Maha’s reduced-waste present and future


Samantha Weideman

Waste bins at Maha. Photo by Mike Machian/ courtesy of Hillside Solutions

Maha’s 11,000 attendees filled Stinson Park last weekend, eating, exploring and … recycling? You read that right. For the second year in a row, Maha Festival partnered with Hillside Solutions with a goal of hosting a reduced-waste experience.

“Maha is an event for the city of Omaha,” said Emily Cox, operations manager of Maha. “We want to take care of our environment just as we do our city.”

The partnership had the same reduced-waste goal last year, but it did not go as planned.

For one, last year’s Maha was the first large-scale festival Hillside Solutions tackled.

Secondly, there were too many waste stations. For example, the compost bins, designed for organic waste, were placed by the port-a-potties. The average festival-goer just saw a trash can, so the compostable waste was contaminated, and a lot of it had to go to the landfill. A half-ton was diverted from the landfill, according to Hillside’s 2018 Maha Diversion Report.

Finally, while each of the bins was marked (e.g., ‘recycling,’ ‘compost,’ ‘landfill’ etc.), festivalgoers were unaware of proper recycling procedures, and there were not enough volunteers to assist in the disposal process.

“Last year was kind of a shit show,” said Brent Crampton, director of partnerships at Hillside Solutions. “But the beauty is that we learned a lot, and this year– and doing zero-waste events throughout the year since then– has kind of got a good system in place.”

That “good system” included fixing what had gone wrong during last year’s event and changing their requirements for vendors (like using compostable service ware).

“I really kind of assumed it would be kind of a shit show again this year,” Crampton said. “And it actually worked. It totally felt like the system was working. Volunteers were kicking butt.”

In all, there were 111 volunteers on waste duty assisting festivalgoers during the music festival. Volunteers from Keep Omaha Beautiful and Earth Day Omaha oversaw those working the waste stations to ensure effectivity, and volunteers from Offutt Air Force Base moved full containers to larger collection points.

Recyclable examples taped to the recycling bin at Maha. Photo by Mike Machian/courtesy of Hillside Solutions

In addition, Maha taped real examples of recyclable and compostable materials to the bins on-site to make disposal easier.

“We did a pre-audit of the materials the vendors were going to use,” Crampton said. “So, we kind of knew what was going to be thrown away en masse that day.”

This year, much less waste went to landfills. No data exists for the amount of waste that went to the landfill, but the adjustments made this year tripled the amount of recycling and composting materials diverted from the landfill at 3.25 tons, according to Hillside’s 2019 Maha Diversion Report.

When Crampton arrived the morning of the second day of the festival, fully expecting the roll-off dumpsters used for recycling to be half-empty, he was stunned.

“When I showed up Saturday morning, it was full from just Friday night,” Crampton said. “When I looked inside the roll-off like, ‘OK, are these the materials that can be recycled? Do they look good?’ The materials were so clean, I got chills. To do that on such a large scale with so many people blew me away.”

Maha attendees responded positively to the stations, often complimenting the volunteers’ recycling knowledge.

“I thought it was awesome,” said Riley Kessler, a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “I wasn’t hanging out around the trash cans very much, but from what I saw, they looked pretty knowledgeable about it. Hopefully, they keep having that in the future.”

Maha Music Festival is likely to remain a reduced-waste event because it has much larger attendance numbers than Maha Discovery, with which Hillside helped to meet its zero-waste goal, diverting 93.3 percent of its waste.

“We would love nothing more than for Maha to be a zero-waste festival,” Cox said. “There would be a considerable amount of investment necessary to make this happen on such a large scale, but I’m not ruling it out!”

Maha and Hillside Solutions plan to continue their partnership well into the future, aiming for even more landfill diversion (less waste in the landfills).

“We hope to continue to grow our landfill diversion numbers by increasing awareness of recycling and composting at our event via on-site visibility of our efforts, as well as pre- and post-event communications,” Cox said.

Maha—although not the first music festival in the United States to offer alternatives to landfill waste disposal (see Coachella and Bonnaroo) —is making strides for the future of music festivals.

“What Maha is doing is setting the example of where our society is going to inevitably shift to,” Crampton said. “I think one day, it will just be standard that homes, businesses and events provide this, what I call, ‘zero-waste infrastructure.’”