Earth Day may have been in April, but Memphis goes green for the entire month of May.
Since 2010, the volunteer-run Memphis In May Green Team has been canvassing Tom Lee Park during the Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and the Sunset Symphony to encourage recycling throughout the park.
Since the greening program began, Memphis In May has managed to divert from landfills at least 25 percent of the waste generated by the three events.
"Memphis In May is the largest event in the Mid-South, and we think there's a responsibility for us to be conscious of sustainability and re-use," said Memphis In May executive director Diane Hampton.
Additionally, Memphis In May now encourages all vendors to use biodegradable takeout boxes for food and to recycle cooking oil.
"As you can imagine, there's a lot of cooking oil used, not only at the music fest but throughout the world championship cooking contest," Hampton said.
There will be 16 recycling stations throughout Tom Lee Park during the three major events. More than 35 Green Team volunteers will canvas the park to encourage patrons to recycle waste rather than toss it in trashcans or on the ground.
Although littering Tom Lee Park is discouraged, Hampton said the events' clean-up crew sorts and recycles waste picked up from the ground every night.
Hampton said encouraging patrons to recycle is a little easier at the music fest since every patron is responsible for his or her own trash. But greening the barbecue contest has been a little trickier.
"There are 250 teams, so it's like having 250 homeowners. We have our Green Team going booth to booth, and there's a green agent on every barbecue team," Hampton said. "They make sure the team is keeping their trash sorted within their own booth."
At the end of the contest, the team that does the best job recycling and maintaining a sustainable area receives the Grillin' Green Award.
The Memphis In May organization is also striving to make its office and warehouse space more eco-friendly. They've added recycling bins in the offices, and all sorts of material waste — metals, wooden pallets, cardboard, paint — from the 15,000-square-foot warehouse is recycled or repurposed.
Hampton said the greening program is mainly intended to encourage sustainability, so there's no green police lecturing those who litter or going vendor to vendor to ensure they're not using Styrofoam containers. In some cases, a vendor may have stocked up on foam containers before knowing about the requirement to use earth-friendly materials, and they will still be allowed to use those.
"I'm not certain that we have 100 percent compliance, but we think it's the right thing to do to encourage it," Hampton said. "As the lead event in the city, we need to set a strong example. Are we where we would like to be? No. But each year, we get a little bit better."