.           

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