Feteing Green ???? Oh, that’s easy, all you need to do is drop a few recycling bins in your event and then BAM! its eco-friendly, or so you think! Unfortunately, that’s not the case I can assure there is a lot more to feteing green than meets the eye.
Let’s backtrack a little bit, at 27 years old, I would like to think of myself as a seasoned feter definitely not a veteran but I started with Normandie Under the Trees and worked my way up to the big guns like Machel Monday and Army Fete. As a feter I’d usually walk with my drinks for the night (which 99.9% of the time is water) and I’d plant myself in front of the performance stage for the entire night. You would never find me by the bar, those lines are absolutely insane and not worth my time. I am saying all of this because my ‘feteing waste footprint’ has always been low, to non-existent and I’ve never truly paid much attention to my environment. I know that sounds weird as an environmentalist, but I enjoy the music and performances so much literally nothing else matters to me.
Last year, however, I was one of the last people to walk out of Hydrate and let me tell you I was shaken to my core when I looked around and saw a sea of plastic just casually chilling on the floor like it belonged there. Plastic cups, bottles, bags, Styrofoam containers, you name it and I thought to myself, I had to be dreaming. Days went by and I just could not shake the feeling, especially because I realised that it was happening at the other fetes I attended. However, nothing could have prepared me for the sight at the end of Machel Monday. It was atrocious! I’d let the pictures do all the talking.
Alarmed by everything I was seeing I decided to write a blog to raise awareness, but I knew in my heart more needed to be done and I just had no clue how. Check out the blog below. ecovybz.blog/2019/03/15/mas-trash/
I returned to Trinidad at the end of November after traveling for several programs and was only home for two days when I was presented with the idea of Trinidad and Tobago’s first eco-friendly fete. At first, I was a little reluctant, I thought it was just a hoax or a marketing strategy and they weren’t going to take it seriously because after all, several people believe that going green is just about recycling. Even though I’ve stressed about a million times that recycling is not the answer. You can check out my blog on this topic as well with the link below. http://www.ecovybz.blog/2017/06/28/recycling-the-holy-grail-of-waste-management/
However, after my first meeting with the organising team I realised their goals were genuine and they were passionate about not only making a change but being responsible eco-conscious party goers, they just had no real idea how to execute their vision.
Three men, with non environmental backgrounds, had a brainstorming session one day as they were planning their carnival events and just like that, the concept of feteing green was born. The co-organisers of the event Darryl Duke, Kamu Laird and Jonathan Patty pointed out that as parents they wanted to play their role in ensuring that the environment is maintained for their children and grandchildren and felt in their heart that they needed to do everything to keep sweet T&T clean, green and serene. They were sold on the venue for the event, Undercover Nurseries because of its natural beauty and greenery and decided to implement a green theme.
For them however, it needed to be more than just a theme, wearing green alone was not enough because according to Darryl – “At a certain age we need to start feteing with a purpose.” This is where the idea was solidified and the concept of feteing green was born. They knew that for it to truly be green the event needed to be eco-friendly.
This is where the work began! When I came on board, they had some concepts and ideas in mind, but we needed to take things up a notch if we were truly going to reduce our feteing waste footprint. I am not going to lie this was challenging. There were days I would literally be scratching my head trying to come up with solutions or I’d be doing a random task like washing dishes and ideas would just come to me. Day in and day out the team would pitch ideas to me and send items and I would continuously shut it down. At times I felt horrible, but if we were going to be eco-friendly, we had to do it right, absolutely no shortcuts. We had to dig deep, get creative and challenge the status quo. Not a day went by when I wasn’t in contact with either Kamu or Darryl and most of our conversations would be, you can’t use that the packaging is a problem or this is not an environmentally friendly option and we’d have to go back to the drawing board. I remember one of our discussions being about straws and I emphasised that we did not need plastic or paper straws at the event to be distributed, I knew they weren’t 100% sold on it but they trusted me and that for me was everything! I heavily emphasised that for many a straw is a want not a need and by having straws present we would be creating unnecessary waste. There were times we had to deny sponsors because their products or services just weren’t environmentally friendly, and I knew it was a bit frustrating but like I mentioned before we had to do this right. Our mission was to reduce our waste as much as possible and to succeed at this we needed to eliminate all unnecessary items and close the loop as much as possible.
As the days got closer the challenges did not stop. Three days before the event, I ended up by the doctor to check my eyes because I was in excruciating pain and discomfort. Sadly, they were so badly irritated he told me to get rest, stay indoors and suggested that I leave Trinidad because my eyes cannot tolerate our environment. ( I’ve had cornea transplants done on each eye). I thought to myself he had to be crazy, didn’t he know we were on the verge of creating history? There was no stopping me!
Nothing and I repeat nothing, had us more stumped than ice, everyone had on their thinking caps and we seriously racked our brains to figure out how we were going to distribute ice in an eco-friendly manner. At first, we were just going to have an ice machine but as the number of attendees started to climb, we needed a way to sell ice at the venue without creating waste. We threw around a couple of ideas like biodegradable bowls or crocus bags (old time market bags) but they just didn’t sit right with us until Jonathon had a masterful idea that took us by storm. It was at that moment I knew I was making difference it wasn’t just about feteing green anymore, everyone started thinking green as well. I truly felt like a proud mama bear!
On the night of the event, I stood at the back of the venue and watched all the patrons feteing green and having the time of their lives. The event had so much vibes and at one point I don’t know what happened but every single emotion in my body overwhelmed me and I felt to burst into tears and not a civilised cry, I was feeling to do the whole snotty nose, puffy eyes bawl down the place type of cry. Of course, I didn’t do it, I was at a fete but I felt it, I felt the movement, we the green team brought about real change and patrons were on board. These guys had a vision and they trusted me to help them execute it, and we succeeded!
I’m sure you’ve been reading all of this and wondering when I’m going to get to the juicy details of what exactly made our event eco-friendly. Before I get into it let me just point out that it wasn’t perfect there is no win win situation when it comes to human interactions with the environment, there would always be some form of degradation or impact occurring but that did not mean we weren’t going to try our best to reduce that. You also need to remember at the end of the day it was a fete, there are many other things that could have been implemented but it just didn’t align with the feteing culture.
Ok let’s get into it. First off, we encouraged patrons to purchase their tickets online, this however was a challenge because many people still preferred hard copy tickets. To counteract this, we set out to recycle all our tickets and plant a tree for every ticket sold. Yep, you read correctly we are planting a tree for every ticket sold and although I do not have the official count, we are scheduled to plant over 500 trees in the rainy season. This idea was presented to us by Marc, one of the committee members and there was no way I was turning that down, it got an instant stamp of approval.
Absolutely no Styrofoam was allowed in the fete, it is truly an unnecessary evil that has been presented to us so easily that we constantly feel the need to use it just like a straw, but we do not need it. Styrofoam essentially takes forever to break down and most times ends up in our waterways and landfills for thousands of years polluting the environment and harming marine life. Moreover, Styrofoam is extremely bad for our health so why put ourselves through that? Apart from banning Styrofoam at the event we heavily encouraged patrons to walk with their reusables such as cups and to keep the environment clean. I can safely say I saw many variations of party cups as patrons entered the venue and I knew our constant messaging was not in vain. We stressed that if you were coming to undercover you had to be part of the solution not the pollution and I think we drilled this into our patron’s mind, and they got it.
Part of keeping the environment clean was having enough bins present. Too many times I’ve been to events and there are two lonely bins chilling by the bar that is overfilled, and I cannot find a next bin present. The lack of bins encourages patrons to litter not saying it’s an excuse, but when there is alcohol involved and no bin present the next best option for some is just to leave it on the floor. We made sure that there were adequate bins placed all around the venue that were easily accessible and visible. Apart from the regular waste bins present we had the EMA ICARE bins on site for patrons to recycle their plastic bottles, aluminium cans and tetra paks. The glass bottles were collected by Carib Glass contractors and sent to their factory for processing. It’s one thing to have the bins there but we also had some volunteers present at the entrance encouraging patrons to use the bins, educating them about the items that can enter the bins and encouraging them to keep the venue clean. Present on site was also a bin from Eco-Impact for our food vendor to recycle his waste vegetable oil however, the oil was too hot to be placed into the bin on the night as the bottle designated for the oil would have exploded. However, they are regular users of Eco-Impact services and assured us that it would be delivered to be recycled.
It was also mandatory for all our vendors to use either reusable, biodegradable or compostable products. For our entry shots, this is where some creativity came into play, we had punchy punch dispensers and our shots were placed in the skin of a passion fruit. Over 300 passion fruits were cut in half, emptied and stored in cold water. Let me tell me you those were the best shots I ever had. I don’t know if it was the passion fruit, but they were epic! The skins were then placed in a crocus bag to be sent for composting. Likewise, there was a coconut vendor on site and his waste husks were also sent for composting. Undercover also presented us with repurposed pallets that were used to make tables for our patrons to use.
The ice, our biggest hurdle was stored in both crocus bags and drums to chill drinks and we had a few mini ice buckets as part of the Deep Eddy Vodka sponsorship for Peroni beers. Patrons who ordered ice at the bar were given the ice in a Massy Stores reusable bag and this was a big hit for many. This was Jonathon’s exceptional idea and I truly applaud his creativity. Several patrons used their bags to pack their belongings when they were leaving which was a good sign. We also had a few biodegradable containers on site for the ice in case we ran out of bags or there were any issues.
At the venue we had an eco-village that housed Carnicycle, The Last Straw TT and Hydrastation. Carnicycle collects carnival costumes (Carnival bras, backpacks, head pieces and arm and leg pieces and male shorts) as well as other clothing items, such as J’ouvert wear and shoes, from various carnivals and recycles or repurpose it. They are the first and only business to recycle carnival costumes in the world. They were present at the eco-village to raise awareness of their business and encourage patrons to recycle their carnival costumes.
Luke the Co-Founder of Carnicycle –“Overall our experience was pretty good, I like the vision the organisers had to include eco-vendors and although we didn’t get costumes we got to promote and market our initiative which is always a plus.”
The Last Straw TT makes bamboo straws using bamboo that is grown in Trinidad which are 100% natural, biodegradable and reusable. They also sell other bamboo related products and reusable items. Their presence provided patrons with a reusable option for straws, cutlery and other items. I was even gifted a bamboo cocktail straw that I was extremely grateful for and can’t wait to use.
Hydrastation eliminates plastic bottle waste by offering free filtered water refills with their multi-dispensing Hydra-STATION and single dispensing Hydra-TAP. At the end of the night we eliminated one thousand, eight hundred and ninety water bottles which was definitely a win !
On entry patrons were given a paper wristband to acknowledge receipt of their ticket and those who came early were gifted with a bamboo cup. Everyone who came early, (you know the ones who like to open the fete) that received a bamboo cup was in complete awe. I made sure to grab myself a cup because just like everyone else I too was blown away by it. Next year we aim to have a reusable option for the wrist bands if we decide to go with wristbands again.
Due to the location we wanted to ensure that we did not disturb the nearby residential areas or the species in the environment therefore we complied with the EMA Noise Pollution Permit and positioned our speakers to reduce noise pollution. Likewise, with the lights we restricted our usage of overly bright lights to reduce light pollution as the venue was nearby forested areas.
The day after the event I literally had to throw myself off the bed at 7am to return to venue to ensure that the waste was sorted, and bins were collected so the items could be taken to the different recycling facilities. That was a true test of my dedication to seeing this vision through because I can assure you not a bone in my body wanted to move from my bed but, we had to do it right!
All in all, we had several initiatives in place to fete green but what made it a success was our patrons who complied. We could have implemented all those ideas and without their cooperation we would have failed. I think this shows that citizens are willing to make that change and be conscious of their environment, but it is up to the bigger party promoters to join the movement to really affect change in the industry. We have a long way to go still, but the important thing is that we have started, and we need to keep the ball rolling.
Kamu one of the pioneers of the idea had this to say- “I am very happy and pleased with the efforts of the UnderCover patrons adopting the new fete green culture and I hope that moving forward we are imitated and looked as a catalyst or pioneers of feteing green. It is not easy to do, and my partners and I learnt a lot along the way. I think that the energy of finding ways and being creative to fete green carried through to the patrons and the event space, which I found was all incapsulating and really propelled the feeling and atmosphere which I hope undercover can carry on for years to come.”
UnderCover Cooler Event definitely had a vibe and the blue devils present certainly bought a unique energy, but nothing could have topped that rain shower that blessed us, it took things to the next level! Honestly, it would not have been a Santa Cruz event if rain did not fall. Some patrons are already planning for next year and those who missed out are not making that mistake again.
I am extremely happy to say I was part of the solution this year and I had a phenomenal time working with the team, they made everything feel like a breeze. The trust and respect that they gave me meant the most and together we achieved something spectacular! My heart is bursting with gratitude and pride at all our efforts as according to Darryl- “This was an experience that changed the way we fete and now our daily lives, we feteing green and now we living green!”
I had an exceptional time feteing green this year and I can’t wait to do it again in 2021!
Thinking about feteing green and don’t know where to start? Follow us on Instagram @undercover_cooler_event for our eco tips every Tuesday and check out www.yugentt.com as Jamala Themba starts her carnival series highlighting ways to cut back on waste and have an eco-friendly carnival season.