Getting Festival-Goers to Recycle, With the Help of Sidewalk Chalk

IMG_8171.1Summer is festival time.

Festivals mean plenty of disposable plates, cups, bottles, cans and utensils will be used.

Unfortunately, festival organizers do not always have the resources to install a recycling program or insist that all vendors use biodegradable wares that can be placed in the trash. But a growing number of festivals around the country are looking to make a difference.

Last week, Great Forest was out in force at Alexandria’s Food & Wine Festival in Virginia to manage recycling for the event, which attracted over 5,000 guests. It was the first time the festival has offered recycling to event-goers.

Festival participants recycled approximately 38% by volume of the waste generated during the event, much of which was cardboard and plastic water bottles. One winery even had a creative way to recycle their empty bottles–they brought them back to their facility to create centerpieces for dinner tables.

So why did this recycling program work so smoothly? One of the reasons – sidewalk chalk!

Making The Message Stand Out

Instead of using printed signs, we drew instructions for where to place trash and recyclables using sidewalk chalk.

With many families in attendance, the chalk illustrations hit their mark and were hard to miss at the various recycling stations we set up throughout the venue.


We drew on the trash and recycling bins, and even on the floor, where we created two lane “recycling” and “trash” pathways for festival-goers to follow (see video below).

We even included several positive messages on the path towards the recycling stations to encourage and thank people for recycling.

If parents missed the signs, their kids definitely saw them, and that made a difference.



IMG_8190To reinforce our fun messages, we set up a recycling information booth, where visitors could ask us questions and learn more about what they can do at home and at work.

In addition to donating our services, we recruited local hauler, Progressive Waste, to provide in-kind services to collect and haul recycling and trash generated during the festival.

Customizing To Your Audience

“Using chalk in place of printed signs worked here because of the family-friendly atmosphere of the event.  It also allowed us to really tailor our message on the go. We could easily erase and rewrite the instructions to make them more effective depending on what we saw happening at the festival,” says David Troust, V.P. Business Development at Great Forest.

“Every building, organization or event has a difference audience so we customize our approach accordingly.  A recycling program that works well in one location may not work so well in another without adjustments.”

“So we are always reassessing our programs and trying to improve them, trying to move  them closer towards the ultimate goal of zero waste.”

The next time you attend a festival, look around you. If you don’t see recycling options, ask the festival organizer.

Photographs: Gregory Mitchell

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