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Folk Festival aims to reduce its ecological sandal print

Musical acts, biodegradable plates, no bottled water contributes to event's 'vibe'

Gazing at the city like it's a hazy mirage, watching lanterns dance to the last sounds of the night and returning your reusable plate knowing you aren't leaving food containers behind are all a part of Folk Fest.

This year, however, the 34th annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival, July 15 to 17 at Jericho Park, has gone one ecological footprint further. It will no longer allow the sale of bottled water and use only biodegradable plates, cups, stir sticks, straws and utensils.

In the past, dishes used at the festival were washed at the University of B.C. pub. But since the facility is closed for the summer, the festival's environment committee has asked food vendors to go biodegradable.

Eyal Lebel, a supervisor of the festival's volunteer environment committee, hopes Folk Fest will finally convince the city to provide a hookup to make onsite dishwashing possible next year.

"We've been in Jericho for [30]-something years now, and we're not planning to stop being there," he said. "We are the biggest festival Vancouver has in one place."

Lebel started volunteering with the environment committee more than 20 years ago, after he moved to Vancouver from Israel.

"Environment is my passion," the 54-year-old acupuncturist said.

Lebel reduced the usual 80 to 100 garbage drums onsite to 10 last year and installed signs that directed the 40,000 weekend visitors to recycling stations. The festival weighed garbage, compost and recycling materials for the first time in 2010. In the end, 5.76 metric tons of waste was composted or recycled and 4.75 metric tons went to the landfill.

To reduce the festival's contribution to plastic water bottle waste, visitors are asked to bring their own high-quality plastic or stainless steel water bottles this year. Refillable water bottles will be sold at the merchandise tent and Metro Vancouver will run a water wagon alongside additional water stations.

The new Kulth Music Festival, in Coombs July 16 to 17, is implementing a zero-waste program, weighing all of the garbage collected to determine the amount of waste per attendee to establish future goals for improvement.

Lebel said Folk Fest adopted then dropped the concept of zero waste, because its many environmentalist patrons objected to promoting something that isn't possible. But Folk Fest plans to weigh waste again this year to set reduction targets.

A locally owned company, Recycling Alternatives, has helped Folk Fest divert waste since 1991, and the festival has long composted and offered secure bicycle parking. Lebel says the environmental committee's expertise has been called upon for advice by organizers of other celebrations.

Last year he helped a day-long environmental event called Bridge to a Cool Planet, which saw up to 7,000 participants and, in the end, only one quarter of a large garbage bag of trash.

"It's coming. There's already talk in Vancouver that in 2015 or maybe even before, there might be a bylaw that all events will have to use only compostable things," Lebel said. "In Seattle and Portland, which are the leading cities in North America, I think, there has been a bylaw like that for a year or two now."

The more than 60 artists and groups at this year's Folk Fest include Joel Plaskett Emergency, Rosanne Cash and Mali's Tinariwen. For the first time, three stages will run Saturday and Sunday nights.

But Lebel couldn't name the acts he was hoping to catch. He goes for the overall vibe.

"It's so nice and earthy [with] beautiful music and beautiful grounds, and it's so safe and secure, but it couldn't have had that whole picture without the best possible environmental approach," he said. "When you see the amount of garbage that people generate [at other large-scale parades and festivals]... but then the environmental side is not taken care of, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth."

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Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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