Surprisingly Sustainable: Oktoberfest’s Green Side

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Some celebrations are almost synonymous with waste. Picture the plastic-bead-strewn streets of New Orleans after Mardi Gras, or the mountains of plastic packaging and wrapping paper after Christmas. For the environmentally conscious, the incredible wastefulness of these occasions is enough to make a Scrooge out of even the most festive individual.

Surprisingly, an environmental hero has arisen from a most unlikely holiday. A celebration that seems to have no other purpose than excessive drinking. No, not St. Patty’s Day (although there are ways to go green then, too!). Friends, we’re talking about Oktoberfest.

Yes. Really.

The Environmental Oscars

Here’s a tidbit that might shock you — it certainly surprised us. Oktoberfest — the real one, that is, held in Munich, Germany, each autumn — is one of the most environmentally friendly events out there. So much so, in fact, that it was awarded the Environmental Oscar in 1997 for its efforts to be as minimally wasteful as possible.

How have Oktoberfest organizers achieved this? Three main aspects contribute to their environmental success:

Disposing of Disposables

In 1991, the city of Munich banned disposable servingware. No more paper plates, no more plastic forks. Instead, food was served on real plates, with real silverware. Drinks were served in glasses, rather than plastic tumblers. This one change reduced waste at the annual festival by over 90 percent. It’s an encouraging statistic for festivals worldwide, especially those that think that waste-free celebrations are beyond their capabilities. After all, Oktoberfest is hardly a small-time operation; it hosts six million visitors each year. If they can go without one-time-use tableware, surely your next backyard barbecue can too!

Organics & Recycling

Gray water from washing all these dishes doesn’t just go down the drain, either. In almost half the festival tents, gray water is reused to flush the toilets (I’ve always wondered why we don’t do this everywhere). Reusing water like this drastically reduces the need for fresh water, and ensures that Oktoberfest gets the most use out of every drop. Much of the food served at Oktoberfest — including the meat — is also organically sourced. And while we could definitely make a strong case for reducing the amount of meat eaten at the bacchanalian beer fest (each year, attendees devour tons of sausages and almost 500,000 chickens), choosing poultry that’s been organically raised does make a huge difference.

Renewable Rejoicing

Since the year 2000, streetlights, toilets and all other public areas of the festival have been powered by renewable energy, making the festival one of the greenest in terms of how it powers its raucous celebrations. This attitude of environmental awareness has filtered through to its vendors, too — approximately 60 percent of them have followed suit and also chosen renewable power sources.

Oktoberfest is one of the purest festivals out there when you look at pure intent. It was originally celebrated to mark the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese on Oct. 12, 1810. These days, it’s a chance to celebrate good beer, great brats and dudes in lederhosen. But the way Munich has focused on creating sustainable Oktoberfest celebrations is an example to all of us that life needn’t be dour and stark to be eco-friendly. In fact, quite the opposite.

Your Own Green Event

So, how can you bring a little of Munich’s environmental sensibilities to your own Oktoberfest celebrations — or any other party, for that matter? It is possible, even if you can’t use gray water to flush your toilet or suddenly switch to renewable energy:

  • Use e-vite sites like Green Envelope or Paperless Post to create online invites instead of mailing paper ones.
  • Follow Oktoberfest’s lead and ditch the disposable plates, cups and silverware. If you’re worried about tipsy guests breaking your good dishes, pick up an inexpensive set at Goodwill or Value Village. It’ll likely be the same price as (or cheaper than) disposable stuff, and you can reuse for many parties down the road. Just remember to wash well before use.
  • Provide bins for compost, recycling and garbage. Often just providing guests options for eco-friendly waste disposal is all you need to do to decrease the amount of waste your party produces.
  • If you’re going all out for the celebration, rent a costume instead of buying one. Good lederhosen don’t come cheap, and cheap ones won’t last long. Get into the spirit by renting a costume that’ll help you dress the part without taking up space in your closet the rest of the year.
  • If it’s in your budget, offer your guests organic refreshments and food — organic and/or local chickens, sausage and even beer if you can find it!

We hope you have a fantastic time celebrating good beer, great friends and the crisp arrival of fall. Happy Oktoberfest!

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.