Our Zero Waste Dreams Come True at PepperFest



At Abundance NC we are increasingly trying to make PepperFest a zero-waste event.  We’re also trying to leverage the educational opportunity this issue presents to PepperFest attendees.

Over the years, we’ve had mixed results of success and failure in this realm.  One true thing that can be said is that we’ve been working to improve the waste system in many ways, over several PepperFests, and by George, I think we’ve done it.

For many years, we did not supply compostable service ware to PepperFest chefs and attendees.  And it was not until PepperFest two years ago that we learned there is much more to simplifying the waste stream at a local food and beer festival than trying to control which service ware attendees are using for eating and drinking – it is about communicating our waste system expectations to every demographic that will be present at the festival weeks before the festival take place, with additional reminders all along the way.

It is about creating clear signage with compostable examples on display atop the compost bins.  It is about having trained volunteer oversight at each waste station to help guide and answer questions from people tossing their waste, and simply just to increase accountability of people tossing their waste.  It is important for there to be a pause and an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about what is recyclable (it varies by county in North Carolina) and what is compostable.


In the seven years Abundance has been organizing PepperFest, deeply tweaking our systems in place and experimenting with new waste stream communication ideas has lead to the best year ever for zero waste at PepperFest.

We reached our goal of not contaminating the compost bins from Brooks Contracting.  In the past, Brooks had to reject the compost loads from PepperFest, because the contamination was too bad for the Brooks staff to sort through – too much tin foil, plastic wrap, and plastic cups of all sizes.  The potential compost loads at one festival went straight to the landfill.  We were very disappointed and learned that we needed to do more to ensure proper oversight, signage, and communicating with all people in all capacities coming to the festival.  It was motivating, because we had seen it done successfully at other area festivals, like the annual Festival for the Eno.

This year, we were commended by Brooks Composting staff and the owner, Amy Brooks, that we had the best load of compost they’ve picked up from any event ever.

Aaron Massey, a worker at Brooks Contracting who picked up this year’s PepperFest compost, said, “Y’all, I have never seen such good compost. There is nothing in there that shouldn’t be in there. Y’all did 110%. Whatever y’all did this year to make this happen….well, it was worth all the work, because it paid off.”

Those words were music to my ears.  After all the trial and error, it was extremely encouraging to have a successful year where all the chefs, brewers, non-profit organizations, and the more than 1300 attendees disposed of their waste properly – neither the music, nor the gorgeous weather, not even the spicy pepper beer could distract them from doing the right thing at the waste station.

The 7th Annual Pepper Festival created almost 400 lbs of prime compost for future use on North Carolina farms.

Do you have questions about how to do this at your next big food event?  Call us at 919-533-5181 and ask for Jenny.  We’d be happy to discuss with you and help you troubleshoot.  By now, we’re familiar with what works, and even more familiar with what doesn’t work.

Below is an example of the verbiage we sent to attendees, chefs, brewers, distillers, sponsors, non-profits, volunteers, and anyone else coming to the festival:

We’re providing all the compostable service ware for serving dishes and drinks, and we’ve got 15 different compost and recycling stations around the park at PepperFest. We’ve also got a team of volunteers providing guidance at each zero-waste station! But we need your help and careful attention to prevent contaminating the compost bins….

Before you toss your “waste,” pause for a moment:

GREEN ROLLING BINS = COMPOST ONLY:  all food, 3″ tasting plates, bowls,  sporks, forks, spoons, napkins and corn cups go in here! Not sure? ASK!

BLUE RECYCLING RECEPTACLES: all plastic bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans. Not sure? Ask!

WHITE TRUE TRASH BINS: all plastic wrap, used tape, rubber and anything you think MAY contaminate the recycling and compost bins. There are only 2-3 of these at PepperFest. Look for them near the porta potties at the middle of the park!

HAVE A QUESTION AS YOU MAKE THE TOSS? Ask the nearby waste station oversight volunteer! They’ll help you out.