Iowa City Summer of the Arts Goes Green

Crowd gathers to watch a band perform at a Summer of the Arts event in Iowa City. Photo: Courtesy Summer of the Arts

To get a sense of the strong community living in Iowa City, attend one of its summer festivals. This weekend, the annual Iowa City Jazz Festival will take over the downtown area and provide residents with delicious food, music, and the opportunity to learn about the environment.

Environmental education may not be what you expect to see at a festival. But, Iowa City’s summer events attract thousands of people, and that generates a lot of trash. To reduce the waste that Iowa City’s festivals send to the landfill, Summer of the Arts (SotA), the organization behind Iowa City’s festivals, has begun a program called Green Initiatives (GI).

Green Initiatives

A Green Initiatives volunteer helps out at an eco-station. Photo: Courtesy Summer of the Arts

SotA kicked off the effort to reduce waste in 2008 by selling reusable water bottles at the festivals and having vendors on Culinary Row provide bio-compostable dishes. Yet, this step was not enough.

“In the past we always had recycle containers out,” explained Lisa Barnes, Executive Director of SotA. “We also had compost containers but people didn’t really understand what could go into compost.

“We had a volunteer at the arts festival who got pretty smart. Somebody would come up and want to put something in the trash bin, and he’d say, ‘Nope. That’s from Culinary Row; that can go into compost.’”

This year, GI is using sponsorships from Rockwell Collins and Mid-American Energy to build on that volunteer’s idea by making their events more eco-friendly.

“Our eco-stations are all new,” says Tim Roed, the intern in charge of GI. “We have ten stations with four containers at each one. There’s compost, landfill, aluminum, and plastic.”

GI volunteers will staff the eco-stations and help customers sort their trash. The compost will be processed at the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center.

A family picks up their bikes from Summer of the Arts' free bike parking. Photo: Courtesy Summer of the Arts

The summer festivals also offer free and secure bike parking. “Our volunteers give bike tags to people who bring their bikes in—usually families. It’s a safe and secure place to store your bikes that’s not on the street, and it helps minimize gas emissions,” explains Roed.

The bikes will be stored in a fenced-in area located between Van Allen Hall and Biology Building East on Iowa Avenue. Two volunteers will watch the bikes.

Also new this year are GI’s eco-education tents. “We have seven different presenters,” explains Roed. “One from Greenway Bioplastics, a couple from the city, Habitat for Humanity, and Backyard Abundance. They give presentations for two hours each, just to promote other green areas not necessarily at the festival but around Iowa City.”

So far, the initiatives have been successful. The presenters love the opportunity to educate the public, and the public has responded. For the Arts Festival, which ran from June 3rd to the 5th, the city gave GI a dumpster for compost. After a single day, the dumpster was full.

The vendors have responded as well. “A lot of them are on board with the new compostable products. One of the vendors [Hicham Elhani] created the company Greenway Bioplastics to have a local supplier for the compostable materials,” says Roed.

Elhani partnered with Aziz Boussarhane and Can Dogan to found Greenway Bioplastics. Their products are available on their website.

The Future of Green Initiatives

When summer ends, GI will continue to find ways to reduce waste and meet the public’s enthusiastic demand for environmentally conscious festivals. They’re in the process of applying for a Pepsi Refresh grant to fund future initiatives. Pepsi awards grants to applicants that receive the most votes, so watch for a voting booth at Sand in the City in August.

Roed already has ideas for next year. “We have a green mobile phone app that we’re looking into so that we don’t have so much paper waste. It would give people information on locations for the GI eco-stations and the festival.”


SotA is still accepting volunteers for the Jazz Festival this weekend. They will also need volunteers for Sand in the City, which runs from Friday, August 12th to Sunday, August 14th. Interested parties can apply online at SotA’s website.

Alenka Figa


Blue Planet Green Living