For the first time in 30 years, the Los Altos Rotary Club’s annual two-day fundraiser, Fine Art in the Park, went green.
Partnering with GreenTown Los Altos and the Los Altos Garbage Company, the Rotary Club initiated its first sustainable project at the May 15 and 16 art show and sale.
"Our goal was to divert 65 percent of the waste from the event through recycling and composting," said Rotary Club Operations Director Herb Marshall, "and we are very pleased to report that we surpassed that goal."
Los Altos Garbage Company donated the bins for three different types of waste: compost, recyclables and landfill trash.
GreenTown Los Altos provided signs, educational materials and "Garbage Guides," volunteers who helped the estimated 20,000 attendees select the appropriate receptacle for waste deposit.
"Most of the people were interested in what we were doing and wanted to help," said Joey Whitworth, a Homestead High School junior who served as a guide.
Two-thirds of the 60 GreenTown Los Altos volunteers were students, representing Los Altos, Mountain View, Homestead and Pinewood high schools.
Kacey Fitzpatrick, GreenTown Los Altos executive director, emphasized the importance of diverting food waste from the landfill.
"Food makes up 21 percent of our landfill waste stream, and it creates methane gas, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide," she said. "Composting, either at a professional composting facility or at home, generates little or no methane. And, by diverting this waste, we are also extending the life of the local landfill, which is currently more than 65 percent full."
Food vendors at the event were encouraged to provide recyclable or compostable containers and utensils.
Lawrence Chu, a GreenTown business partner and owner of Chef Chu's restaurant in Los Altos, served Chinese chicken salad on compostable plates with biodegradable utensils.
"We have to start somewhere," Chu said. "We all must do what we can."
The results? Nearly 80 percent of the total waste from the event was diverted – a total of 1.1 tons – whereas last year, it all went to the landfill. Of that amount, 44 percent was compostable material, including all food, paper and cardboard.
Marc Benchimol, event program specialist for the Santa Clara County Department of Health, said labeling the trash "Landfill" and taping identification samples to the tops of bins was helpful.
According to Benchimol, the health department will waive permit fees for vendors who switch to compostables at the next Los Altos event that goes green. The $200 savings can be used to offset the cost of the compostable supplies.
Fitzpatrick noted that the diversion rates were particularly high because of the effort made by volunteers to sort any materials placed in incorrect bins.
"Hats off to all our committed volunteers and to the many attendees who stopped for a moment to learn about composting and recycling," she said.