I've attended all three WGF events in North Carolina, volunteering each year on the waste management team. Our group is responsible for keeping the camp clean, by providing and constantly emptying receptacles for trash, recycling, and compost. It's not the most glamorous work, but it certainly piques my freegan interests. I wished to know from the start - are we holy? Are we set apart? Do the wild geese, mostly progressive in their politics and religion, really care about stewarding the earth? Or do they only pay lip service to environmentalism while remaining complacent and irresponsible as the broader population?
My questions were quickly answered during the 2011 inaugural fest at Shakori Hills, NC. It was clear to me that the Wild Goose community was not conscious of the impact they would have on the camp site, on municipal waste management systems, or on the broader environment. They seemed to show little concern about the consequences of their own rampant consumption, their unbridled use of disposable cutlery, flatware, plastic water bottles, etc.
I wrote about my experience, wagging my finger at the goose. We could and should do better, I argued.
Now don't get me wrong - I understand that being conscious and responsible in these matters can require a good bit of life-change. Relatively few people are well-versed in the practice of composting and probably fewer still are very aware of what can be recycled. It seems that most people don't realize that materials' recyclability depend largely on the kinds of facilities present in any given location - only certain kinds of plastics are recyclable here, glass can be recycled in this place but not the other, and so on. If one is not accustomed to sorting their discards in such a fashion, it may take extraordinary effort to abide by strict regional guidelines.
Moreover, what is a person to do when they've already purchased and packed disposable materials for their camping convenience? Is it reasonable to ask them to return such goods and replace them instead with durable and reusable plates, cups, utensils, and bottles?
No, I thought, and I resolved to help make the next year a better experience, to help train the goose. While it was true that folks needed to do more on an individual basis, they also needed proper guidance from festival organizers. So I signed up as a co-team leader for the waste management team and offered a few suggestions for the Wild Goose coordinators:
- Whenever you send messages to attendees about what to bring, be sure to include kitchenware (durable/washable cups, plates, and utensils). Put a notice on the website, do whatever it takes to make sure they bring this stuff! Even encourage them to bring extras so that they can share with their neighbors around a campfire who may not have brought their own.
- Take at least one full page (a full spread?) in the festival program to clearly explain how to dispose of everything, especially compost!
- On that same page (spread!), encourage folks to look out for each other and even to hold each other accountable to this. We essentially have to encourage a culture of proper stewardship of God's creation. This means that people need to see it, talk about it, work on it together, maybe even be embarrassed a few times, to be called out on or even (dare I say it) rebuked!
None of my suggestions were heeded and unsurprisingly, little changed. The geese of 2012 were as sloppy and careless as their predecessors.
But this year, I'm happy to say, the tides turned.
Much changed, beginning with the venue. We luxuriated in the daily summer rains of Hot Springs, a small town on the Appalachian trail, in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina.
Once the fest started a couple days later, I received my program and opened it to find a full page devoted to explaining the importance of our ecological mindfulness. Moreover, campers were given a sheet of guidelines for the site that also stressed the point, encouraging campers to utilize reusable materials rather than disposable.
All of this information was outlined in the materials given to each camper and it all made for a much better experience on the waste management team, now dubbed Leave No Trace (a fitting name!)
As campers looked over signs at disposal stations, I overheard them asking each other about whether they should compost meat and bones. They had heard from other sources that these should not be composted (generally good advice, especially for backyard or indoor compost), but our signs indicated that they were OK. I explained that all organic matter is compostable, but not all composting systems can handle meat and bones. This particular system could. They shrugged and moved on. This stuff really can be confusing; but I was content knowing that they were engaging the conversation, both at the festival and outside of it.
Even on the festival schedule there were several seminars and discussions about the environment, climate change, sustainable food systems. Not too shabby.
Perhaps we are all grown up, as our wise elder suggested. At least it seems that we're getting there. Here's hoping that we'll continue to demonstrate, year after year, that you can teach an old goose new tricks.