I wonder how much waste we’ll save by not having live events…”

It’s a thought that rolled around in my head as I flipped the calendar from March to August to December of 2020 and beyond, mentally tallying the number of days since I’ve gone to a movie at the Roxy, a play at MCT or another bluegrass show at The Wilma.

It’s one of those things I tell myself is some kind of silver lining as our theaters and stages remain tragically dark…all that garbage that’s not being generated.

I went so far as to research it, feeling practically optimistic as I Googled “how much waste is being saved during COVID?” certain that I’d be greeted by some encouraging data in contrast to the figures I was checking daily on the devastating Johns Hopkins Coronavirus dashboard.

Instead, such were the headlines: Plastic waste is booming from the Coronavirus pandemic (CNN – May 2020)” and “COVID-19’s unsustainable waste management (Science Magazine – June 2020)” and “The Plastic Pandemic: COVID-19 trashed the recycling dream (Reuters – October 2020),” articles and reports that bared the ugly truth that managing a virus takes a lot of plastic, from masks, gloves and body bags to take out containers and hand sanitizer bottles. In all transparency, there was one top result that heralded Coronavirus Lockdown Likely Saved 77,000 Lives In China Just By Reducing Pollution” from Forbes...but that was back in March before the trash started really piling up.

Some reports celebrated the net gains of commercial trash going down more than residential trash increased, but others reported challenges for waste management companies to keep up with increased and changing demand alongside personnel losses. But for the most part I found myself reading article after article about how masks are. just. everywhere.

I wonder how much waste we’ll save by not having live events…”

It’s a thought that rolled around in my head as I went about the business of planning the 2021 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, an event that typically attracts over 20,000 people to downtown Missoula every February, staging events in over 20 venues from cinemas to hotels to watering holes.

Back in 2016, Big Sky introduced a Towards Zero Waste (TZW) Initiative, an event-wide effort to minimize the environmental footprint of the festival, increase awareness of environmental issues, and provide a model for other film festivals in the industry at large. We have worked every year since to reduce waste generated by attendees, production, transportation, customer service, hospitality, and ticketing operations.

Last year we truly went all in, sourcing festival materials as locally as possible putting an army of garbage goalies and TZW deputies on the case to divert 1,268 gallons of waste from the landfill.

Exciting as the results were, those numbers pale in comparison to this year, as the festival goes virtual for the safety of our patrons. Going digital means we won’t fill every seat at The Wilma on opening night, we won’t have hoards of sixth graders heading to The Roxy on a festival field trip, and we won’t welcome hundreds of filmmakers from around the globe to post up at the KettleHouse, the long table at LePetite or around the bonfire at Free Cycles.

No ticket stubs or solo cups or programs. No bags of empty beer cans dripping something nasty from the corner, no popcorn stuck in the bucket seats. No scraping tape from the windows after we take down dozens of movie posters, no lost-and-found box of left behind lonely gloves, scarves, water bottles and keys.

Yes, we will save a lot of waste by not having a live festival event. I’ll spend a moment appreciating that fact. I’ll do that thing where you let your shoulders fall away from your ears, unclench your jaw and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth in a moment of forced relaxation.

Going virtual is bittersweet, but the silver lining extends beyond the trash we won’t send to the landfill in 2021. At the end of the day the ultimate goal of Big Sky Doc Fest is connecting people to spark conversation through documentary film, and going “virtual” means that over 80 documentary films will reach homes all around the world.

It means that stories about environmental issues, like The Mountain and The Maiden (a day in the life of a woman who lives at a New Delhi landfill), Arctic Summer (a final season with the Tuk costal people before they must relocate their Arctic community due to rising seas), We the Power (groups of friends, families and visionaries who take power back from big energy companies) and The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima (the strange aftermath of the a nuclear meltdown and mass evacuations in Fukushima, Japan) will reach audiences far beyond Montana.

They’ll see Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust, meeting environmentalists who form an unexpected alliance to defend their water, their history, and their culture, from Los Angeles, and they’ll see Youth v Gov, the story of twenty-one courageous youth leading a groundbreaking lawsuit against the U.S. government, asserting it has willfully acted over six decades to create our climate crisis.

It is these stories that keep us incredibly excited to bring the festival to you in this new form, stories of innovation, activism and incredible human resilience that inspire us to imagine a time when we can gather again, trash and all. Find more information about the all-virtual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival at bigskyfilmfest.org.

Rachel Gregg is the Executive Director of the Big Sky Film Institute. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Now through April. Montana Legislature is in session. Get the awesome “How to be Involved Guide” from Montana Free Press. To follow efforts for clean energy, climate, conservation and sustainability, consider connecting with (and getting the low down and action alerts from):

· Montana Renewable Energy Association

· Montana Environmental Information Center

· Montana Conservation Voters

· Northern Plains Resource Council

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17.

Through April 22. Thursdays, 7pm. Seeking Sustainability Lecture Series. In 2020, this lecture series celebrated 50 years of Earth Day by focusing on Missoula’s sustainability efforts & featuring 60 speakers. In 2021 many of those speakers will return to give updates on how their programs have adapted to the crises we face. Check out this year’s schedule HERE. 2020 recordings are available HERE.

February 8 – March 29. Mondays 6 – 7:30 pm. My Grandmother’s Hands Practice Group. This invitation is for white identifying folks in Missoula or the surrounding areas to join an 8-week virtual community practice group to examine white-body supremacy and create a new type of lasting relationship rooted in racial justice and accountability. More info HERE.

February 13 - June 19 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

February 18, 4-5:30pm. Leave it Wild: Urban and residential spaces. Join Families for a Livable Climate and Stories for Action from this free happy hour event to find out how actions taken on your front step and in Montana towns can have a great impact on waterways, biodiversity, climate action and community. Register HERE.

February 24, 10-11:30am MST. Webinar - Climate Migrants: Protecting Immigrants from Adverse Impacts of Climate Change. How can international laws and agreements be leveraged to alleviate the disproportionate risks and harms migrants face from climate change and natural disasters? What are the opportunities and obstacles for climate migration policies and agreements? What should the core considerations be in the design of climate migration bilateral agreements? Join ELI and expert panelists to explore these questions and the opportunities and challenges to increase protections for climate migrants. Register HERE by February 22.

March 4, 4-5:30pm. How to Talk to Kids about Climate Change. How can we maintain hope and make a difference in the face of overwhelming evidence of the climate crisis? And, how do we even begin to talk with our kids about it? Help is at hand. Join Families for a Livable Climate, Moms Clean Air Force Montana, and Mountain Mamas for a discussion with Harriet Shugarman, aka “Climate Mama”, and author of How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.