Solid Waste & Recycling


Ribbing the Right Way with Event Waste

After a 24-hour cleanup on July 2, RibFest achieved 59 per cent diversion based on 28,700 tonnes, 16,920 tonnes of which were composted or recycled

Page 38 Compost Station

Peter Dusek Photography

hen it’s prime summertime, ribbing’s in full swing. Salivating rib lovers are in their glory as festival grills fire up across Ontario.

In the Toronto area alone there are three large Rib Fests — in Toronto, Burlington and Oakville — all three of which are hosted by local chapters of Rotary Club International, a worldwide organization of volunteers dedicated to raising funds for charities.
Apart from the obvious things in common, all of these Rotary events are striving to be the greenest events of their kind in Ontario. Today, the spotlight is on the Toronto RibFest, 15 years old and a fixture at Etobicoke’s Centennial Park during the week leading up to Canada Day.

Full disclosure: this writer is a volunteer at the Toronto event and has firsthand knowledge of what a challenge it is to deal with 10,650 tonnes of food waste under the ‘primitive conditions’ of hands-on source separating.

Students comprise the bulk of 200-plus volunteers working 12-hour waste shifts at the festival over five days. Community groups like Micro Skills, LAMP Centre and Albion Neighbourhood Services are key sources for volunteers while the Etobicoke Invictus Rugby Club are the muscle that picks up and transports the collected waste to the park’s bin storage area. The volunteer coordination is masterfully managed by Liz Read, a Rotary volunteer member who manages to keep her cool despite the random chaos. This year, Todd and Nicole Bain (Green Team Live) can be credited with keeping volunteers, as well as vendors and ribbers, on track through supervisory skills and waste management experience.

Of course, it all starts with someone’s vision for a greener event. In this case, veteran waste man Barry Friesen of CleanFarms brought his green sensibility to Rotary when he joined the 85-member Etobicoke chapter a few years ago.

Peter Dusek Photography

Peter Dusek Photography

Assembling the nuts and bolts of the event plan means taking on the traditional practices and behaviours of food vendors and the public alike — steering them onto a 3Rs path. Food and beverage vendors are not singularly concerned with how waste is handled, so a strict protocol of what is acceptable and what is not must be enforced through clearly articulated contracts: No polystyrene clamshells; biodegradable tableware only; minimizing handouts and food samples that come in non-recyclable packaging, etc. Despite this effort, someone always shows up with outlawed items and must be taken out to the woodshed for a ‘talking to’. It’s purely by communicating and enforcing standards year over year that behaviours are altered to let a “zero waste” consciousness evolve.

On the organics side, how the food waste is separated behind the counter is a challenge because ‘ribbers’ are also not primarily concerned with waste contamination issues when there are thousands of rib-crazed patrons lined up in front of their grills. Given that there is a Best Ribber contest at all of these events, it’s not hard to see where priorities are assigned. By urging guests to bring their waste to a sorting station, more control is exerted on the separation of organics from recyclable materials and visitors are more than eager to hand over that responsibility to the ‘pros’ — aka volunteers.

In 2015, the elimination of waste receptacles within the park boundaries meant guests had no choice but to bring waste to one of 10 stations. Tripling the number of well-marked stations made it easy to do the right thing and most guests were happy to conform. While there were fewer single-serve or sample items in plastic wrap, more work needs to be done on how to eliminate non-recyclable plastics.
Rotary Etobicoke now sets its sights on an 80 per cent diversion goal for 2016. With a little help from committed stakeholders and the weather gods, they can make it happen.



Diane Blackburn is Events Manager for the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) and produces the RCO’s annual Waste Minimization Awards. Contact her at

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