Yampa Valley Zero Waste Initiative helps minimize trash at concerts

Waste at Free Summer Concert Series events has been reduced to 1 bag from 12

Scott Franz
Kenny Reisman, left, helps Mike Smith, right, sort through what trash can be composted at a free concert at Howelsen Hill.
Scott Franz


Learn more about the Yampa Valley Sus­tain­ability Council at


Learn more about the Yampa Valley Sus­tain­ability Council at

— A single pair of hands was all it took to remove the waste produced at the Free Summer Concert Series events on Howel­­sen Hill this summer. Members of the Yampa Valley Zero Waste Initiative were all smiles when they placed a single bag of trash, filled with dirty diapers, Capri Sun pouches and Styrofoam, in a Waste Management bin after the show.

“It wouldn’t be unusual for the concerts to produce more than 12 bags of trash last year,” said Liz Wahl, vice-chairwoman of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. “This year, we’ve only had one bag left at each.”

Wahl, who is the food and bev­­er­­age director for Steam­boat Ski and Resort Corp., attributes the drastic reduction of waste to a combination of volunteer efforts and compliance from vendors that serve the concert. Beer is poured only from a pitcher, and individual ketchup packets are hard to come by.

“We didn’t have mandatory guidelines last year,” Wahl said. “But this year, the vendors are stepping up and following the Zero Waste rules. If it doesn’t make it to the customers, it doesn’t make it to the trash.”

After including all of the events on Mount Werner in the Zero Waste Initiative this year, Wahl was certain it could work at other places in Steamboat Springs.

“We’ve made a huge difference, and the program has skyrocketed,” she said. “People didn’t really understand what we were doing at some of our first events. We had so much Styrofoam coming in, and uncompostable cups. But that’s changed now.”

She said as vendors began repackaging their food and beverages, the compost pile began to grow while the trash supply dwindled.

It’s been more than a year since the Zero Waste Initiative was launched by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, and the Free Summer Concert Series on Howelsen is just one of several events the group manages.

Wahl and other volunteers were busy last weekend at Steamboat’s Ride 4 Yellow event and also at last month’s Relay For Life.

Although the planning in­­volved in making an event produce zero waste can deter some organizers from taking part in the program, others couldn’t wait to start.

Audrey Williams, president of the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series’ board, can hardly believe the results.

“We’re going in the right direction,” she said. “We’ll continue to keep plugging away at the trash situation, and eventually other events in town will catch on.”

Nikki Swaim, site coordinator for the concert series at Howelsen Hill, said the only challenge for the initiative is to get new volunteers.

“It’s hard to convince people it’s fun to work with trash,” Swaim said. “Almost all of the volunteers are repeat volunteers.”

Swaim said that their efforts at the concerts keep 98 percent of waste produced out of the Milner Landfill and instead put it into a compost cycle. She also said the social experience at the free concerts is what keeps bringing people back to work with the Zero Waste Initiative. While grabbers and carefully labeled bags and boxes don’t seem conducive to a social gathering, Swaim said everybody has to make their way to the trash bins at some point.

“You definitely get to meet a lot of interesting people, all while you’re pitching in for a good cause,” she said.

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