Waste Problems Persist at Outdoor Events

One bin takes all. Food scrap and recyclables weren’t separated during the May 4 Cox Providence Rhode Races. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News photos)

One bin takes all. Food scrap and recyclables weren’t separated during the May 4 Cox Providence Rhode Races. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News photos)

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Last spring the city began imposing fines for egregious residential recycling. The Department of Public Works began inspecting curbside recycling bins and issuing $50 fines to residents who place non-recyclables in their green recycling bins.

On Sunday, there was plenty of commingling of trash and recyclables — and food scrap — at the seventh annual Cox Providence Rhode Races. Providence doesn’t require race organizers — or any outdoor event, even regular happenings such as WaterFire — to separate recyclables from the trash. It’s single-stream all the way to a landfill.

While residential fines are assessed only for flagrant dumping of prohibited items — such as bags of trash or car tires, into a recycling tote — city, and for that matter state, officials have failed to put practices in place that require event organizers to follow the same recycling mandates placed upon residents and businesses. In fact, one of the recycling violations local residents can be fined for is placing food scrap in their wheeled recycling bin.

At the May 4 road races, compostable banana peels and apple cores shared the same trash-bin space as recyclable aluminum cans and plastic water and sports drink bottles. These materials were collected together in plastic bags and tossed into one of five Dumpsters lined up on Union Street, across from the Rhode Island Foundation.

Currently, any effort by event organizers to separate recyclables and/or food scrap from landfill-bound trash is strictly voluntary. The city’s Environmental Sustainability Task Force has said it prefers that event organizers comply with recycling laws — the ones local residents have been challenged to better obey — voluntarily.

Some organizers, for both charity fundraisers (CVS Caremark Downtown 5K) and for-profit events (The Color Run), make the effort.

The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), which manages the Central Landfill in Johnston, offers recycling bins and recycling Dumpsters at no cost, including delivery, for large waste-intensive public events, such as for-profit road races.

The recyclables and compostables generated at the event were tossed in Dumpsters destined for a landfill or incinerator.

The recyclables and compostables generated at the event were tossed in Dumpsters destined for a landfill or incinerator.

Commonsense environmental practices, which recycling and food-scrap collection certainly are, can be part of a road race, festival or outdoor concert without taking away from the event’s enjoyment or experience. It just takes some initiative and a will to make such practices part of a community or event’s culture.

There's an ordinance pending in Newport that would require event organizers to recycle. Also, a few years ago, a special Senate commission recommended improving event recycling statewide.

Editor’s note: ecoRI News' public outreach arm is sometimes hired by event organizers to “green up” Providence-area road races. In 2012, ecoRI News' outreach arm was hired to green up the Cox Providence Rhode Races.