Will Milwaukee’s Festivals Soon Have Zero-Waste Status?

At Bay View Bash, Kompost Kids and Milwaukee Area Science Advocates sorted through trash to divert compostable and recyclable materials and conducted a real-time waste audit. And they hope other festivals will follow in their footsteps.

Every weekend over the summer, Milwaukee’s festivals create ghastly amounts of waste, clogging landfills and inflating the city’s carbon footprint. Volunteers and leaders from two area organizations — Kompost Kids and Milwaukee Area Science Advocates — sought to change this at this year’s Bay View Bash.

Though the two organizations had put up clear signs in the front of trash, recycling and compost bins about what goes in each respective container throughout the festival, their real work happened behind the scenes. Volunteers collected most waste and sorted it by what goes to landfill, what’s recyclable and what’s compostable, diverting pound upon pound of trash away from the landfill. Every one to two hours, one volunteer — Miranda Schwabe, community engagement lead at MASA — conducted an audit, weighing trash to see how much they had saved.

“We had great results right away,” Schwabe said. “In our first audit, I found that two-thirds of what people threw away could be composted or recycled.”

All of this dirty work contributed to the goal of achieving zero-waste status at Bay View Bash, which means preventing 90 percent of trash generated from entering the landfill. No festival in Milwaukee has won this status, in large part because the city gives responsibility of festival waste pickup to individual event organizers. Most simply cannot afford this extra cost.

“With Bay View Bash, we’re trying to crack the code on creating a sustainable festival using just volunteers,” said Renee Scampini, member of Kompost Kids’ board of directors. “If our final audit report shows that our method works, I’d love to create workshops and help other festivals do what we’re doing, completely volunteer-based.”

Scampini was at the helm all day of Bay View Bash, showing volunteers what can and cannot be recycled or composted. People are often not aware of what can actually be composted or recycled, she says, which was the impetus behind their efforts at Bay View Bash and beyond, and part of their three main goals: to understand what people throw away, to see how that changes throughout the day and to figure out better strategies for waste disposal that can be taught to vendors and festival-goers.

Toward this last goal, public-facing tents at Bay View Bash from Kompost Kids and MASA educated people on the impact of waste on the environment, what can and cannot be recycled and the environmental cost of plastics. Even among the plastics that can be recycled, a display at MASA’s tent said, only 12 percent can truly be reused. These displays are, of course, oriented towards kids with the hope of fostering knowledge that will help upcoming generations be more kind to the planet than their predecessors.

Also with the aim of education, Kompost Kids and MASA will eventually reveal a comprehensive report of their audit’s findings that will be made available to the public and the city. This report can also be useful to other festivals that wish to follow in Bay View Bash’s footsteps, for which Kompost Kids and MASA will help in any way they can.

“It really comes down to the event organizers being in this with us,” Scampini said. “At Bay View Bash, they purchased compostable plastics, which are more expensive. We hope our efforts and the clear impact we made will inspire more and more festivals to follow suit and achieve zero-waste status.”



Since interning for the magazine in spring of 2017, Anna has contributed to both the print publication and website. She has covered topics from women in the workplace to communal gardens and also writes guides to life in Milwaukee. Outside of writing for the magazine, Anna is going back to school at UW-Milwaukee to work towards a career in genetic counseling.