Come Out With Pride to go eco-friendly for festival and parade

By : Jeremy Williams
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Come Out With Pride will have a lot of the same things that you have come to expect over the last 15 years since the parade and festival have been held in and around Lake Eola. Food vendors, parade floats, live entertainment, fireworks and thousands upon thousands of attendees.

Some things you won’t see this year—or any upcoming years—will be single-use plastic straws, plastic bags and polystyrene foam single-use food containers. This is because the Orlando City Commission voted unanimously to ban these items from all city properties back in June.

“That means no single-use straws, no plastic bags and no Styrofoam containers at Amway Center, Camping World Stadium, Relax Grill, anything city-owned,” says Central Florida environmentalist Eric Rollings. “Any city permitted events; the foot races that you see downtown like the corporate 5Ks, Come Out With Pride, all these other festivals at Lake Eola, those are all sanctioned events that have to have a city permit. They will all have to comply with the city’s new policy and procedure.”

Orlando’s ban on these items is a city policy and procedure, not an ordinance that could have banned the use of single-use plastic straws, plastic bags and polystyrene containers citywide. During Florida’s legislative session last spring, the Republican-led Legislature imposed a ban of their own, preventing local governments from enforcing ordinances banning these items for the next five years.

That vote led Rollings and his conservation organization, the Foundation for Florida Environmental Protection, to go to the city and at least push for the ban at city-owned properties.

“When we started this work around and I was working with the mayor’s office, we thought we’re going to get a lot of pushback from the people who invest a lot of money in these programs and on these events,” Rollings says. “But it was just the opposite. We had so much support.”

The Orlando City Commissioners met on June 4 and unanimously passed the ban to a packed city council meeting. It made Orlando the first city in the southeastern United States to pass a policy and procedure to ban all three items.

“I was embarrassed to see a few years ago that on Earth Day we covered Lake Eola Park on Earth Day in garbage, so I’m glad to see that we’re doing something about this,” said District 4 City Commissioner Patty Sheehan the day of the vote.

“The people that came out to support and speak, it was really moving,” Rollings said in June after the meeting. “There were kids who showed up to say ‘This is our future, thank you for thinking of us.’ We had 40 people there, all with the same shirt on, showing solidarity in wanting this passed. We even had folks from Come Out With Pride there, and they have one of the largest events at Lake Eola, on board with this initiative.”

Rollings says that the support of Come Out With Pride behind this ban is huge as it will be the first major event to happen at Lake Eola since the policy went into effect on Oct. 1, and because it is the city’s single largest permitted event every year. Come Out With Pride expects more than 175,000 people to pour into the Lake Eola area when it celebrates its 15th annual parade and festival Oct. 12.

“Jeff [Prystajko] and Clayton [Altman; Come Out With Pride’s board president and festival director, respectively] came to the council meeting and they said, ‘We want to do what’s best, we’re the biggest one, we’re the largest event. We want to comply,’” Rollings says. “That was a really powerful statement for the council and the mayor to hear. After that—and even a week before the meeting—Jeff came to me and said, ‘So what else could we do?’”

Rollings was ecstatic that Come Out With Pride not only gave no pushback on this policy but wanted to do more.

“There is such a amazing difference between doing what you need to do and what you want to do and what you’re able to do,” he says. “It sends a huge message, not just for Come Out With Pride, but for every event in perpetuity. That it’s not: Why should we do this or how much is this going to cost? Come Out With Pride said, ‘How can we do more?’”

Rollings and the Foundation for Florida Environmental Protection will be out at Lake Eola throughout the entire weekend, even before the festival and parade begin.

“There are 17 people on my team that are from all different organizations, whether they’re privately funded or nonprofits, and none of us are getting paid for any of this. We are all volunteers who do this because we care about the environment we are leaving to future generations,” he says.

The Foundation for Florida Environmental Protection will be out with nearly 100 volunteers in tow to make sure Come Out With Pride is the most sustainable event in Florida’s history.

“Everything that leaves a carbon footprint will be offset to make sure this event is the most sustainable in the state’s history and it’s a gay event. How exciting is that,” Rolling says.

That means that every firework lit up in the sky to every parade float being pulled by a gas- or petroleum-based car or truck will be captured and offset.

“We’re dealing with [the Orlando Utilities Commission],” Rollings says. “So any energy that is used that day is going to be offset by their solar array in East Orange County. Every light on the stages, every toilet that flushes, that’s all going to be mitigated.”

Come Out With Pride has worked with all of its festival vendors and food trucks to make sure everyone is in compliance with the city’s policy. They have also offered alternatives to replace the usual bags, straws and containers they use.

“There’s the next generation of paper straws,” Rollings says. “When I started pushing for environmentally-friendly alternatives years ago the quality wasn’t there. What we’ve learned is that there are different manufacturers, some of them right here in Florida, making them with a white under wrap and different color over wrap that keeps it from unraveling.”

Plastic straw alternatives are now made from a variety of different materials including paper, pasta, wood, bamboo and even sugarcane.

“They do this in South Florida,” Rollings says. “Instead of burning the sugar cane they actually use it to produce natural straws and it’s something that is local.”

Rollings says that a discount is being offered to Come Out With Pride vendors from the plant-based catering supplies company Lean Orb, which is based out of Miami. Lean Orb offers environmentally friendly, biodegradable food service packaging and catering supplies such as cups, plates, straws, cutlery and to-go containers.

“By investing in plant-based compostable products you help us reduce the carbon footprint and re-design disposable culture,” the company’s mission statement reads. “We want to create value through zero waste and participation in circular economy.”

Lean Orb uses raw materials including palm leaf, sugarcane, wheat straw and bamboo to manufacture its products.

“If we can get even just a few of the vendors using a company like Lean Orb and continue using these kinds of products I think we can start to see a dynamic shift that may flow into some of these fast food restaurants all over the city,” Rollings says. “If there’s anything that you do for five minutes and it lasts forever, you really have to rethink that behavior.”

Rollings offered the following example. “Let’s say you go in and order a sandwich, a side salad and a drink. That sandwich wrapper is a year, maybe, depending on what it’s made of. That plastic container that you use for a side salad, the plastic fork, that straw in the Styrofoam cup. You just created waste that’s going to be here for a thousand years. We’re going to be long dead and it will just keep piling up.”

As the ban comes into effect, it not only will apply to the event organizers and participating vendors, but attendees as well.

“It’s treated just like the policy for a dog without a leash,” Rollings says. “When people bring their stuff into the park area, there will be people walking around to let them know about the new policy. The vendors have all said they will be in compliance as well. First time is a warning, the next time is a fine.”

Come Out With Pride will have the information up on its website letting attendees know the new policy, and Rollings says the first event out of the gate isn’t going to be a bringing down-the-hammer moment.

“This is a learning process. There’s an incredible amount of marketing that would have to happen to make sure that everybody the first year is going to comply,” he says. “That’s why we will be out there all day assisting. Whatever footprint that they’re leaving, we’re taking care of that.”

While Come Out With Pride has not seen any resistance to the ban, Rollings notes that those in Tallahassee who have a problem with these bans need to come help with just one lake clean up in order to see why they are so important.

“When you look at our lake cleanups, there are five things that we see all the time that fill up our bags every single time that we’re out,” Rollings says. “It’s the straws, the plastic bags, the Styrofoam, water bottles and those Black & Mild tips; those things don’t go away.”

Rollings recalls going to lake and park clean ups and finding Styrofoam containers that were open and causing flooding because they were blocking storm drains. He adds wildlife has been near death because of the plastics and foam.

“We were out at Lake Ivanhoe on a cleanup and someone picked up a turtle. When I looked at it, its back legs and tail were completely skeletal,” Rollings recalls. “These Styrofoam beads in the water look just like the snail eggs they eat. They swallow them and can’t pass it and become buoyant.”

Rollings says they cleaned up more than 60 bags worth of plastics and foam that came to the lake off the downtown streets of Orlando.

It isn’t just the plastic bags, straws and foam containers that are being addressed at Come Out With Pride. Everything down to the zip ties being used are getting recycled.

“The stanchions on the parade route, we have two volunteers that are following the end of the parade and cutting those zip ties,” Rollings says. “There’s a place that takes hard plastic recycling in Tampa we will take them to, so even those are going to be accounted for.”

One of the newest companies getting involved with Come Out With Pride’s eco-friendly mission is Harvest Power.

Harvest Power is a organics management company headquartered in Massachusetts that specializes in converting food waste into energy. “Harvest Power has a power plant out at Disney where all of its food waste from the parks, hotels and restaurants goes to,” Rollings says.

More specifically, 50-60 tons of Walt Disney World’s food scraps and leftovers every day are taken to the Harvest Power facility on Disney’s property.

“If you’ve ever seen a corn silo, imagine that cut in half and really wide,” Rollings says. “The decomposition of food waste creates methane gas. Methane gas is 15 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. So they capture that and they burn it as a fuel to power 1,700 homes and some of the hotels.”

The unconsumed pulp is then dried out and used as fertilizer. Along with Disney, Amway Center and Camping World Stadium also send food scraps to Harvest Power. Now, all of the food waste from Come Out With Pride will be going there as well.

According to Harvest Power, approximately 24 pounds of food waste enters Central Florida’s landfills every second, contributing to numerous environmental issues like global warming.

The Foundation for Florida Environmental Protection will be back out at Lake Eola on Oct. 13 from 8 a.m.-noon with another 50 volunteers doing lake and park clean up to make sure that “not a single cigarette butt or bottle cap can be found.” Rollings adds that the city has given them unlimited access to Lake Eola in order to make sure items that aren’t supposed to be in the lake are gone.

“Not only are we making this a sustainable event, but we’re leaving it better than when we started,” Rollings says.

Come Out With Pride isn’t just the first major event to comply with the city’s ban, according to Rollings, but is also going to be the model for all future events, festivals and parades at Lake Eola.

“This will be the example that we show everyone else when they are having a 5,000-person permitted event and they’re like, ‘We have too many people. There’s no way we can comply.’ We can say ‘Oh, really, because Come Out With Pride did 175,000 people,’” he says. “‘Here are our vendors. Here are our partners. This is how you can carbon footprint offset’. To be able to claim that an LGBTQ event of this magnitude is the most sustainable in Florida’s history, the third largest state in the country, that sends miles of messages not just to other Prides, but to every organization and group that wants to try and pushback.”

Rollings says in order to make sure that Lake Eola is left in pristine condition, the Foundation for Florida Environmental Protection is going to need 300 volunteers during Pride weekend. If you would like to volunteer to help clean up during the Come Out With Pride festival and parade, you can reach out to Rollings at Eric@EricRollings.com.

Vendors and food trucks looking for biodegradable food service packaging and catering supplies can visit LeanOrb.com for more information.

For a list of Come Out With Pride events, volunteer opportunities and general information, check out the official Come Out With Pride guide and visit ComeOutWithPride.com.

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