Woodstock '99: Mega MSW Management

April 1, 2000

9 Min Read
Woodstock '99: Mega MSW Management

James V. Biamonte

Imagine how you'd clean up a city spanning 1,300 acres - including an event fairway covered by a sea of people, a 280-acre campground, two massive food courts, three stages, a village, numerous catering tents to feed 7,000 workers and parking lots to handle more than 80,000 vehicles - if it were cluttered with garbage.

Welcome to the challenge Upstate New York faced when it became home to a city-sized event - Woodstock '99.

Cleaning up this mega-sized rock concert required water, power, wastewater collection and a comprehensive solid waste management plan - just from one end of the parking lot to the other was a distance of nearly three miles. What's more, the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority, Utica, N.Y., also had to cope with the garbage when solid waste plans went awry. In addition, Woodstock '99 became famous for fires and looting, which made cleanup even more difficult.

Here's what the Authority learned, in hindsight, that can be applied to future mega-sized events.

A Plan in Place Last July, more than 225,000 people from all over the world were expected to converge on Rome, N.Y., for the four-day Woodstock '99. Rome was an attractive location for the concert because Griffiss Park, the former Griffiss Air Force Base, provided more than 1,300 acres to event planners for the new "city's" development. To handle the 1,200 tons of solid waste that was expected to be generated at the event, Woodstock '99 planners established a waste management group consisting of three separate organizations.

Woodstock '99 Waste Management was in charge of overall planning, on-site management and some cleaning/ collection. Clifton Property Services, Syracuse, N.Y., primarily was responsible for litter pick-up, cleaning, collection and movement of bagged waste from small containers (55 gallon drums) to large containers, and mechanized sweeping. The Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority, a public benefit corporation established to provide solid waste management services to 320,000 residents of central New York, was responsible for the solid waste management plan review, placement and service of large collection containers, and disposal of all waste generated at the festival. The Authority, based on a competitive proposal, also was awarded a sub-contract to provide specified solid waste management services.

To insure its own financial integrity, the Authority obtained money for solid waste services up front because the vast majority of promoters were not local businesses with known credit. Thus, the Authority negotiated with Woodstock '99 to create a series of escrow accounts held at a local bank in the Authority's name. The accounts, based on mutually agreed upon estimates, covered waste disposal, event collection and post-event collection. Waste disposal costs were estimated at $111,949; event collection costs were estimated at $90,139; and post collection costs were estimated to be $34,728. This arrangement was a nonnegotiable policy established by the Authority Board of Directors.

"We were very comfortable undertaking the Woodstock project from a financial perspective thanks to the escrow accounts," says Brenda Mahaffy, Authority comptroller.

Once finances were established, the Authority insisted on specific service routes to be used by waste collection trucks because the concert-goer's health and safety were a primary concern. It provided input on collection container locations and communicated with the key decision makers in both the public and private sectors so that problems could be resolved quickly.

For example, after some persuasion, the Woodstock '99 promoters agreed to the Authority's higher estimate of 1,200 tons to be generated at the event. Based on its experience in solid waste event handling, the Authority thought the promoters' original estimate was too low. And obviously, it is better to be slightly over the estimated waste quantities and corresponding collection containers than to be stuck with too few containers during the event, the Authority noted.

The Authority also established a positive working relationship with the promoters to ensure work was done in a cooperative, efficient and quick manner. Woodstock '99 recognized that the Authority consisted of solid waste professionals, and valued its opinions and recommendations throughout the six-month project.

Essential Equipment Once the Authority made its estimates and established routes, it worked with Woodstock '99 to secure the necessary 10 35-cubic-yard compactors, 27 8-cubic-yard front-end-load containers and 21 open-top roll-off containers that would collect the event's waste.

In addition to sub-contracting with two local solid waste haulers for the majority of the containers and some trucking, the Authority also placed the remaining containers and hauled all compactor waste. Using compactors alone, 150 tons of capacity was available at any given time. Compactors were located behind each food court, front-end-load containers were primarily placed at the catering tents and roll-off containers were set at various high waste generation areas.

Trucking was done with four roll-off trucks and one front-end-loader. Once a container was filled, trash was hauled to the Authority's transfer station located approximately 1 mile from the concert area. To make access to the disposal site easier, Woodstock '99 con- structed a road directly to the transfer station, which allowed haulers to bypass the transfer station main gate where potential traffic problems could occur. Additionally, because of the transfer station's proximity, solid waste could be hauled 24 hours a day during the festival - a great advantage over direct haul to distant landfills, according to the Authority.

Event Operations While the Authority was not responsible for providing or servicing the "points-of-entry" - the small waste receptacles, Clifton Property Services and Woodstock '99 personnel distributed nearly 3,000 55-gallon barrels and waxed corrugated boxes throughout the event area. Each receptacle was lined with a plastic bag. Crews were assigned to collect full bags from the receptacles, replace them and transport the waste to the large containers.

The front-end loader serviced each of the 27 containers located near the catering tents three times a day, after breakfast, lunch and dinner.

While this system worked well at the catering site, cleanup of the main event areas basically was limited to between 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. each concert day. This was the only time during the event that concert goers were out of the venue areas because nearly all were sleeping at the campground. And although 30-yard roll-off containers were placed near piles of bagged trash to speed up the process, there wasn't enough time to pick up all the bags, and they began to pile up.

At this point, the Authority intensified its efforts to cleanup during the last night of the concert.

Then, the unforeseen happened - fires, looting and bedlam - none of it conducive to solid waste management, let alone public safety. Only after the site was under control could the teams cleanup the mess.

According to the Authority, the majority of the waste never made it to the large containers during Woodstock '99. Only 134 tons of waste were removed from the site during the four days - much less than what was expected.

Post-Event Cleanup After assessing the monumental task of cleaning the piled up refuse, the Authority concluded that much of the work needed to be done by hand - heavy equipment would damage the park's grassy areas and create even more restoration work. Directed by Woodstock '99 management, hundreds of workers literally picked up each piece of paper, plastic bottle, discarded shoe, unwanted tent and torn sleeping bag and placed those items into one of three packer trucks brought in for post-event cleanup.

Street sweepers also were used to clean the runways to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards - absolutely no litter, not even a cigarette butt was to remain on site, according to the Authority. Wheel loaders also were employed to quickly clean piles of waste laying on hard surfaces.

The entire post-event clean-up took about four weeks to complete and concluded on August 27, 1999. Workers cleaned more than 300 acres per week to restore Griffiss Park to its pre-event condition.

The final tally for solid waste collected at the event was 1,261 tons. In addition there were 92 tons of construction and demolition debris and 44 tons of greenwaste generated for a total of 1,433 tons, or just more than 3 pounds of waste per person per day.

About 90 percent of the waste was removed from the site when the concert was over. Each truck load averaged 3.5 tons post event compared to 1.4 tons per truck during the event. This occurred because event waste was almost solely non-compacted, bagged waste, which had a high volume and low weight.

Woodstock '99 paid the Authority $285,977 for its collection and disposal services - approximately $49,000 over budget.

Woodstock '99 made an early commitment to recycling. Through the Authority's integrated system approach, about 40 tons of recyclable corrugated cardboard, plastic bottles and scrap metal were recovered at no charge to the event planners. Nearly all the recyclables were collected at food court areas in dedicated recycling containers. Recyclables were processed at the Authority's recycling center located in Utica, New York.

However, recycling efforts were thwarted by contamination (recyclable materials mixed with trash) and low participation by concert-goers. An ordering glitch, which resulted in delivery of black plastic bags instead of clear plastic bags, did not allow for visual inspection to insure against contamination. Additionally, the actual amount of recycling at Woodstock '99 was impossible to fully quantify because many individuals scavenged tens of thousands of returnable plastic and aluminum beverage containers to redeem the deposit. For example, The Rome Little League benefited from approximately 40,000 returnable containers it collected.

* Secure adequate funding up front.

* Don't think because you've managed waste at a stadium or county fair that a mega-sized concert will be similar. They are two completely different audiences with different priorities and habits. Remember people live at a rock concert event for a number of days - they don't go home after six hours.

* Recycling is a challenge. Frankly, not all concert-goers will recycle. But to capture the recyclables, use drop off areas. These staffed sites should be well placed, preferably near food courts and highly visible areas. Contamination can be minimized and recycling rates boosted if this recycling service method is employed.

* Be creative; it is essential to clean the event grounds during the day. Use utility vehicles with trailers to get waste out of congested areas where traditional trucks won't fit.

* This job is labor intensive, so make sure you have plenty of workers. About 150 people per shift would be sufficient for large events. And, note that most machines don't mix well with huge crowds.

* Be smart with equipment. Bring packer trucks with four-person crews for late night cleaning of bagged waste. This is more efficient than non-compactor collection vehicles.

* Compactors work well if you place them properly. Staff them at all times, and make sure the waste gets to the compactors.

* Delegate crews for food vendors. Vendors want to sell food and drink, not pick-up trash.

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