Arlington holds its first ever zero waste Town Day
September 14th is the date of town day, an annual tradition for Arlington that has occurred on a regular basis since 1976. The community building and business promotion the event emphasizes is beneficial for the town, but the waste it generates is not. Trash contributes to dangerous emissions and pollutes ecosystems, harming plants and animals.
In the town days preceding 2024, booths and displays lining Mass Ave from Pleasant Street to Mill Street gave away cheaply made toys and other trinkets such as water bottles, bags, and t-shirts embedded with logos. These items ended up in the trash after they inevitably broke or they were discarded in a local thrift store once designated undesirable. Local restaurants shared the space, serving up an assortment of delicious food, but this was served in disposable containers that were thrown out along with single-use plastic utensils and cups. Occasionally a stray balloon would escape from a child's grasp, catching on the wind and floating upwards. Unchecked, the balloon posed a risk to marine species and other wildlife.
With work from numerous citizens and the dedication of Zero Waste Arlington a trash free town day was organized for the year of 2024. Zero Waste volunteers worked with DPW’s Recycling Coordinator and local restaurant owners to reimagine Town Day as an event that both embodied and encouraged a zero waste approach and philosophy.
To reduce the harmful waste town day generates in a normal year, businesses were prohibited from giving away “souvenir” items. Instead, local shops and workplaces sponsored musicians or organized games for people walking through the streets. QR codes eliminated the need for paper flyers while still allowing interested passerbyers to use mobile devices to learn more. Food was served with cutlery and containers that were returned to their corresponding stores to be washed and reused; FoodLink served up snacks made from “rescued” food diverted from the waste stream. A mobile water station offered a convenient way to refill reusable water bottles. Textile recovery booths, the swap shed, and fix-it clinics took to the streets to inform pedestrians of ways to reuse and divert waste from the incinerator. By teaching the valuable skill of restoration and repurposing, citizens of Arlington could learn ways to reduce waste in their own lives, extending the message of zero waste.
The success of the event and the support the event received ensured that many more zero waste town days were sure to come soon.