HG: SustainAbility Column May 16, 2009

My trip to the Green Festival in Denver earlier this month was quite the adventure, but it was an adventure with a small carbon footprint.

In keeping with my habit of grouping activities by location, I combined attending the festival with visiting a number of friends and relatives in Denver and Colorado Springs.

The journey began with a bus trip to Denver, where I stayed at my niece’s LoDo apartment. By walking a few blocks, I was able to take a free hybrid-electric, alternative-fuel shuttle to the Convention Center.

Denver is taking the New Green Economy seriously, and it was great not to worry about parking.

The joint project of Global Exchange and Green America drew 23,000 people to the Denver festival. Strolling through the aisles was the Rocky Mountain Green Man, a human on stilts convincingly disguised as an ancient tree. He set the tone.

The festival billed itself as a nearly zero-waste event with a 94 percent resource recovery rate.

Less than 1,000 pounds of trash from the event ended up in the landfill.

Exhibitors and food vendors were required to use compostable foodware, a fancy term for plates, cups and utensils. Instead of just a lone trashcan, each of the numerous disposal areas had bins for recyclable and compostable materials, as well as for trash.

Since I recently visited our local recycling facilities, I had recycling on the brain and was intrigued by the number of exhibitors displaying wares made from repurposed and recycled materials.

Items made from recycled material have actually gone through a manufacturing process breaking the item down to its raw material, which is then manufactured into something new.

For example, glass is melted down and remanufactured into new bottles or jars. Plastic is shredded, melted and made into carpet, fiberfill or plastic lumber.

Repurposed or reclaimed items do not go through the breakdown process but are left essentially in their old form and made into a new object.

Necessity truly is the mother of invention, and in developing countries, nothing goes to waste.

My daughter returned from a trip to Mexico with a purse constructed from product wrappers. At the festival I saw stunning bowls made in Vietnam from magazine pages folded into thins strips glued together.

Pop tops from aluminum cans were repurposed to create eye-catching jewelry and purses.

Cut-up flip-flops turned into colorful doormats.

Chopsticks became necklaces, baskets, soap dishes and even plastic bag dryers. Reclaimed tires and inner tubes were reborn as wallets and handbags. Purses and guitar straps were made from old seat belts.

Among the stranger things I saw were coin purses made from old movie film and paper made from elephant dung.

Mr. Ellie Pooh takes advantage of the fact that elephants eat a high-fiber diet and turns the dung into thick, textured sheets of attractive paper. The venture supports elephant conservation.

Wood was a popular item for both recycling and repurposing. I spoke with one man from the Salt Lake City area who started a company to give new life to used wood pallets. He and his crew were making stylish furniture and other products from industrial trash.

The infestation of pine beetles, so evident when traveling through the Colorado mountains on Interstate 70, has given rise to businesses that turn the dead trees into pellets for wood stoves and even cat box filler. After scooping poop out of the filler, you can compost what is left rather than sending it to the landfill.

One of my favorite ideas was from an exhibit proclaiming, “Reduce Your Forkprint.” To-Go Ware features a line of products for packing lunches and allows you to cut way back on using plastic. The reasonably priced bamboo utensil set comes in a slim case made from recycled plastic complete with a carabiner (snap fastener). Food containers are made from stainless steel and have recycled cotton carrier bags.

Of course, booths for alternative energy and green building were abundant. Various environmental organizations also participated. There was a special area for kids and a teen pavilion. You could learn about adventurous eco vacations and other trips to support sustainable community development through travel and voluntourism, volunteering while on vacation.

I learned so much at the Green Festival, perhaps I will have enough fuel for column ideas during the second year of SustainAbility.

Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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