“I can’t believe you’re doing this festival and there’s so much waste!”

Brooke Dilling heard this complaint about last year’s Five Points Jazz Festival. Behind the scenes, the waste was being sorted and diverted—about 40 percent went to compost or recycling—but on the front end, it looked like everything was going to a landfill. As the festival coordinator, Dilling says she understood that optics matter. She could tell everyone that things were being recycled, but unless they saw the effort for themselves, skeptics’ radars would ping.

So this year, Dilling and the festival’s organizers are not only bringing their environmental efforts to the forefront, but also going a step further to ensure that the event is a green as possible. “For the first time, we are doing three streams, so [in addition to landfill receptacles] we’ll have composting and recycling,” she says. The festival is also requiring food vendors to use recyclable and compostable materials.

To accomplish this, Denver Arts and Venues (DAV), which runs the festival, is partnering with Eco-Products and Eco-Cycle, two Boulder-based companies that aim to reduce waste and improve sustainability. Eco-Products is offering vendors a 15 to 20 percent discount on their eco-friendly food service items (cups, food containers, etc.). Eco-Cycle, which runs the Boulder County Recycling Center and Boulder’s Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM), is providing staff at the event and training for volunteers.

Historically, Eco-Cycle has worked on zero-waste efforts at events primarily in Boulder County, but over the last three years, its reach has expanded. According to Bill Germain, Eco-Cycle’s zero waste events manager, Eco-Cycle’s events have a five-year average of 81 percent diversion. Last summer, Eco-Cycle helped Juneteenth Music Festival increase its waste diversion rate from about 20 to 47 percent. It’s aiming to increase the jazz festival’s diversion rate to at least 50 percent.

Eco-Cycle staffers will manage the festival’s zero-waste efforts on the scene, where 20 zero-waste stations will be scattered throughout the festival grounds, each with compost, recycling, and landfill disposal options. The staffers and trained volunteers will help attendees choose the right disposal bin.

“A lot of times what happens at events, the bins look great, it looks like a really nice setup, but…there’s high contamination,” Germain says. The idea is to educate the public on what can be composted, what can be recycled, and what goes in the landfill—and help them understand that they’re often disposing resources, not trash. Once the bins are full, their contents will be emptied by additional staffers, who will check and resort the items as necessary.

The festival is also aiming to reduce the waste from single-use plastic water bottles by encouraging attendees to bring in empty reusable water bottles or purchase a festival tumbler. Free water stations will be set up throughout the festival, including at least one water tree that DAV had made specifically for this year’s festival.

To curb the use of paper, the festival scrapped paper programs in exchange for a festival app, which attendees can download on Android or iOS. The app includes information about the festival’s bands and venues, and can be used to create personalized festival schedules (find it by searching “5 Points Jazz”).

The zero-waste efforts align with DAV’s overall sustainability goals, most of which are specifically defined on a case-by-case basis for the agency’s venues like Red Rocks and the Colorado Convention Center. Dilling hopes the progress made with the jazz festival will ripple out into other Denver-area festivals.

If you go: The Five Points Jazz Festival is happening on Saturday, May 18. Admission is free. Learn more and find the full performance schedule online.