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Nothing goes to waste at Salmon Fest

My 8-year-old son Sage is looking over my shoulder, making a disgruntled face. He’s a keen observer. “We forgot to tell them about the straws” he says, disappointed. I turn around as the server walks up with our drinks. Straws. I did forget.

It started a while back when I asked another server not to give me a straw and he noticed. Like I said, he’s a keen observer. He wanted to know why I wouldn’t want one. He loves straws, he’ll keep himself entertained until the food comes, drinking one straw-full of liquid at a time. Why would I not want this thing that is so very fun to drink with?

I know he loves straws, and I love that he’s entertained until the food comes, so I’ve let the straws be. But this time I tell him a little story about single-use plastics. When I tell him that every year there are millions of items, that we use for a few moments or sometimes a few seconds and then throw them away, to take up space in landfills and float in the ocean, he simply says, “OK. Let’s not do that.” And that was it for straws.

So we made a game of it, trying to avoid single-use plastics. As it turns out, avoiding disposables is more difficult than it sounds. Think about a single take-out order; there may be multiple food containers, plastic cutlery, paper napkins and a bag to carry it in. For a family of four, that’s most of the space in your kitchen garbage can. Imagine what that looks like then, if you host a public event with 500-700 people. Several years ago, the planners of the Bear Creek Salmon Festival did exactly that, and decided that the amount of garbage created at this community event was unacceptable. Like my son, they simply thought, “Let’s stop doing that.”

I was lucky to inherit a standing tradition of zero-waste when I started coordinating the Bear Creek Salmon Festival (a free, family event with live music, food and salmon). Lucky for all of us, really. Thanks to some truly dedicated people and their efforts to reduce waste by 90 percent, none of us have to explain to our kids (keen observers that they are) why hundreds of pounds of paper and plastic are being sent to the landfill at this lovely event that promotes stewardship and watershed protection.

Thanks to years of trial and error, the zero-waste system at the event works so well, that we actually cover the garbage cans for the entire day! The Bear Creek Salmon Festival planning committee works in coordination with Recology Ashland, the Jackson County Master Recyclers, and the Lend-Me-a-Plate program. Together, they ensure that anyone who eats lunch at the event uses dishes and napkins that can be washed and used again. There are no straws, no tiny sauce containers, no paper napkins, and no bottled water, which takes a bit of planning to pull off.

It also helps to have food truck vendors who are willing to join in the effort. This year’s food vendor “Daddy Ramen” will provide bowls of delicious soup, yummy noodle salads and cold drinks during the event. But instead of using disposable packaging, they’ll use dinnerware, cutlery (complete with chopsticks), cups and napkins provided by the Lend-Me-a-Plate program. Run by volunteers from Southern Oregon Master Recyclers in Action (SOMRA), the Lend-Me-a-Plate program provides free dinnerware and cloth napkins to any small event willing to wash them and bring them back.

Behind the scenes, more volunteers will collect and wash dishes, monitor compost and recycling and run the dishes back to the food cart. All we ask of our visitors, is to enjoy the food and then return the dishes to the washing station. Although no water bottles will be sold at the event, we invite visitors to bring their own water bottles to fill at our ice-water station. Daddy Ramen also serves homemade iced tea and lemonade.

Besides having dedicated partners and generous sponsors to support the Bear Creek Salmon Festival, we’re also grateful to the community members who join us, every first Saturday in October, to learn more about caring for our watershed and all of the life within it.

For more information about the Bear Creek Salmon Festival and zero-waste, please visit us at BearCreekSalmonFestival.net and join us from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at North Mountain Park. To find out more about volunteering, contact volunteer coordinator Lori Ainsworth at lori.ainsworth@ashland.or.us or call 541-488-5340.

— Jennifer Aguayo is the nature center coordinator for Ashland Parks & Recreation. Park Views appears monthly.

Kids navigate the spiral labyrinth at the 2014 Bear Creek Salmon Festival. Tidings file photo