In the Event of Trash

Who is responsible when an event leaves a mess?

By JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A recent post on the ecoRI News Facebook page of a photo we took of trash left after the RI Pride Festival last Saturday elicited 79 comments and sparked a heated conversation about trash, civic responsibility and sustainability protocols for local events.

Festivals, road races, parades and street fairs all bring people and business to the city, but at what cost? ecoRI News has documented in photo essays and articles how, oftentimes, event organizers and event participants leave the city trashed, and how sustainability is often overlooked or is an afterthought in event planning.

With respect to the June 15 RI Pride Festival, a spokesperson for RI Pride responded to our Facebook post, writing, “We do take our responsibility to the city and the environment seriously. We had many recycling containers and garbage receptacles on site at the festival as well as volunteers charged with clean up. Our last volunteer left South Water Street ... at 2 a.m., after raking the garbage from the grass into the street with the understanding that the street would be swept by an independent contractor that RI Pride secured for the overnight. ... This did not happen.”

So, what does happen when a mess is left either intentionally or unintentionally for city workers, or, in some cases, local residents and organizations to clean? What are the current protocols for trash and recycling at Providence events?

The city requires a permit for all events, according to Sheila Dormody, Providence’s director of sustainability. "Depending on the event we may require a deposit. We may also require that they rent a Dumpster and that they clean up after the event," she said.

The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation offers recycling bins and recycling Dumpsters at no cost, including delivery, for large-scale events, such as for-profit road races.

But recycling at city events is purely voluntary, and clean up, Dormody said, “in the past has been a joint effort between the event and the city and that will likely continue.”

PVDMess2.jpg

The city returned to work that Monday to this mess.So when a mess is left behind after an event’s organizers and volunteer crew have departed, the clean-up work falls on city employees. Dormody said Providence is developing green-event guidelines based on Newport’s. “We will launch the program on a voluntary basis to work out the system and then consider what should go into the required program," she said.

By Rhode Island standards, Newport is ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainable event protocols.

Lauren Carson, a member of the Newport Energy & Environment Commission (NEEC), an organization that has been instrumental in introducing voluntary green protocols for City-by-the-Sea events, said her group’s strategy has been to “build a political base to move toward mandatory protocols.”

“We've made it voluntary so that we wouldn't scare people away and so we would be able to prove that at a minimum we can recycle; then we can move toward possibly eliminating single-use bottles and composting.”

NEEC will continue to work with event planners on voluntary green protocols this summer and fall with a goal of partnering with at least 20 events. Last year, the group helped eight Newport events green their practices.

The next step for NEEC is to draft an ordinance and shop it around, with the ultimate goal of passing a citywide ordinance that would set certain green standards for all events in Newport.

It seems that there is at least an effort on the municipal level to address event trash, but there are no mandatory guidelines and no fines levied on event organizers who leave a mess. No teeth, at least not yet.

Meanwhile, a person can face a fine of up to $500 if he or she gets caught littering, like throwing a fast-food container out a car window.