It’s recycling, not rocket science!

Congratulations to the City of Frederick for putting on a very successful and well attended Fourth of July celebration in Baker Park this year, including an outstanding fireworks display to end the activity-packed day. And kudos to Mother Nature for the perfect weather.

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Even for folks who are more than familiar with putting together large events this, it’s no small thing to pull it off smoothly. There is a very long list of important things — large and small — to plan, organize and execute, starting months in advance, when you are going to have thousands of people gathered in one area, participating in all sorts of activities, for hours on end.

It seems most, if not virtually all, of the items on that list were handled very well.

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But…

There was at least one problem I noticed…over and over again…that I think is worth mentioning here, and that wasn’t handled as well as the others: Waste Management.

An event like this, especially with all the food and drink, predictably generates a lot of “waste” that has to be dealt with, throughout the day, and across all the venues, and even after the event is over and everyone has gone home.

So, it is not as though it wasn’t on the list, thought about and discussed, planned for…and executed. It had to be discussed, planned and arranged. And it was. In one sense, however, that only makes it more disappointing that just a little more effort wasn’t made to do it right.

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Trash cans were scattered all around Baker Park. And, to the credit of the organizers, large blue recycling bins were also scattered all around the park. It’s good that recycling was made possible. But, the trash receptacles where not located next to, or in any way with the recycling bins.

Now, while it may seem like nitpicking to some to criticize the event organizers for not putting the trash and recycling receptacles together, it isn’t. It should have happened.

In fact, if it happens at any event on public property after October 1, 2014, it will be against the law. That’s because, on May 5, 2014, Governor O’Malley signed legislation that requires all events on public property in Maryland that are attended by 200 or more people and provide food or drink to provide recycling, and to have recycling containers located next to every trash can.

Why? Because recycling isn’t rocket science, and we already know a great deal about what works and what doesn’t work. One key part of that knowledge base is that it makes a significant difference if the option is convenient and easy.

If you’re holding a soda can in your hand, and you’re looking for a place to put it, it doesn’t get any easier than dropping it in one distinct and clearly marked bin instead of another one just inches away.

There are people — and I’m one of them — who simply will not dispose of a recyclable can or bottle (etc.) in a trash can, and, in that moment, convert a resource into something that will be buried or burned.

But there are still a lot of people who will not make much of an effort to avoid that, if any, but who will select the proper container when they are right next to each other. Whether the law requires it or not, large event planners have an opportunity…and a responsibility…to make recycling as easy and convenient as reasonably possible. In this case, the simple step of placing recycling bins next to all trash cans is as easy as it can get. And a multitude of studies show that it makes a big difference.

So, while we could — and should, I think — talk about how to tackle waste management even more substantially and effectively, I hope the city will look at the planning and logistics here, and appreciate that something that was missing: commitment.

Two final points:

1) There are more and more places that are making the commitment to plan and manage large events to generate as little waste as possible, in addition to ensuring that what can be recycled is recycled. And there is an abundance of good and helpful information readily available to any event planner that has just a little commitment to doing the right and best thing.

Here’s an excellent and highly readable one, from Alameda County, California:

Special Event Best Practices Guide: Reduce waste at special events by simply planning ahead.

2) It isn’t only about large events, of course. It still irks me that there are no recycling options, whether they are next to the readily available trash cans or not, for people walking around downtown Frederick on a normal day or during an “event” like First Saturday. That is a problem that shouldn’t still be a problem, anymore.

I’d like to strongly encourage city leaders to think about and tackle these things with a bit more commitment.