Thousands are expected to attend the Green Living and Energy Education Expo at Marathon High School this coming weekend, and all those people will be traveling, eating, drinking and otherwise “consuming” — activities that can harm the environment through emissions, fuel consumption and sizeable additions to the waste stream.
To minimize the damage, Expo volunteers are in high gear implementing strategies to ensure that the event’s impact is negligible. After all, the Expo’s mission is to highlight ways to protect the planet, and organizers say they intend to practice what they preach.
“We’re committed to walking the walk and talking the talk,” said GLEE president Alison Higgins. “We see the Expo as a way to literally show what practices and products are available to anybody, and how simple it is to use them.”
Expo volunteers hope other event organizers will adopt a few of their tactics for hosting an environmentally friendly gathering. Here are some of the ways GLEE is working to minimize the Expo’s impact on the Keys.
The ironic image of thousands of people chugging along U.S. 1, each in their own gas guzzling cars and trucks to attend a green living event was enough to make Expo organizers grimace. So upon GLEE’s request, the City of Marathon, Monroe County and the Key West Department of Transportation stepped up to sponsor free shuttles to carry Lower Keys attendees to and from the event.
“First, we want to save fuel and make a smaller footprint,” said GLEE Expo assistant Bridget McDonald. “Second, we don’t have a lot of parking [at Marathon High School]. Having the shuttles running will help with both.”
According to Myra Wittenberg, director of the Key West Department of Transportation, the free shuttle service will run between Key West and Marathon on all Lower Keys routes Saturday only. Additionally, a special GLEE shuttle bus will pick up and drop off at the Gato Building, 1100 Simonton. This bus will also stop at all regular bus stops from Sears to the Marathon High School.
“If you plan to attend the GLEE event and will use a Lower Keys bus service, just remember to tell the driver you are going to the GLEE Expo,” Wittenberg wrote in an e-mail. “They will be sure to drop you off at the Marathon High School.”
Upper Keys residents can hail the Dade-Monroe Express Bus — otherwise known as the American Coach — and hitch a ride to Marathon for $1.85 each way. Schedules are online at www.miamidade.gov/transit/routes/route.asp?route=301 or by calling 305-770-3131.
“With gas prices soaring, we hope people will see the value and efficiency of public transportation and continue to ride the bus beyond this one event,” said GLEE vice president Jody Smith Williams.
Instead of printing out reams of maps, flyers and other Expo handouts ahead of the event, GLEE volunteer Diane Marshall said organizers are cutting down on paper use by posting vital information on GLEE’s Web site and encouraging people to view it there.
Maps for Sunday’s green home tours will be printed on demand at the Expo, so there will be no piles of unused documents to deal with after the event.
“Anything we do print will be on recycled paper, of course,” Marshall said.
Anyone wanting to safely dispose of electronics can take them to the Expo and give them to Robert Kaye, owner of Miami-based Recycled PC Parts.
“I’ll take anything that plugs into the wall or runs on batteries,” Kaye said. “I guarantee nothing will end up on a landfill.”
Kaye, who said he loves to come to the Keys because “Keys people are much more alert to the environment than any other group I’ve come across,” will give free t-shirts to the first 200 people who bring in an electronic item for recycling.
For non-electronic items, Marathon High School student volunteers will be on hand to monitor recycle bins and help the crowd understand what can and can’t be tossed into them at the Expo. Organizers want to be sure the bins are not contaminated with trash.
And once the event is over, Latitude 24 Recycling of Key West will step in to handle the contents of all those bins.
“We’re going to make sure (the recyclables) all go to a facility where they will be properly processed,” said Latitude 24 spokesperson Lissette Cuervo. “We’re being very careful so people have no doubt that those items are actually being recycled and not thrown into the trash.”
And speaking of trash, the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative is footing the bill for two custodians to properly dispose of garbage and professionally clean up the site after the event.
Healthy food options will abound at the Expo, where attendees will have the chance to purchase everything from fruit smoothies to organic hot dogs, according to Billie McGuire-Novak, a local dietitian and GLEE volunteer.
“We’ll have lots of organic options. There will be wonderful fresh produce from Redland Organics,” McGuire-Novak said. “And there will be organic burgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers from Delicious Organics, the company that’s opening in Key Largo.”
Culinary arts students from Marathon High School will prepare and sell fruit smoothies and wraps to raise money for their program.
McGuire-Novak said most of the food will be served on squares of biodegradable paper rather than Styrofoam or plastic plates, and the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is donating thousands of compostable cups to the event.
The reusable cups look like clear plastic, but they’re actually a petroleum-free corn product that will decompose, according to Colleen Tagle, spokesperson for the FKAA.
Tagle said she hopes people will take the cups home after the Expo and use them to drink tap water rather than buying water in environmentally unfriendly individual plastic bottles.
“These little cups just show that every choice you make is a choice to protect the environment or not,” Tagle said. “It all adds up.”
With thousands of people snacking and enjoying lunch at the Expo, there will probably be quite a lot of food waste generated at the event. There are two choices for dealing with that waste — haul it to a mainland incinerator or compost it. It’s a safe bet GLEE organizers would rather see it composted.
It normally takes months for organic waste to decompose through conventional composting methods, but Expo attendees will get the chance to not only see a warp speed composter in action — but they’ll also have the chance to contribute their own food waste to the effort.
Bill Townshend, project manager for the South Dade Soil & Water Conservation District, will be demonstrating a 3-cubic yard electric composter at the Expo that he says will compost food and yard waste in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional methods.
“What typically takes three to four months, this machine can do in three to four days,” Townshend said. “It makes a beautiful soil amendment and it makes it quickly.”
After enjoying a snack at the Expo, attendees will be able to contribute their left over food and biodegradable disposable products to Townshend’s composter, where the contents will be processed into a nutrient rich, pasteurized soil.
Townshend hopes to donate some of the compost generated at the Expo to a local entity.
Since conventional cotton farming utilizes chemicals and pesticides that damage the environment, GLEE is providing all Expo volunteers with organic cotton t-shirts to wear at the event.
Got a birthday, wedding, anniversary or block party coming up? Here are some tips for hosting your own environmentally friendly event:
u Resist purchasing themed party ware and décor that will only be discarded after the guests go home. Get creative with the party theme by reusing items already around the house, or by borrowing from a friend.