By Bay Stephens
BIG SKY – This July’s Big Sky PBR was not only a success in terms of turnout and competition, but sustainability as well, diverting 1,800 pounds of recycling from landfill and nixing single-use plastic water bottles for eco-friendly alternatives.
And for an event with more than 7,500 total attendees, accumulating only 37 pounds of trash is pretty darn impressive, according to 406 Recycling’s Matt Elsaesser, who oversaw recycling operations for PBR.
While cardboard and plastic were taken to 406 Recycling’s headquarters in Helena, aluminum landed at the Belgrade branch of Pacific Steel and Recycling. Compostable cups will be ground up by a local composter to become soil and the 903 pounds of glass captured at the event will go to a cement plant in Montana City, which uses the crushed material as a substitute for sand.
“I like glass because it’s an inert material,” Elsaesser said. “It’s heavy to transport but has a lot of recycling value,” especially due to the global sand shortage reported by NPR, he added.
Similar to the successful diversion of plastic cups at the Peak to Sky Festival in earlier in the month, 406 Recycling used PVC pipes to encourage audience members to pour out liquids and stack their cups upside down, saving on volume and decreasing contaminants collected with the plastic.
“The quality control we got recycling was very good,” Elsaesser said. “The cleanup crews set aside recycling for us to pick up and the vendors were breaking down boxes [to save on volume].”
As far as Elsaesser knows, he devised the cup stacking system and it’s unique to 406 Recycling.
“One neat thing is when you look back at those volumes, there wasn’t a lot of plastic bottles,” Elsaesser said.
That was deliberate, according to Outlaw Partners Media and Events Director Ersin Ozer.
“Our goal [was] to significantly reduce single-use plastic water bottles at our events this summer, and we [partnered] with local community leaders to find solutions,” Ozer said.
In lieu of plastic water bottles, Outlaw teamed up with the Gallatin River Task Force, Big Sky Rotary Club and Montana Silver Springs to provide aluminum, reusable water bottles for both Peak to Sky and Big Sky PBR.
Together, GRTF and Rotary organized and ordered 900 28-ounce h2go Surge aluminum refillable water bottles, which were sold near water refill stations at both events by the organizations’ representatives.
“The Gallatin River Task Force was thrilled to partner with Rotary on this important issue of sustainability for our community,” GRTF Director of Development Ryan Newcomb said. “Sustainable solutions are key to water conservation efforts and both protecting and stewarding the Gallatin Watershed as a whole.”
Blair Mohn, secretary of the Big Sky chapter of Rotary and chair of the organization’s sustainability committee, was excited the water bottles came together so quickly and thinks more can be done in Big Sky.
“People want sustainability here,” Mohn said, adding that working with Outlaw to supply the water bottles is just one of many steps rotary intends to carry out to push forward green initiatives in the local community. “People want to preserve the integrity of Big Sky’s natural beauty.”
Montana Silver Springs, based in Philipsburg, Montana, also donated 50 cases of their aluminum bottled water—1,200 bottles—for Outlaw’s summer events.
Nolan and Cathy Smith have bottled beer in aluminum resealable bottles since opening Philipsburg Brewing Co. in 2012, but began bottling high-alkali spring water in the same style of containers in Oct. 2018.
“I just think it’s important to raise people’s awareness about plastic in our environment and if our bottles are [at these events], it puts the issue at the forefront of people’s minds,” Smith said in June.
Aluminum has the only true closed loop recycling process, meaning that aluminum cans can be melted down and made into new aluminum cans indefinitely, rendering it one of the most versatile recycling materials out there.
Big Sky PBR recycling: By the numbers
Compostable cups 6
Total material diverted from the landfill 1800