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Make Dirt, Not Trash: Our Roots

An article series by Kompost Kids and Milwaukee Area Science Advocates

Graphic by Kompost Kids Board Member, Julie Pahnke.

Thanks for following along the #MakeDirtNotTrash series which describes the efforts of Kompost Kids, Milwaukee Area Science advocates (MASA), and the Bay View Bash moving towards an all-volunteer near-zero waste street festival.

Check out the first article in the series hereThe commitment to making the Bash near-zero waste has been challenging. Below we detail how the effort began along with some successes and frustrations along the way.


Kompost Kids “composted” our first Bay View Bash, an annual street festival with 20,000 to 40,000 visitors annually. The festival makes a lot of trash. Literally, tons. In our first year, we had education stations and 5-gallon buckets for food and paper products to be diverted from the landfill to make compost. Almost every question we received was “what is composting?”

Composting is the safe decomposition of organic materials like food waste and yard trimmings by microorganisms into dark rich matter. This matter (called compost) looks like soil and has replenishing nutrients for plant growth. In a community garden or backyard, Kompost Kids suggests adding only plant-based items plus eggshells to their community compost network. However, technically anything that came from, or once was, a living organism can be composted, including corn-based compostable plastic, meat, bones, and dairy. While impossible to accept these organic materials in the first year, Kompost Kids knew expansion beyond garden-based compost education and material was necessary to make a dent in diverting large quantities of organics from the landfill at any street festival.


Thanks to funds from the City of Milwaukee, Kompost Kids made composting part of the Bay View Bash waste management. We set up green compost receptacles throughout the event next to the recycling and landfill receptacles. The Bash began using compostable plastic beer cups at their fundraising beer stands. We used bike carts to take the compostable waste to our Demonstration Site, and our partner Blue Ribbon Organics helped us process the waste into healthy, nutritious finished compost.

That year we diverted about 600 pounds of organic waste from entering landfills. This number increased the following two years as festival attendees got more involved, we increased awareness, and improved our processes. In 2014, we diverted nearly 1,000 pounds of organic waste.


We began a new program of sorting waste and doubled our impact. Any organic material (including bones, meat, corn-based plastics, etc.), could be composted because of the continued Kompost Kids and Blue Ribbon Organics partnership. Hazardous items to the finished compost product (e.g. petroleum-based plastic, glass, sharp objects, glossy paper, cigarette butts, pet waste, and diapers, to name a few) went to a landfill. Stay tuned, more on the effective hand-sorting process in the third article of the #MakeDirtNotTrash series.

We diverted 2,100 pounds (just over a ton) of organic material from the Bay View Bash to be turned into soil. Volunteers from the community helped us sort the material, and and we watched as parents explained to their children what we were doing and why.

Kompost Kids is proud of our growth in five years. We clarified signage and communications, built and refined straightforward sorting systems, and assisted food vendors in securing compostable products with an incentive from the Bash. Yet, as we peered into the dumpsters brimming with cardboard, food, and other items unnecessarily destined for a landfill, we were ready to do more.


From the very beginning, Kompost Kids knew it would be important quantify what and how much organic waste was being diverted from landfills. It wasn’t until 2017, when we partnered with MASA, that we could finally audit the waste. During the festival, MASA volunteers documented the contents of landfill waste by photographing the contents from each dumpster and then visually estimating the makeup. Landfill waste and compost were officially weighed, while recycling weights were estimated using EPA guidelines.

Kompost Kids knew much of the waste in receptacles was still going into the landfill at the end of the night, especially when vendors closed down and had to throw everything away. We saw recyclable materials in the landfill dumpsters as well. Using a data driven approach, MASA collected and analyzed the waste stream breakdown into compost, landfill, and recycling.

From our calculations, we realized that the vast majority of waste produced by the 2017 Bash – a sobering 2.5 tons (5,000 pounds, or 71 percent of total waste stream) – was landfilled. Kompost Kids composted 1,580 pounds, a little over 1/5 of the total waste, while just 640 pounds of waste was recycled, under 10 percent of the total waste. Furthermore, the landfill waste contained an estimated 38 percent of materials that could have been recycled, such as cardboard, plastic, aluminum cans, and glass bottles.

With an estimated attendance of 30,000, the average Bash-goer tossed almost ¼ pound of waste into a receptacle at the Bash. Of that, 2.7 ounces went into the landfill, 0.8 ounces turned into compost, and 0.3 ounces was recycled. This data provide insight into new ways we can improve waste stream management.

The biggest bottleneck is the amount of volunteer power required to hand-sort all materials, complicated by the late evening hours of the Bash. Eventually we had to stop sorting materials and call it a night, sending some recyclables and organics into landfill dumpsters.


Kompost Kids has received grant funds from the Bay View Bash for several years that support our local community compost programming and also improvements to our event composting techniques. In turn, this year we’ve created eco-friendly fundraiser and sponsorship opportunities. This allows us to sort materials on both Saturday, September 15th and Sunday, September 16th and incentivize increased landfill diversion. The Kompost Kids intern will be focusing on community and restaurant compost education before and during the Bash.

Additionally, the Bash has agreed to eliminate plastic water bottle sales at beer tents by purchasing CannedWater4Kids as well as alerted their food vendors about the following:

  • All food containers and supplies must be compostable (including, but not limited to: ramekins, plates, boats, cups, straws, plasticware).
  • The Bash continues to provide a credit to support the purchase of compostable materials with the local small business Auburn Supply Group.
  • We will be strongly advertising the increased shift to sustainability! The Kompost Kids intern will contact food vendors about pre-Bash hype.
  • No plastic water bottles.
    • We will sell canned water at the Bash 2018. Please do not sell drinks in plastic bottles, especially water bottles.
  • A group from the sustainability tent will be checking vendor booths for use of compostable materials and avoidance of plastic bottles.
  • Vendors with 100 percent sustainability have the chance to win a free entry to Bash 2019!
  • Vendors not in compliance will be notified, and asked to improve their sustainability profile before signing up for the Bash 2019.

Find more information we provide to support Bash food vendors here. The Bash is the greenest all-volunteer festival in Milwaukee, and we’re working hard on improving. Help us get there. Follow along to #MakeDirtNotTrash at the Bash, and how you can get involved.


The Bay View Bash festival raises funds that are directly invested back into the city’s neighborhoods through grants. Kompost Kids Inc. makes compost for the community and educates the public about the benefits of composting. MASA seeks to positively influence public opinion in the areas of Science Education, Public Health, and Sustainability.

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