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Music: Uplifting. Concert venues after the crowd goes home? Not so much. Concert goers in the U.S. generate 116,834,033 pounds of waste per year, and emit 400,000 pounds of CO2. One major culprit? Single-use plastic plates, cups, and cutlery.
A new organization is trying to change that. Musicians For Sustainability (MFS) was started by Ben Kogan as a project of his organization, Reuseable Solutions, which describes itself as “an outreach organization that focuses on eradicating single-use plastic and climate change through business promotion and influencing environmental policy.”
MFS asks musicians to take a pledge to request that their venues agree to three of six climate solutions. These are: 100% renewable energy, through onsite or community solar, wind, or renewable energy credits; reusable cups and other food and drink containers (no compostables); can-carrier reuse or keg-only drinks; composting; electric vehicle charging; and water refill stations.
Why no compostables? To many of us, they seem like part of the solution. But Kogan explains that few venues and events offer composting. If compostable cups and utensils go into the landfill, they don’t compost there. They rot and produce methane, and they also leach PFAS chemicals from the cups’ waterproof inner lining. (They may also leach PFAs into your beverage.) Paper cups are a huge emitter of greenhouse gases in their production, according to Bold Reuse, which has found that a paper cup is responsible for far more emissions than the typical red Solo cup (the least-harmful of the disposables, according to a recent study).
Reusable food ware, though it may embody more materials, is far better for the climate. Glass mugs come in at the top of the list, but ceramic and stainless-steel containers are close behind. (See the graph on BoldReuse.com) A study by Upstream Solutions has found that reusable food ware breaks through on many environmental measurements after just two uses.
Kogan works with about twenty musicians currently and says that has created the opportunity for hundreds of conversations with music venues. Just raising the issues and being able to say that musicians and the public want solutions, helps get the issues on the minds of the people who manage music events. Kogan, a musician himself, has even held his own music festival, Imagine Zero, as proof of concept. When he works with venues, he helps them identify and contact companies that offer systems that can make the transition to a trash-free event seamless.
One favorite is Cup Zero, a company in New York that offers a turnkey system that includes logistics, delivery of cups, collection points, signage, washing, sanitizing, and storage. They serve stadiums, venues, festivals, offices, cafeterias, and schools. Within metropolitan New York, Cup Zero uses a deposit system for to-go cups with an app for locating collection points.
Kogan points out that it’s important to develop systems for venues. They have a system now, they know how it works and what it costs, and though it has significant downsides in terms of waste and greenhouse gas emissions, it’s what they know. To help people make the leap, it takes someone like him to guide them through the steps and find the sources. Energy can be simpler. Kogan says he is always looking for solar and electric vehicle charger providers to partner with.
The 39-year-old says he came to this role by looking at a Febreze bottle and wondering if the vaguely eco-friendly leaf symbol on it actually meant anything. It must, because corporations knew that was what people wanted and would do it, right? His wife persuaded him to read Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything. Then he happened on a talk by Judith Enck of Beyond Plastics. Already an environmentalist, involved with 350.org, the Sierra Club, and the Sunshine Movement, he had some energy to put toward something and was inspired to target single-use plastic.
Another major project of Reusable Solutions is the Vermont Can Carrier Reuse Program, in partnership with Eco Friendly Beer Drinker. Customers bring their can carriers—plastic four-pack and six-pack holders–back to a participating brewery or retailer, which either reuses them or donates them to another brewery to reuse. The pilot program started in November 2021 with ten breweries and rescued over 10,000 carriers in a two- month period. As of January 2023, they had over 60 collection locations throughout Vermont and are collecting over 10,000 cans a month. Only around 1% of the carriers are broken. They are durable enough for many reuses, yet small and thin enough to create big problems at recycling centers, where they are often mistaken for paper and clog equipment. At that point they are usually pulled out of the waste stream and sent to the landfill.
Enter “The Reusiverse,” Kogan’s name for his reuse/recycle system. The program has been extremely popular with Vermont’s craft beer consumers. “It’s been great to see these can carriers, which most people thought were easily recyclable (a result of the manufacturer’s disingenuous marketing claims) kept out of the waste stream,” said Mel Allen, host of The Boozebuddy Update. Two breweries, Black Flannel Brewing in Essex Junction, and Colchester’s Green Empire Brewing, have not needed to purchase new packaging since the program began and have rescued well over 25,000 carriers from the landfill. The distributor Beer Shepherd has been an important partner in helping this initiative take hold, picking up carriers and delivering them to participating breweries. If you are an eco-friendly beer drinker, got to www.ecofriendlybeer.com for can carrier recycling maps for Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
The Reusiverse inspired some other uses as well. Hikers, snow shoers and cross-country skiers can expect to see color-coordinated beer carriers acting as trail markers at golf courses or on trails, replacing the plastic tape that was always fraying and disappearing into the environment. This is a durable reuse of the small number of carriers that can’t be used to carry beer anymore.
Behind Kogan’s projects are many friendly partners, enjoying beer, listening to music, and taking responsibility. It does take a village to accomplish almost anything important, but there’s no reason that village can’t have a good time doing it.
Jessie Haas lives in a 450 sf off-grid cabin with husband Michael J. Daley. She’s the author of 41 books, including The Hungry Place.
Sources will be available for this article when it appears online.
A solar-powered trailer is used for music concert. (Jordan Heiden)
The Imagine Zero music festival attracted 650 people and resulted in garbage totaling less than half a garbage barrel. (Ben Kogan)
The Imagine Zero festival use Cup Zero to help make this a trash-free event. Cup Zero offers a turnkey system that includes logistics, delivery of cups, collection points, signage, washing, sanitizing, and storage. (Ben Kogan)