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Volunteers needed to help sort out ArtPrize waste

• Aug 18, 2017 at 2:00 PM

If you’re from West Michigan, you know about Art Prize — you attend, vote and maybe even brag about it to out-of-towners who (somehow) don’t know about it. What you might not know, though, is what happens behind the scenes.

With the number of visitors and admirers brought in by such a large event — we’re talking nearly half a million folks, here — there’s bound to be a substantial increase in waste (and there has been). The solution? S.O.R.T., of course.

Just last year, the program was implemented for the first time. Art Prize partnered with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County Department of Public Works to support strategically-placed S.O.R.T. stations in downtown Grand Rapids during last year’s event, and will do so again this year.

S.O.R.T. (Separate, Organic compost, Recycle, and Trash) supports education strategies, takes on the task of reducing waste produced during the event and properly disposes of the event’s waste.

“The S.O.R.T. program offers us the opportunity to educate our visitors, and wider community, about successful waste diversion,” said ArtPrize’s managing director, Amelea Pegman. “We bring nearly 500,000 people downtown during the 19 days of ArtPrize and feel a responsibility to look at ways that we can minimize the environmental impact of this type of gathering.”

During ArtPrize, S.O.R.T. uses the idea of a spotlight to convey appropriate waste disposal practices: red for landfill waste, yellow for recycling and green for compost materials. Attendees can “sort” out their various waste at ArtPrize at S.O.R.T. stations, where volunteers are stationed to educate and help.

After the stations are sorted, the city picks up all recyclable and compostable materials. Last year, there were six S.O.R.T. stations.

According to James Hurt, the director of the City of Grand Rapids Public Works Department, out of the 72,530 pounds of material collected, 12,860 pounds (17 percent) were recycled, and 4,740 pounds (6.5 percent) were composted — about 23.5 percent of the event’s waste. Although numbers like these may seem small, they make a big difference.

“We are so proud of the diversion rate from last year,” Pegman said. “Of course, we hope that in its second year we will up this percentage. Education around successful S.O.R.T.ing takes time, and we hope to see real progress in the coming years as composting and recycling become more commonplace in our public/shared spaces, like parks and sidewalks downtown.”

S.O.R.T. stations are run with generous help from volunteers. Last year, 169 volunteers donated 681 hours of their time to help manage the stations.

This year, there will be three S.O.R.T. stations: two at Rosa Parks Circle and one at Ah-Nab-Awen Park. The stations will run the duration of the event, and in order for the stations to be fully staffed, we are in need of 300 volunteers. WMEAC will also be hiring 2-4 coordinators who will be paid hourly, work 15-20 hours per week and will manage the event’s volunteers.

“It is so very helpful to have volunteers at the stations to teach our visitors about what to put in each bin, this educational piece is key to success of the stations,” Pegman said.

If you’re an avid fan of ArtPrize, and want to help keep our city clean and green, come volunteer. It’s the volunteers that help make S.O.R.T. a success. View our position description to become a S.O.R.T. volunteer coordinator. Contact us to volunteer at volunteer@wmeac.org, or read more on S.O.R.T. stations and other waste reducing projects at wmeac.org.

— By Tessa Harvey, the ecojournalism intern for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council

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