A Zero Waste Pennsic

Sharon Gordon has a radical idea: A Zero Waste Pennsic, one where the SCA's huge annual event does not add to the local landfill as well as the local economy.

Sharon Gordon writes:

A Zero Waste Pennsic or Pennsic without a Trashcan

Surprised by the sight of trashbags piled twice as high as you are? Ever wonder what the history books will say about you and your 15 visits to Pennsic based on archaeological evidence from excavations of the 500 year old trash found in the Butler County landfill in 2507? Concerned about the amount of stuff we add to landfills?

If so, have some discussions this year with your camping groups about how the upcoming Pennsic could be A Zero Waste Pennsic, and how your group can change things to avoid adding items to the landfill. Please feel free to forward the entire post to other regional and local groups for discussion.

The good news is that the closer to medieval your encampment, the less likely you are to add items to the landfill.

Some strategies for trash prevention:

***Pennsic-wide basis***

  1. Provide sorting containers for every category of waste that can be recycled in the county. Have this removed on a regular basis.
  2. Find a farmer or landscaper who can take plant compost. Provide covered containers for that. Have this removed frequently. Note that this compost will not be organically certified due to mixture of inputs. Compost ashes as well if natural soap strategy doesn't work out.
  3. Find a wormery which is set up to process animal based or mixed compost and who can also process and grind bones for fertilizer. Provide covered containers for that. Have this removed frequently.
  4. If the county does not have recycling for plastics numbered 3 and above, wash and sort these and send them home with people who are driving who live in states that do recycle these items.
  5. If the county does not handle all metal recycling, send items home with people who work at businesses with that sort of metal recycling bin.
  6. Have a recycle tent where people can put items that might be useable to others such as broken ceramics for mosaic makers, clothing your children have outgrown, dyed or undyed scraps of leather, partial cans of paint, or leftover pieces of wood used for building.
  7. Send extra food back with people who are driving, or give unopened food to local food banks.
  8. Collect fabric scraps and threads in a clean dry area. May want to sort into synthetic and natural fabrics. Let people take any scraps they can use. Donate extras to people who make doll clothes, stuffed animals, quilts, or quilts for foster children and homeless people.
  9. Have a medical waste bin in a secured area. People can dispose of needles, medical test items, condoms, bandages, sterile gloves, etc there for transport to incineration site. Possibly disposable feminine hygiene products and diapers could go this route as well.
  10. Ask county merchants to use recyclable containers. for instance, get eggs from suppliers who use paper cartons, and ask butchers to package everything in butcher paper rather than styrofoam and plastic.
  11. Collect nonreuseable batteries and have local person take to next Special Waste day in area. Possibly empty paint tubes from illumination projects would go there too.
  12. Make arrangements with a local freecycle group to have a Free4All (sort of like a giant free yard sale) of no longer wanted Pennsic items on Saturday and Sunday. Have a truck that people can load items on to which is taken to the Free4All location at regular intervals and unloaded by Freecycle volunteers. May want to have a Pennsic Free4All on Saturday morning from say 7-10 am to give other encampments a chance to take something they can use and put into their storage. The remaining items can then go to the county Free4All. A local Freecycle team can then post any remaining items on the local freecycle site.

***Market area***

  1. Serve food with washable plates, utensils, and napkins.
  2. Ask customers to use market baskets or cloth bags to carry off their purchases. Pottery can be carried off in boxes with items wrapped in newspaper as that's also how it is likely to be transported home or to storage. Sell cloth bags and market baskets for those who need them. Only use plastic where vital such as for an overwrap on historic manuscripts.

***Encampment basis***

  1. Design encampment structures so that they can be unbolted, stored, and reused each year. If not donate to the Free4All rather than burning valuable lumber in oversized bonfires.
  2. Save cooled ashes from hardwood fires and give to people who make natural soaps and are driving home.
  3. Filter drinking water rather than buying bottled water.
  4. Bring food items in reusable or recyclable containers. Plan food use so that open or spoilable food is used up by Saturday night. Consider having bread, cheese, and whole fruit for Sunday breakfast and taking home unopened food. Send extra produce home with people from nearby.
  5. Air dry dishes.
  6. Have a large supply of fresh to use rags and towels rather than use paper towels.
  7. Use weighted linen covers on buffet style foods after the last person goes through the line to keep food clean for people wanting second helpings rather than saran wrap or aluminum foil. Have enough for at least half a weeks worth of meals and wash them in batches. Or use reusable modern screen picnic food covers.
  8. Bring pots of fresh herbs to use in cooking.
  9. Have recycle staging area with reusable medieval looking containers. Take items to recycle/compost area regularly through the day. May want to have two compost wagons, so second setup can be used while first wagon is enroute to and from Pennsic-wide collection points.

***Personal basis***

  1. Generally use healthy safe sustainable medieval strategies whenever possible.
  2. Bring items in reusable containers (chests, tins, cloth bags, pottery crocks, glass containers).
  3. Use a moonkeeper rather than disposable feminine hygiene products.
  4. Use cloth rather than disposable diapers Set up a plan for each day so that a different parent takes all diapers to be washed each day. Embroider a number on diapers so each family gets their own back. Be sure children are used to cloth diapers well before Pennsic.
  5. Use cloth napkins and ceramic dishes.
  6. Use natural fibers for clothing, linens, toys, handkerchiefs.
  7. Use natural soap in unwrapped or paper wrapped bars.
  8. Use Pennsic without a cooler solutions.
  9. Use rechargeable batteries.
  10. Use reuseable dishwashing gloves if needed. Or use bare hands and treat with herbal salve from a jar or crock.
  11. Take clothbags to supermarkets. Try to buy loose whole foods or foods in cardboard boxes rather than plastic.
  12. Keeping asking yourself, "How can we avoid creating trash?" "How would medieval people have done this?"

***Things with iffy or yet to be found solutions***

  1. Plastic wrappers from icebags. Pennsic without a cooler solutions would help some there. Another solution might be to have a refrigerated cart with ice blocks that can be delivered straight to coolers without involving a bag or use scoops for crushed ice. Care would need to be taken for sanitation here.
  2. Blister plastic from individually wrapped medications.
  3. Tubes for ointments. Can these go in metal or plastic recycle? May be able to use salves in jars or crocks for some things. Toothpaste tubes. Recycle(?) or use herbal versions.
  4. Broken music cassettes.
  5. Broken electronics. Place in Pennsic Recycle tent with note about status or send to Free4All. Often people can be found who can fix them or use them for parts.
  6. Broken items made of treated lumber. In future avoid treated lumber and use naturally decay resistant lumber. People may be able to use treated scraps through Free4All, but be sure it's labeled as treated wood.
  7. Worn out elastic from modern clothing.
  8. Plastic bags from food that can only be found in plastic bags in the Pennsic area. Try and find food in bulk bins at home and package in cloth bags/tins/crocks/jars for Pennsic. If flying ask for assistance from people driving to avoid adding to security issues of carrying unpackaged food.
  9. Chewing gum. I don't know if this can be composted through vegetable or animal product systems.
  10. Burned out lightbulbs.

What else is likely to be left in the trash?


For more information and discussion, visit:

Or to discuss strategies specific to preventing food related trash (which seems to be a lot of the daily trash) on
SCA-Cooks list

> Have a medical waste bin

> Have a medical waste bin in a secured area. People can dispose
> of needles, medical test items, condoms, bandages, sterile
> gloves, etc there for transport to incineration site.

The Chirurgeons already offer a container in which people with self-injected medications can dispose of their needles, and they are generally able to provide disposal of small amounts of medical waste such as medical test items.

Note that under current protocols, many things that people often think are "medical waste" are actually just regular garbage. For example, used bandages containing small amounts of dried blood, used gloves with no liquid spooge, condoms, and so forth, are not considered medical waste. These can be disposed of as any other bacteria-laden garbage would be -- in other words, wash your hands afterward.

> Possibly disposable feminine hygiene products and diapers
> could go this route as well.

The volume here would make it infeasible for the Chirurgeonate to provide such disposal. It's also likely that the process of transporting such items to a central collection facility would probably present more risk of spreading germs than the current approach of disposing of them in the local trash.

I applaud the notion of working toward a zero-waste Pennsic, but there may be a few areas (such as the diapers) where we simply have to concede that 100% environmentally-correct disposal or recycling is not feasible in the primitive conditions of Pennsic.

(My opinions are my own; I do not speak for the Chirurgeonate)