Greening businesses and festivals across Michigan

In a time where landfills are filling up in the state of Michigan, efforts are being made to increase recycling and composting in order to reuse materials. The Sweaty Mouse got its start in Lansing and began the journey to creating a greener city by “greening” the local festivals which take place in the city each year.

Greening consists of taking much of the industrial waste produced at festivals and separating it into reusable categories, thus creating less garbage that must be disposed of in the ever-decreasing landfills in this country. According to the State’s Report on Solid Waste, in 2012 alone 78.2% of solid waste produced in the state was disposed of in landfills. Chances are much of that waste could have been recycled or composted to be reused rather than trashed. The goal with each festival is to give people options of disposing of their waste, other than just dumping it into a garbage bin.

The Sweaty Mouse has three bins per event, customized according to the needs of the event and the limitations of the city. At the Lansing festivals, there would be a bin for single stream recycling, a compost bin, and then a landfill bin for the trash that cannot be reused. Volunteers are stationed at each bin to help people decide where to put their waste. The Sweaty Mouse has also encouraged festival organizers to get rid of Styrofoam materials and switch over to recyclable cups, which can be broken down and recycled.

According to Erin Steel, the owner of Sweaty Mouse, often times people need incentives to do the right thing, and besides having a volunteer stationed to help them make a decision, The Sweaty Mouse will offer incentive based programs to encourage people to recycle. For example, as the organization expanded to cities outside of Lansing, they were able to partner with programs such as The High Five, for a large music festival called Electric Forest in northern Michigan.

By partnering with this organization, slips of paper were able to be distributed to individuals who chose to utilize the recycling and compost bins at the festival, which were then able to be redeemed afterwards for prizes, or accrued for a larger rewards, such as a private show with a band or VIP tickets to next year’s festival. Erin claims that “positive reinforcement works better than telling people what not to do” and this seems to be working well for The Sweaty Mouse as they collect numerous bins of recyclable product at these large scale festivals.

The organization has also partnered with Be the E,  for Earth Day events around the city, holding an eco-festival on the Capital lawn to distribute approximately 2,000 trees for people to take home and plant, organize clean-ups throughout the city, and raise awareness through comedy shows, such as the “People, Politics, and Prozac” show held in their second year, which gave all proceeds to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lansing. 

The next big thing for The Sweaty Mouse is greening foot races. Erin has recently partnered with Gazelles, a sporting store with locations on the west side of the state, to help reduce waste from water stations, and reduce the potential of slipping and falling. The Sweaty Mouse is doing this by creating a trough to line the path of the race at the water stations, allowing runners to simply toss their cups to the side and continue on their way. The trough will catch the cup, allowing for easy clean-up/recycling at the end of the day, plus all excess water will be collected in the trough, rather than spread onto the path of the race. This method has been tested at five races throughout the state so far, and The Sweaty Mouse is continuing to scale up the size of the races as they go along.

While Erin admits that making a living off of an enviro-business can be a struggle at times, it is worth it when you see the success and how large of a difference you are making. In 2012, The Sweaty Mouse diverted twelve 53 foot semi-trucks worth of materials, meaning that that amount of material was able to be recycled rather than disposed of in a landfill. The goal of any enviro-business is to put oneself out of business, and that is done by educating locals and using local resources to the best of one’s ability.

Due to the fact that each city/county in the state currently has different recycling standards, an enviro-business is necessary to keep track of which materials can be recycled where and how they can be collected. The organization then trains locals on their local standards, and the greening process takes place. Thus while it may be a tough market as of lately, it is a market that is constantly changing with plenty of growth and potential. There is a long way to go when it comes to recycling efforts in Lansing and the state as a whole, so enviro-businesses will not be going anywhere soon.

If you are interested in helping to green Lansing, Erin suggests starting small, “Many people think that the small things don’t matter, but every little thing makes a difference. Every scrap not in a landfill can make a huge impact.” So, start small and check out the recycling locations in all 83 Michigan counties. And with the greening movement making as large of an impact in our city as it is, perhaps you are interested in jumping on board with starting an environmentally friendly business as well!

Shannon Nobles is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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