Thursday, July 13, 2006


Mrs THIT and I hit what used to be a Bluesfest last night to see Live in concert. While touring the grounds, I noticed people dumping their plastic beer cups into grey cylinders included near the garbage cans and it occured to me that someone had come up with a very simple but effective method of increasing recycling efficiency.

The Ottawa Citizen apparently agreed because they had an article about it earlier that day that I hadn't seen.


Daniel Spence, a veteran volunteer at Bluesfest decided he had waded through the tens of thousands of cups and bottles carpeting the grounds of Bluesfest for long enough.

The festival goes through 200,000 beverage cups every year, and as the popularity of the event increases, so do the mounds of garbage. Mr. Spence got to work drafting and constructing a new invention: the "Cupsucker."

So simple, the word "invention" may seem like an overstatement, as the device is not much more than a modified PVC tube. Yet it's making a world of difference.

The 27-year-old Mr. Spence, whose day job is as community programs manager at the City of Ottawa EnviroCentre, said he was appalled at the lack of organization when it came to recycling and waste removal, not just at Bluesfest, but at all festivals. Bluesfest just happens to be the biggest.

"I was shocked by it. Even something as simple as recycling the beer cans. The only recycling that was done was by, shall we say, independent entrepreneurs who wanted the deposit money," he said.

According to Mr. Spence, one of the reasons festivals don't recycle is that recyclers themselves are hesitant to pick up the items because garbage is also pitched into the bins. So he went to the Bluesfest organizers directly and asked what they could do about the waste.

It turns out they could do a lot. Organizers agreed to finally implement recycling of all cans and plastic bottles (glass is not allowed on site) after Mr. Spence designed barrel lids with slots and stickers to let people know what is allowed in them.

But that still left more than 20,000 cups crunched on the ground every night, so Mr. Spence had an idea to use biodegradable cups.

"We go through a lot of cups here," said Nathalie Laperriere, the director of sponsorship at Bluesfest.

"We were worried that (biodegradable cups) would cost more, but I approached Molson and they agreed to supply us with compostable cups at no extra charge."

The cups, made by Greenware, have the same feel and look as regular clear plastic cups, but they are made of corn. When composted properly, they can break down completely in 45 days.

Despite this breakthrough, however, the plan still had one major hurdle to jump.

Goulbourn Sanitation agreed to take in the 200,000 cups from Bluesfest, but getting them to Stittsville was very expensive.

"Cups take up a lot of space," said Mr. Spence. "When you're going through that many cups, you have to empty your dumpster every day and it's just full of these big, puffy bags with a few hundred cups in each. We can't afford to do that with these cups."

To solve this problem, Mr. Spence took a trip to a home-renovation store, bought some length of PVC tubing and created 100-cup stackers he calls "Cupsuckers."

He has a website devoted to this invention at and has a patent pending.

The tube acts like a reverse Dixie cup dispenser. Customers drop the used cups into the top of the tube, where they are neatly stacked for volunteers -- or Mr. Spence's "Green Team" -- to come by and collect them from the barrels.

"I can't believe no one has thought of this before, it's so simple," Mr. Spence said.

"Just looking at it here, I can fit 10 stacks of 138 cups into each barrel. This is going to make transporting them so much easier."

Keeping with the green theme of the event, all the generators will be powered by biodiesel.

Executive director of Bluesfest, Mark Monahan, said although going green is great PR for the festival, it's not the primary motivation for him.

"We have always had issues with garbage. It's difficult for a festival like Bluesfest to be environmentally friendly, but we know it's not good to be throwing 200,000 cups into a landfill," Mr. Monahan said.

"It is a little more expensive because you can't just throw these cups anywhere, they have to be properly composted. But in the end, we think it's worth it."


Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work. thnx!

T.H.I.T. said...

Thanks you! And keep walking in the other direction!