March 2014 Archives

Our Zero Waste story

Seven years and after seven tons of trash diverted, the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival is a forerunner in waste reduction. We're calling out for volunteers to make the 2014 Festival a truly Zero Waste one to align with the City of Cleveland's Zero Waste pledge. Yes! 2014 is the Year of Zero Waste in Cleveland.

Year after year, we have partnered with numerous community gardens and farms to convert all the plates, spoons, napkins, and water cups that we use, into rich compost that gardens can use — just in time for their growing season.

The Process

Here's how we do it each year:

We collect waste in the dining room in separate bins — compostable waste and recyclable waste (note that we don't have any "regular" trash in the dining area). At each meal shift, a volunteer helps make sure there is no contamination in our waste stream — no chips wrappers, chewing gum, plastic bags etc. in compost/recycle bins. Signage is displayed all around. The volunteer then coordinates with the Comfort Inn staff to make sure bags are tied and taken to the designated compostable trash storage area.

Sansai Environmental, a now defunct indoor vermicomposting facility in Cleveland, participated in an experiment in 2007 — our first year towards this target — to help feed all our food containers soaked in food to the worms. Worms loved them, and we hit our first waste reduction target. Thanks are due to Maurice Small, a great friend and a master composter who helped take these to the George Jones farm in Oberlin to compost, on his trips back and forth to the city. Then came in the dedicated Eric Hooper, who for the last four years has helped us by taking all these bags to the many community farms within a 3-mile radius. He pays for gas for this service by recycling all the aluminum trays and foils that volunteers bring food in for the Saturday meal.

Loops have been tied, and tied well for seven years. We are very grateful for the support we have had from our friends, partners and volunteers.

Our philosophy behind the many small groups that pick up compost is

  1. Ensure that our community farms are supported through local events, foster a network of interdependence and reliability among events and farms.
  2. Cut our footprint travel distance to a suburban waste management facility, which would only pick up once a week. This helps prevent undesirable decomposition of food waste. Our desirable range of farms and gardens are within 5 miles.
  3. Reduced tipping fees and landfill volume.

This year, we hope to make the process more efficient. We hope to integrate the busy kitchen into this process, and eliminate the already minimal general trash in the Comfort Inn lobby. At the end of every two days, we will have a farm liaison or a gardener pick up bags to take to the community gardens. All recycling will be hauled off to a recycling collection point.

One bag of trash after a 2,000 person lunch
After 2,000 attendees had lunch last year, this is all the trash that we sent to landfill. We want to eliminate even this for 2014.

You can help

If you are interested in helping us achieve our zero-waste target, please get in touch with Divya Sridhar ( You can help out by:

  1. Signing up to help direct people to the right waste disposal bin - recycling/compost. Pick a meal shift.
  2. Signing up to help the Kitchen staff segregate their waste stream. Pick a cooking shift.
  3. Bringing your own reusable water bottles. Please refill and drink.
  4. Remembering not to bring anything that does not recycle or compost into the event. You'd be surprised at how much can be diverted from trash by just paying attention to what you use and how.
  5. Having casual conversations about food and waste at meal times. Increase awareness.

Once again, contact Divya Sridhar ( if have more ideas on this topic, and if you'd like to volunteer.

posted on March 26, 2014