Fair goes greener and hopes you will, too

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Going to the State Fair this year? You’ll find plenty to eat, drink, ride and play, but a closer look reveals the fair’s efforts to green up the state’s largest annual event and its visitors, too.

First off, think of all the trash generated by 822,00 visitors (the five year average) and you’ll see how last year’s fair, which offered four manned recycling stations staffed by more than 200 volunteers, collected close to a ton of material (plastic, aluminum, steel cans)  and diverted it from our local landfill. Recycling didn’t start last year, though.  Cardboard and manure (all those animals are visitors, too) have quietly been recycled for years, and plans to work with NCSU on a gasification project to create waste energy are in the works.

A chicken made from recycled plastic bags on display this year at the NC State Fair.

There’s always room to grow when it comes to recycling.  In 2008, Utah’s state fair recycled three tons of plastic, San Diego’s 2007 county fair composted or recycled 93 percent of its waste stream and Canada’s 2008 National Expo diverted 70 percent of its solid waste from local landfills.  This year, keep an eye out for even more recycling stations scattered throughout the fairgrounds so you can do your part to up the state fair average. Vendors who generate the most recyclables will be provided with individual recycling stations.

When asked if the fair would compost any of the fruit and vegetable waste from vendors, Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said, “That’s something that we will continue to look at, but one of the things we have to look at is the timeliness of collection.  Most of that stuff is done in the middle of the night so that we can have a clean fair for the next day. We have to transform this fair from the day’s activities into another clean fair the next day so all of this is something we can discuss in the context of how that will affect fair operations.

Construction creates plenty of waste, too, so be sure to look down as you stroll through the Dorton Triangle.  When it was built, the Fair used the old asphalt and stone to provide a base for the new pavement.  If the air smells a bit better there, it’s because the project allowed for underground electrical connections that reduce the need for those noisy generators.

Need to give your dogs a break? Sit on one of the many benches made from recycled materials scattered throughout the fair.  Better yet, take a break at the Fair’s Green NC exhibit and take in one of the stage shows designed to teach fair-goers about sustainable energy, energy efficiency at home, alternate fuels, water conservation, water quality, recycling waste, composting with worms and to learn how eating local foods preserves air quality (how far did your lettuce travel?) and sustains the local farm economy.

In fact, if you have kids, Green NC is a must-stop – not just for the Scavenger Hunt, which will take them all over the Fair – but for all the educational opportunities cleverly concealed in activities ranging from a chemical magic show from the American Chemical Society, group quizzes (with prizes) about how we affect air quality just going about your daily lives and so many exhibits, booths and hands-on activities so the kids can wear themselves out while parents take a break from spending money on rides, food and games of chance.  Speaking of conservation, Green NC doesn’t costs a dime.

If all the deep fried fare at the fair has you feeling diet guilt, console yourself with the next bite.  Last year, the fair’s “Funnel Cakes for Fuel” effort netted 8,500 gallons of used cooking oil that was processed into B100 biodiesel and used at the state’s 18 agricultural research stations.  The fuel powered farm equipment as well as the tractor trailers used to deliver food to schools across the state.  This year, the fair contracted with Valley Proteins to pump and process the used fryer oil to create high energy fat used in animal feeds or into biofuel replacement.

The folks who hold the biggest party in the state have to get around that party, too, so they teamed up with the NC Solar Center at N.C. State University to purchase two Neighborhood Electric Vehicles.  Each NEV can haul more than 1,000 pounds per load and travel 55 miles on a single charge without tailpipe emissions.

If farm crops are more your thing, visit the Field of Dreams behind Dorton Arena. (Note to weary parents, there’s a rest area next to the field.)  Your kids can learn how food is grown, harvest some themselves and redeem it for “fair money” good at the Field of Dreams grocery store.

Of course, just getting to the fair often means getting in the car and burning some fuel yourself, so green up a bit on the way and take advantage of the special bus service laid on each year. You’ll save the hassle and cost of parking and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.

Much like your own home, getting green usually starts gradually and builds momentum and there’s always room for improvement. According to Marla Calico, director of grants and special education for the International Association of Fairs and Expos, “ the NC State Fair is being very proactive in their green efforts from our viewpoint. They incorporate education for fairgoers, they are working on so many aspects of sustainability in their day-to-day operations.”

Fair personnel are proud of their achievements so far, but acknowledge there’s room to go greener.  Natalie Alford, a public information officer for all of North Carolina’s state fairs acknowledges, “We have implemented a few ‘green’ procedures and practices that are a great step in the right direction, but it’s going to take a little bit of time before we can get everything on the ‘green’ track. We are a big event with big plans and big ideas, and I am hopeful that we will continue to take steps to implement environmentally-friendly buying practices and disposal procedures, and require vendors and exhibitors to declare what they are doing to be ‘green’ as a condition of their contract.”

2 thoughts on “Fair goes greener and hopes you will, too

  1. Nice feel-good article overall, but with regard to the special bus service to the fair, you’re just plain wrong when you wrote, “You’ll save the hassle and cost of parking and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.” Cost to park at the fair: $5-10. Cost for a family of four to ride the bus: $16 ($4 per passenger over 40 inches tall).

    The bus, in my experience, is pretty easy if you live near one of the collector streets (I can walk a few blocks with the family and hop on), and you do get dropped off right at the gate. But it’s just ridiculous to look out the window as you approach and see that economics are working against your environmentally-conscious decision to ride the bus. I don’t know what the city is thinking charging so much for this service.

  2. Correction to my earlier comment: The state fair provides FREE parking on State Fair property and at Carter-Finley stadium property.

    So $16 is the penalty for doing the right thing.