Ann Arbor Summer Festival ramps up efforts to generate zero waste by 2021

Since it kicked off its 2019 season on June 14, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) has already made significant progress toward its pledge of generating zero waste by 2021.


A2SF Programming and Operations Manager James Carter says data from the festival's 2019 opening week shows the festival at a 53% conversion rate for waste collected, thanks in part to a huge increase in festival volunteers. The festival's goal is to reach a 75% waste conversion rate by the end of its 2019 season next month.


"We've learned a lot already and are making some in-season pivots," Carter says.


Last year, A2SF and Toyota launched the Festival Footprint Initiative, whose goal is to transform the festival into a zero-waste event over two to three years. They've collaborated with other Washtenaw County organizations and volunteers to implement sustainable practices and educate festival vendors and the public on how to recycle and compost properly.


Carter says one of the initiative's "biggest challenges" is working with A2SF's food vendors. He says they were "enthusiastic" about the project, but the festival team and its environmental partners have had to educate vendors on what plastics are actually recyclable and what materials could be composted and used for utensils.


Carter says all A2SF food vendors should have compostable dinnerware and cutlery. For example, black plastic is not recyclable and vendors are encouraged not to use it at the festival.


Throughout the festival, attendees will also see three-stream waste baskets with separate receptacles for compost, recyclables, and landfill materials. The baskets will be staffed by volunteers so items can be disposed of properly.


To further educate the public on sustainability, A2SF introduced the Festival Footprint Learning Center, a tent near the festival's information booth, to feature nightly activities sponsored by local organizations like Recycle Ann Arbor and Zero Waste Washtenaw. Attendees can learn more about the festival's sustainability efforts and learn about ways to implement those practices at home.


"The 18 organizations in the Learning Center all have influenced what we're doing in some fashion," Carter says. "We've been showered with a lot of positive support and enthusiasm with this initiative."


Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at


Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor Summer Festival.