Street Fair Sustainability

Directional Sign Showing the way to the Sustainability Zone

by, Liz Rutledge

The Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair just celebrated 41 years of sharing community, entertainment, good food and access to beautiful homes in one of Denver’s Sustainable Neighborhoods.  This well-established event involves people in the neighborhood opening their homes (usually between four and eight homes) as well as a street fair with up to 100 vendors, food trucks, drinks, live entertainment, as well as presentations.  Consequently, the Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair is the largest fundraiser for the Greater Park Hill Community – an organization that supports the neighborhood through a monthly local newspaper, a food pantry and farmers market as well as many other events and services. 

Mindfulness about Our Community in Action

This year, I partnered with Becky Migas of B. Green Events to manage the sustainability aspects of this event.  It was a beautiful, sunny day…not too hot, not too cold and not a cloud in the sky.  As we set up waste stations around the parkway, 85+ vendors set up their tables and tents.  Bicycle bells chimed and the gentle hum of generators for the food trucks purred.

I have been involved in this event for seven years in various capacities. For example, our home has been on the tour and I have written up descriptions of the homes along with another local writer for years.  But, last year, I was invited to help with the sustainability efforts of the event and help with vendor registrations.  For the first time ever, we added electronics recycling.  It was an experiment and we had great participation, but it cost people money (about 50 cents a pound) and the fundraising aspect wasn’t as successful as we had hoped.  But, this year we had PCs for People accepting electronic donations for little to no cost and the Cherry Creek Rotary Club helped hugely to accept all the PCs, laptops, cables, TVs and more.  Last year, there was also a Sustainability Zone.

In the Zone

This year, in the Sustainability Zone, we had several vendors educating fair-goers about bees with Vine Street Farms, reducing packaging and exploring refill options with Joy Fill, how to get around town without using a car with the Northeast Transportation, getting help tuning and optimizing your bicycle with Bikes Together, how to reduce our harm to the coral reefs with Coral Reef Restoration Panama, and how to live more sustainability and lower our carbon footprint with Sustainable Three and B. Green Events.  We had a “Minute to Bin It” challenge where players had to correctly put the right item in the right bin within 60 seconds, articles about our previous waste diversion projects, like East High School’s After Prom event last spring and guidance on how to reduce waste to the landfill – one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses.

10 Factors that made this a Sustainable Event

  1. ALL vendors were required to use certified compostable ware (cups, plates, cutlery, etc)
  2. Vendors had to provide proof that the serving ware was compostable.  And, if it wasn’t, they had to replace the items or leave (thankfully, everyone complied and no one had to leave)
  3. Waste stations were positioned all over the event to make it EASY for attendees to deal with their waste, minimizing contamination and littering
  4. Volunteers were trained to sort, collect, weigh and empty the waste bins into their appropriate wheelie bins (provided by neighbors)
  5. Neighbors provided Recycling, Compost and Landfill bins to minimize cost and eliminate the need for expensive and unsightly roll-away dumpsters
  6. Educational pieces were sprinkled throughout promotional materials (posters, programs and on the web site)
  7. A Sustainability Zone was established and managed providing fun and education for attendees
  8. Electronics recycling was available for little to no charge on the day and volunteers from the Rotary Club managed it so our team could focus on the Sustainability Zone and waste management.
  9. People were encouraged to walk or bike to the event and the homes on the tour (free bicycle parking available at all homes and the street fair)
  10. Denver Water had their truck there to provide water for patrons – either using their own water bottles or compostable cups
Puttin’ it in the correct bin!

Then, the Skies Opened up…

The event was well attended and the weather held out until the very end when we did our waste sorting and weighing (so we can report back to the Greater Park Hill Community and have baseline numbers for future years).  As we were sorting and cleaning up, the skies opened up in a deluge, which made it challenging, but we still think we got accurate numbers.  Once all the numbers were in, we were proud to report an 82% diversion rate!  The next morning all the recycling, compost and trash was collected by Denver Waste Management.  PBS was there the next day filming for a documentary that will air at the end of October/early November.  Neighbors who had donated their bins for the day received their bins back empty (for the most part) AND, best of all, there was NO waste remaining on the parkway (something that neighbors have complained about in the past).

It was a satisfying experiment and provides hope for future events.

It’s the choices we make in our daily lives that can make little shifts in this adventure called climate change.

Denver Water Truck dispensed 94 gallons of water to people in their own reusable bottles or compostable cups diverting ~750 plastic water bottles from the waste stream
Becky Migas of B. Green Events calculated our waste diversion results

Even more ways to Support Sustainability

As we learn and gradually change our habits, we can make a difference in other, more impactful, ways too:

  • Support the bigger players where there is more impact
  • Support businesses and organizations that are focusing on sustainability
  • Donate to non-profits like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, NRDC, and other organizations doing the work.
  • Pressure businesses to move towards more environmentally-friendly ingredients and practices
  • Boycott businesses that are still doing things that damage our environment and our health
  • Sign petitions and lobby

Reading blog posts like this one can help keep you educated.  You can make tweaks in your habits.  But, to make a more effective impact, think bigger and put some of the pressure and responsibility on the companies and organizations that have the power to make big changes towards sustainability.


Today’s challenge is to start composting – or at least look into it.

Part 1 of this challenge  – instead of putting your peelings and other food waste in the bin, save it for this one day and see how much you would divert from the landfill, then consider starting composting at home or with your city’s composting program (where available).

Maybe keep the peelings and such in a bag throughout the day and then weigh the bag at the end of the day.  Take a photo of it and share it on social media.  Then, if you multiply that times 365 that’s how much your household is contributing to the landfill each year.

Part 2 of this challenge is to actually start composting. If you have five to 10 minutes today, research what it would take to start composting.  So much of what ends up in the landfill is wasted food.  Something like 40% of food in America is thrown away.  Composting not only diverts food from going to the landfill, it also nourishes the soil making it healthier for growing more healthy food and the cycle continues.  So, you can find out if your city has a composting program.  Or, if you have the ability and space to have compost in your own yard and start a garden this summer, this is a good time to get it started.  Feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting your own compost? offers consulting services for this very thing.


If you already compost, congratulations! 

You can either take the day off or do one of the Optional Challenges today! 

Thank you for reducing your waste!



Just Bike It!

Today’s challenge is to take your bicycle to go somewhere:  to work, school, a meeting, class, the store, coffee or a meal.

That’s it.

Just see if you can break the car habit.

It doesn’t matter how far you take it.

Oh, and please wear your helmet*.

Don’t have a bicycle?  There are many options around that allow for you to rent a bicycle.

Here are some:

Lime Bike


Ford GoBike (in the Bay area)



If you have a bicycle and it needs to be tuned up, maybe take time today to make an appointment to get it tuned up or tune it up yourself.

If this challenge doesn’t work for you today, please do one of the Optional Challenges today.


*Safety First!  Please wear a proper bicycle helmet and use a bell or indicate your presence to pedestrians and other cyclists on the road by saying “on your left”.  Bells, and lights are important, too.



Tare It Up!

Packaging…one of the most tedious items to eliminate from our daily lives.  But there’s hope as, more and more, you can bring in your own containers to select stores and get what you’re paying for without having to dispose of/recycle the packaging.  Ironically, my parents generation did this anyway with milk and soda bottles.  They were taught to throw things away.  Now, we can teach ourselves, and the younger generation, to reuse…and save money in the process.

When you buy in bulk, you can not only eliminate packaging, but help your food shopping budget dramatically.  Think 1/3 of the cost, for the same product.

Today’s challenge is to try TARE* shopping.

  1. Find a clean, dry, wide-mouthed container in your home.  (I like to use Mason jars, but Tupperware or other upcycled containers work well too).
  2. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the empty container (and lid).  Write that weight (pounds and ounces or grams) on the container on a piece of tape with permanent marker.  (If you don’t have a kitchen scale, the store can weigh the empty container for you).
  3. Go to a store that sells in bulk (Natural Grocers, Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, (some) King Soopers (Kroger family), etc….
  4. While at the store, fill your container with the bulk product you are purchasing.
  5. Write down the PLU code – on the piece of tape, a piece of paper (or put it in your phone).
  6. Check out.  Sometimes the cashier doesn’t know how to deal with tare, so here’s where you need to practice some mindful breathing and smile while they (may have to) get a manager to help.

The easiest to try this with is probably coffee as more stores have coffee in bulk.  This may be a very new thing for you to do, so don’t make it harder on yourself than necessary.  Items that frequently come in bulk are seeds, rices, grains, cereals, oats, nuts, etc.  But you can also get nut butters, candy, dried fruit, and much more.

I see this as a process.  People (especially retail stores) are not used to thinking in zero waste terms.  So, you can consider yourself part of the package-free revolution!

If this challenge doesn’t work for you today, do one of the Optional Activities and try it another time when it works with your schedule.

See this side blog about Zero Market for inspiration

*Tare weight /ˈtɛər/, sometimes called unladen weight, is the weight of an empty vehicle or container. By subtracting it from the gross weight (laden weight), the weight of the goods carried (the net weight) may be determined. (Wikipedia)


Do you Plog?

Have you heard of “Plogging”?  It is a phenomena where people go jogging, bring a bag and pick up trash along their route.  “Plogging” is essentially a combination of the word jogging and the Swedish words for “pick up” (plocka upp).

Today’s challenge is to give it a go!  Try “Plogging” in your neighborhood and see how much you pick up on a 10 minute jog (or walk, if you don’t like to jog/run).  You can do this as you walk into a store, run an errand, or just go out for exercise.  Bring a bag to collect your finds.  For bonus points, recycle any items that are recyclable in your treasure bag.  You’ll be amazed how much litter and recyclable items you find!  Burn calories and be proud you helped clean up the environment.

I find myself constantly picking up litter…as I walk my daughter to school, as I walk into a store, or while I walk my dog.  This is something I do.  Sometimes it annoys my family, but I don’t mind.  A few times, while walking through a parking lot and picking up litter on my way in, people have said “you inspired me to pick up trash”.  And then there were two people doing it.

Here’s a video about plogging, but you can find many more longer ones.  I just figure your time is valuable, so this is a brief one.  Now, get out there and start plogging!


Turn down the Heat!

If your hot water heater is set to hotter than 120 degrees F. (49 C.), you might get scalded if you have the tap on hot.  Today’s challenge is to turn down your hot water heater* to 120 degrees F. (49 C.).  If yours is already turned down, do one of the Optional Activities today.

Share in the Comments section if you use an on demand hot water heater or other suggestions on saving water and energy.


  • 1.) Find the current temperature.
    Measure the beginning temperature of your hot water using a thermometer at the tap farthest from the water heater. Thermostat dials are often inaccurate.
  • 2.)  Mark the setting, then turn down the thermostat.
    Mark the beginning temperature on your water heater thermostat with a marker, and then turn the thermostat down.
  • 3.) Measure and adjust.
    Wait a couple of hours, and then measure the water temperature again at the farthest tap from the water heater. Several adjustments may be necessary before you get the temperature you desire.
  • 4.) Mark the new temperature.
    If you are satisfied with the temperature, mark the new temperature on the water heater thermostat with a marker, so that you can make adjustments in the future if necessary.
  • 5.) Turn down or off when away.
    If you plan to be away from home for at least 3 days, turn the thermostat down to the lowest setting or completely turn off the water heater. To turn off an electric water heater, switch off the circuit breaker to it. For a gas water heater, make sure you know how to safely relight the pilot light before turning it off.

Interested in more green hot water heater options? Check this out:

Eco-Friendly Energy Saving Hot Water Heater Options

*You may have to look up how to turn down the thermostat on your hot water heater.



Have a pet?

Here are some options for today’s challenge:


  • Switch to biodegradable friendly poop bags, like these:


BioBags actually compost!

The “Doggie Dooley” is just one way you can compost your dog’s waste

  • Look into composting and see if it might work for you.  There are special composters for this type of waste that can be used in non-food garden beds.


  • Cat litter – switch to an eco-friendly cat litter, like these:

100% Biodegradeable Kitty Litter!


  • Many bedding for smaller pets can be composted and are often made of recycled materials.
  • Look into composting other pet refuse (bird, hamster, etc.)

If you don’t have a pet or already take care of your pet’s waste in an eco-friendly way, do one of the Optional Challenges.



Do you know how if you do a circuit workout and can’t or don’t want to do one of the work outs you can do 10 burpees?

Sometimes during this 21-Day Challenge the challenge of the day may not apply to you or you just can’t do it that day, so we’ve come up with some Optional Activities to choose from on those days.



Recycling Garbage

Today’s challenge should be super easy if you already recycle.  Here goes…


Start recycling – –

if you already recycle,

make sure you’re following your

waste management’s guidelines and

start recycling one new item


The most important part of this is “following your waste management’s guidelines”.  Recycling varies depending on where you live.  What was recyclable in Boston when I lived there was not exactly the same in Atlanta when I lived there.  And, Australia did it even differently when we lived there.  Now that I’m in Denver again, not only are the guidelines different, but it’s changed in the past 18 years.  When we first moved to Denver, we had to separate items (paper/cardboard/chipboard in one bin and glass, aluminum, steel and plastic in another).  Denver Recycles did not accept TetraPak (asceptic) and only accepted bottles (the neck had to be smaller than the rest).  Now, it is gloriously single stream and they accept many more items!  However, they still do not accept plastic bags, Styrofoam, and other materials.

Why does this matter?

Well, if you don’t follow the guidelines, you contaminate the load.  I’ve heard rumors that the entire truck load ends up diverted to the landfill if unaccepted items are put in the big, purple rolly bins (also gloriously easier than having to carry two big, heavy tubs out to the curb).  That’s most likely an exaggeration, but if nothing else it drives up the cost of single stream recycling.

Once you figure out what’s accepted and the guidelines (caps removed, clean, etc.), it’s really just a matter of changing your routines.

So, today’s challenge is to start recycling (if you don’t), but whether you’re already an avid recycler or not, part one is to research your city’s recycling guidelines and make sure you’re doing it correctly.

If you already recycle and know you’re doing it right,

then today’s challenge for you is to start to recycle

ONE NEW ITEM that you don’t already recycle. (part two)

It may be plastic bags (@Target), or Styrofoam (@UPS), or electronics, or batteries , or lightbulbs (CFL or LED) (Find a place near you here), or toothbrushes (@WholeFoods), or those little plastic caps that the city recyclers don’t accept (@TheArtGarage (in Denver, CO) or @RAFT).  Combine recycling those items with another trip to save gas.

A quick Google or Bing search ought to do it.  But, that’s the challenge for the day.  Then, continue that practice from now on.  Easy!  Right?


Share your action on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtags #SustainableThree and #WasteNotWantNot2018