When her organization, Westside Development Corp., took over planning Earth Day San Antonio, Dawn Hanson wanted it to be as green an event as possible.

Hanson encouraged vendors at the annual Fiesta event at Woodlawn Lake Park to not bring any plastic water bottles. Instead, San Antonio Water System brought a water tanker truck, a water dispenser, and free, reusable water bottles to give out.

Food vendors were asked to not bring Styrofoam coolers or plates. Instead, vendor New Earth Dinnerware supplied enough compostable, bamboo-based plates and bowls for everyone, Hanson said.

“Some [vendors] complied and some didn’t, but it was way better than last year,” she said.

The event a day ahead of Earth Day with the tagline of “Fiesta Verde: for the next 300 years” drew between 3,000 and 4,000 people – a strong turnout, Hanson said, compared to previous years. A 4-kilowatt array of solar panels supplied all electricity for the stages, and all food vendors had vegetarian and vegan options.

Though other Fiesta events won’t have as strong an environmental ethic when it comes to controlling waste, some statistics and visits to some of Fiesta’s early events indicate that organizers have made it easier for attendees to recycle and avoid littering.

Garbage generated by Fiesta, the city’s 10-day spring celebration, has drawn steady media coverage for the past several years, especially when rainstorms wash the remnants of Fiesta events into local creeks and rivers.

In 2015, a photo taken by a San Antonio River Authority staffer that showed trash piled up in the San Antonio River after a storm went viral on Facebook, with users sharing it nearly 5,700 times.

“What happens on the streets of #Fiesta ends up in our creeks and river,” the post read.
“We wish everyone a Happy Fiesta, but please be considerate of the environment and keep it clean.”

One positive example is the recycling of oyster shells from the Fiesta Oyster Bake at St. Mary’s University to create new oysters reefs on the Texas Gulf Coast. Roughly 100,000 oysters are served at the two-day event, both raw and baked.

On Saturday, student volunteers were collecting spent shells and discarding them in two huge bins to be used in Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s “Sink Your Shucks” program.

Biologists and volunteers will bag the discarded shells, along with others from restaurants and seafood wholesalers, and place them back into the water, where drifting oyster larvae can attach to them and grow.

Plastic and aluminum containers had their places too. Recycling bins were scattered evenly throughout on the university’s Westside campus at Oyster Bake, which features more than 35 bands spread over multiple stages.

As crowds began to thicken around 3 p.m., workers with Allegiance Environmental Services were keeping the grounds free of loose trash.

Properly bagging and recycling waste has been a clear goal of City officials and Fiesta organizers, especially at Fiesta’s two big parades – Battle of Flowers and Fiesta Flambeau on April 27 and 28, respectively.

Every year, Solid Waste Management Department officials keep track of the weight of garbage and recycling disposed of at Battle of Flowers and Fiesta Flambeau and shared five years of the data with the Rivard Report.

While it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from such a limited timescale, it’s clear that Fiesta Flambeau, the night parade through downtown, is the clear heavyweight for generating trash.

In 2017, workers and volunteers collected just shy of 53 tons of garbage and 7.1 tons of recycling from Flambeau, compared to 10.7 tons of trash and 4.6 tons of recycling from Battle of Flowers.

Workers talk next to a bin of waste from Fiesta Oyster Bake at St. Mary’s University. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

For perspective, 53 tons is comparable to the weight of nearly 27 cars.

The numbers also indicate that last year’s Battle of Flowers parade generated less garbage and recycling than any year over that time period.

The City’s volunteer program has likely helped. Every year, officials ask for help to gather loose trash and recyclables from parade grounds and exchange recycling-themed Fiesta medals for bags of glass and plastic.

Waste statistics for A Night in Old San Antonio, a fundraiser for the San Antonio Conservation Society that packs La Villita with visitors for four nights during Fiesta, also showed some progress in waste reduction.

For the past two years, the amount of recycling gathered at NIOSA has exceeded the amount of waste headed to the landfill. Festival-goers disposed of 35.7 tons of recycling and 22.6 tons of garbage last year.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.