Did you know that behind the scenes of Paléo, 120 volunteers are busy washing all the plastic cups from 08:00 in the morning to 23:00 at night? Why do you pay CHF 2 a deposit on your drinks cup? How many Paléo cups are kept as festival souvenirs?
Jonas Parson, Living In Nyon’s festival reporter went behind the scenes to take a look at the eco-cup facility at Paléo. He says it’s one of the most impressive operations of the festival, at least when it comes to the number of volunteers and manpower needed to make it happen.
Sustainability has been an important issue at Paléo Festival for a number of years. Paléo introduced reusable cups back in 2009. The festival has received several awards for its environmental policies.
Paléo president Daniel Rossellat takes pride in the fact that the festival is often cited as an example at reducing its environmental impact.
Most big events have now caught on to the trend of using renewable cups, as issues like waste reduction and sustainability have become more important over the past decade. But managing and cleaning enough plastic cups to keep up with the thirst of 45,000 festival-goers every day (not including the nearly 5,000 volunteers who also get super thirsty from all their hard work!) is no mean feat!
If you count the fact that most people will usually have more than just one drink over the evening, and that you need to factor in a number of different glasses, from the main 30cl beer cup to the champagne flute and coffee cups, it’s a huge logistic endeavour.
120 volunteers washing cups
During the festival, the Gobelets et cie area has 120 volunteers working from 08:00 to 23:00. The work is divided between the teams that wash the cups, and the people in charge of the logistics of collecting cups from across the grounds, bringing them back to the washing facilities and then sending them back into the festival so that you can order that beer you crave because of the heat, (we should really talk about the tragic unavailability of any kind of craft beer in the festival, but maybe another time…). Approximately 45 volunteers are on shift during the day, cleaning up to 9,000 cups an hour.
Giving work to the teens
One of the characteristics of the cup washing operation is that it employs around 45 juniors. This is the name given to teens between the ages of 12 and 18, mostly children of people working for Paléo and eventually their friends, who are given the opportunity to get a first volunteering experience. They are asked to work three hours a day (half of what other volunteers usually do), and most of them come back year after year.
The adult volunteers who clean the cups have their work divided into two 3 hours shifts, making the gruelling work of cleaning cups easier to manage, under the heat and humidity of the hangar in which they work. A lot of work is put into making the volunteer’s experience a nice and enjoyable one, from the resting area where they are given breakfast when they start working at 08:00 to make sure they work on a full stomach, where they can drink a coffee or a glass of fresh water. The atmosphere is industrious but casual, loud music blasting through the area, competing with the clunks and whistles of the steam, the cups being stacked and put away, and the whirring of three big fans in one corner of the room.
A well-organised cycle
The dirty cups get sent to a couple of collecting places on the site, before getting collected in a fleet of big white vans and all the cups are brought back to the cleaning facility. There, the cups are sorted by type onto trays, where they are sent through a first cleaning tunnel. At this point, someone checks that the cups are still stacked correctly before going through a second tunnel that finishes the jobs and dries them. The cups are then individually checked to make sure they are clean, then put away into boxes that are then sealed shut and stacked into the storage area. The newer boxes are stored at the back, giving them time to cool down before they are sent back out to the bars, to make sure you don’t end up with a steaming hot glass of beer! The stemmed wine glasses and champagne flutes are trickier to wash and take more time than the basic beer cups. These are then all dried by hand to make sure they stay clean!
Last year, on one of the busiest days of the festival, they cleaned approximately 160,000 cups in one day!
The eco-cup-nomics of it all
As each cup is exchanged for a CHF 2 deposit, it very important for the volunteers to seal all the boxes sent out to the different bars. They have to account for the number of cups they receive and the number they send back for cleaning, and the deposit is sent directly to Gobelets et cie. This system actually generates money, as a certain number of cups( around 100,00 cups a year) are kept as souvenirs by the festivalgoers.
The cost of a single cup is divided between the cost of the actual plastic cup, ordered in France, the cost of having them decorated and for the two designers who work on creating new designs for each edition of the Festival. This leaves around 40-60 cents of margin per cup. The money generated is injected back into the logistics of the operation, and also into investing in making the whole thing more sustainable.
This has enabled Paléo to install a system of water pipes that run along the tin roof of the space where the cups are washed. The heat that is created by the roof is absorbed by the water running through the pipes, pre-heating the washing water and cutting on the costs and energy needed heat the water.
The secret behind getting people to keep the cups and leave their deposit is because they like to collect the cups with different designs Two designers work on these – one is charged with using the visual identity of the Festival, the other designer takes care of cups made especially for the Village du Monde, linking to the theme of that year’s edition.
The last straw
Using reusable cups cuts on the waste generated by single-use plastic cups, and this year the festival has gone one step further to cut on plastic waste, introducing new biodegradable straws made from corn starch. This decision anticipates on a global movement away from single-use straws, with laws banning plastic straws being developed across Europe. Here again, Paléo seems to be a precursor when it comes to being environmentally friendly.