Aiming to reduce impact from rodeos to concerts, four main events recycled 8,475 pounds and composted 3,023 pounds
By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Editor’s note: Outlaw Partners is the publisher of Explore Big Sky and producer of Big Sky PBR and Wildlands Festival.
Despite the continued growth of Outlaw Events—from the nine-time PBR Event of the Year to a bar-raising Wildlands Festival that brought Lord Huron and Foo Fighters to Big Sky—the carbon footprint isn’t growing at the same clip.
In fact, according to a report from 406 Recycling, YES compost, Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization (SNO) and EcoMontana, this was Outlaw Events’ “biggest year yet” in terms of waste diversion. The diversion rate—percentage of recyclable or compostable waste that evades the landfill—climbed to 56.2%, up by roughly 6% over 2022, according to Big Sky SNO.
Diversion was tracked through four main events: first, Caamp brought a sizeable crowd to the Big Sky Events Arena on July 11. Shortly after, Big Sky’s Biggest Week from July 14-22 included the Big Sky Community Rodeo, Community Day and Dick Allgood Community Bingo Night, and the Big Sky PBR. Finally, the Wildlands Festival brought another packed arena on Aug. 5-6.
The Caamp concert collected 1,320 pounds of recyclables—about half of which was aluminum—and 275 pounds of compost.
The Big Sky Community Rodeo, presented by the Yellowstone Club, collected 840 pounds of recyclables and 205 pounds of compost. The bingo and Community Day events added 85 pounds of recyclables, and 26 pounds of compost.
The two-day Big Sky PBR collected 3,160 pounds of recyclables—including 1,300 pounds of glass and 1,110 pounds of cardboard—and 2,140 pounds of compost.
Finally, the Wildlands Festival collected another 3,070 pounds of recyclables—including 1,680 pounds of glass and 970 pounds of cardboard—and 377 pounds of compost.
In total, the events only collected about 20 pounds of recyclable plastic. That’s no accident: Outlaw’s intention is to move away from plastic at their events entirely.
When Ennion Williams, VP of events with Outlaw Partners, first started, he recognized an opportunity: these events are entirely fenced in with security, which allows Outlaw to control what materials come in—every material should be recyclable or compostable. He works with every vendor to demand they bring only compliant products, and most vendors cooperate. Williams is proud that this summer’s events filled just one 30-yard dumpster for landfill.
“The 4.5 tons of recycled product is amazing. When we started out, we were excited about 1,500 pounds… It’s amazing to see what we’ve been able to do.”
Although Big Sky’s recycling facilities are somewhat limited—the local drop-off does not accept glass, which is recycled no closer than Salt Lake City—Williams was confident about his partnership with Helena-based 406 Recycling. As for 406 Recycling owner Matt Elsaesser, Williams said, “I knew that if I got it into his hands that it would actually get recycled.”
Williams is confident that Outlaw will continue to approach zero-waste, and he has a bold vision of complete recycling compliance for every business in Big Sky someday.
Aiming for 90%
Lizzie Peyton, director of community sustainability for Big Sky SNO, shares Williams’ vision of a zero-waste Big Sky.
“Zero waste” is categorized as diversion rate of at least 90%. That’s a lofty goal, Peyton says, but a worthy pursuit. She’s inspired to encourage all businesses to purchase divertible materials.
“I still think it’s a very valuable push,” Peyton told EBS in a phone call. She recognizes that sustainable materials may cost more in the short term, but when accounting for the long-term value of Big Sky’s outdoors and natural resources, “we should be making that investment every damn day.”
Big Sky SNO has been supporting Outlaw for the past three summers. Every year, Peyton sees more excitement and less resistance to sustainability efforts.
“We’ve seen such an increasement in engagement with the vendors themselves being on board and being proactive with their purchasing habits… Our diversion increases because our vendors are on board,” she said, adding that it took some convincing for some due to the higher cost of materials. Even attendees are learning—returning guests know the deal.
Even with the improved diversion rate over 56%, Peyton said there’s a lot of room to grow. Even with the size of Outlaw’s events, she envisions them reaching the goal of 90% diversion.
Peyton pointed out that smaller events are easier to manage. In their second year of partnership, Big Sky SNO helped the Big Sky Biggie divert waste at 78%. In a new partnership, the Rut diverted 69% of waste from landfill.
Big Sky SNO supports popular Big Sky events including Music in the Mountains and the Big Sky Farmers Market, although commingled recycling does not allow them to track diversion rate. Peyton called them “great consistent events” and said crossover attendees and vendors—who also attend Outlaw Events—understand the rules.
“You’re getting somebody who comes to the farmers market four times, and then Music in the Mountains three times… They have not just seen it once, they have seen it seven to 10 times in one summer. So it’s becoming more of a habit and a greater understanding, which is awesome,” Peyton said.
Between February 2023 and last week’s Friendsgiving, Big Sky SNO estimates 82,849 attendees have passed through their partner events. Peyton said there might be some double counting, but a pretty close and impressive count for total people educated.
“We’re really excited for the opportunity to work with all the event organizers in Big Sky,” Peyton said.
She noted that in 2023, Big Sky SNO had more volunteers than ever because of engagement from large employers like Big Sky Resort.
For high-value ticketed events like Outlaw’s, Peyton pointed out that talking trash is a great way to earn volunteer hours and support a great cause, while also attending the event.
Big Sky SNO volunteers “talk trash” with event attendees; they stand beside waste bins and help guide proper disposal.
Karl Johnson, owner-operator of YES Composting in Belgrade, commented on trash talkers.
“Makes a massive difference in terms of diversion to have volunteers that are helping people sort… The volunteers are key,” Johnson said. “We probably diverted another 25% of materials based on volunteers.”
YES Composting partnered with Outlaw for the past three summers. Johnson put this year’s diversion rate and 3,023 compostable pounds into context:
“If you think about it, most of what we’re composting is pretty lightweight material,” he said. “It’s actually a huge volume: 3,000 pounds is about 15 yards of material… Loosely packed, it’s probably a 20-yard dumpster full of material.”
He’s especially proud of the diversion rate, which reflects stronger participation from vendors.
“When I look at our success, that’s the number I’m looking at,” Johnson said. “And trying to make sure that year-over-year, we’re getting better and better… We’re getting closer to having all foodservice items be compostable.”
Plastics and certain other materials are not compostable, and Johnson’s team must pick it out by hand—they sort through every waste bag they collect at events. They spend lots of time educating people, and Johnson said that’s getting easier, but they still have to inspect everything.
“We can’t be selling that [soil product] if there’s a ton of plastic or fruit stickers or silverware,” he said. Trash-talking volunteers help minimize those materials.
YES uses a worm composting process, and Johnson hopes to grow the participation and accessibility for residents and businesses in Big Sky. He highlighted Big Sky Resort for participating actively, as well as the private clubs, Town Center management and a bunch of small restaurants that participate in the food scrap collection program.
Johnson appreciates Big Sky’s engagement as an unincorporated community.
“There’s just been a lot of different groups that have been into this, and very supportive of getting more composting and recycling,” Johnson said. “… It’s not a free service that we offer, and they’re putting their money where their mouth is and making it happen.”