Youth Song and Dance Festival to trial reusable soup bowls in 2023

Young performers eating lunch at the jubilee Song and Dance Festival in summer 2019.
Young performers eating lunch at the jubilee Song and Dance Festival in summer 2019. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

An estimated 155,000 portions of traditional lunchtime soup will be served to young performers at the XIII Youth Song and Dance Festival in reusable soup bowls next summer. Festival organizers are weighing whether to require reusable dishes in spectator areas as well.

Organizers most recently experimented with bioplastics at the most recent, jubilee Song and Dance Festival in 2019. The dishes in question were collected and shipped across the gulf to Finland. Song and Dance Festival Foundation director Margus Toomla acknowledged that Estonia currently lacks sufficient capacity to recycle biodegradable plastics.

"And why should they even be processed at all when right now we have the opportunity to move toward more sustainable solutions, i.e. reusable [dishes]?" he added.

For performers, the Dance Festival together with its preceding rehearsals is a five-day affair, during which dancers eat 11,000 bowls of soup a day. The Song Festival, meanwhile, will span a period of three days. While there will be slightly fewer performers eating on the first couple of days, nearly 55,000 bowls and spoons will be needed to feed all of the performers on the third and final day — the day of the Song Festival itself.

"We held our breath over what our partners' capacity is like at all," Toomla said. "We've seen by now that they have the capacity on the Dance Festival front, and the procurement for the Song Festival is drawing to a close as well; the final decisions are currently being made involving that procurement."

According to Kaupo Karba, general manager and board member at Dance Festival procurement winner Eesti Pandipakend, they should be able to manage to service the entire festival using the same sets of dishes.

"Our washing line will be working round the clock throughout the period that the Song and Dance Festival is underway," Karba said. "That means that washing will start in the middle of the night, and those 11,000 bowls will be washed by morning."

Dance Festival organizers will be paying approximately €12,000 for these dishes. Karba added that should Eesti Pandipakend win the Song Festival procurement as well, the company will have to rent a few more additional dishwashers.

Their only competition for the latter procurement is Ringo Eco, whose COO Hannes Falten said that currently, their washing line can handle up to 3,000 items an hour.

"Food containers are washed in exactly the same way as beer bottles," Falten noted.

Both companies already have quite a bit of experience with large events — among Eesti Pandipakend's clients are Paide's Opinion Festival and the Viljandi Folk Music Festival, while Ringo has serviced both Tallinn and Tartu marathons.

Falten said that they could offer their dishes for use in the spectator area at the Song Festival as well, noting that they'd developed the necessary system to do so some time ago and that it is already in use at eateries in Ülemiste City, for example.

"You buy food at one dining establishment, which is served to you in a reusable container," he explained. "You consume it, and every container has a QR code; you scan that and then return the container to [one of the] designated locations."

The deposit on the returned container is then refunded to a client's account.

According to Toomla, festival organizers haven't yet set the rules for the spectator-side food area. A lot, he noted, will depend on whether the companies can manage to supply festival visitors with dishes and effectively collect them again afterward as well.

"Of course, if these requirements are applied to reusable dishes, then all vendors will have to fulfill them," he explained. "But right now we're only just working things out on the commercial side."

The Song and Dance Festival Foundation is convinced that reusable dishes will be more environmentally friendly than single-use dishes. This is difficult to put into numbers, however.

Karba said that the manufacturer of Eesti Pandipakend's dishes claims that their dishes can withstand up to 100 washes, although they may not be as presentable looking by the end of their service life. Ringo's containers, meanwhile, are used an average of 80 times.

It nonetheless can't be claimed accordingly, however, that these dishes' environmental footprint is 100 or 80 times smaller, as their production costs are higher, and the logistics and washing involved require resources as well. Some dishes also end up lost during use as well.

Karba said that Eesti Pandipakend hasn't calculated the difference in carbon cost. The company's three seasons to date have been fairly volatile in terms of events, and they're still working with limited info.

"Of course we'd still like to obtain some sort of business statistics based on which to calculate," he acknowledged. "Otherwise it'll be yet another theoretical study not based on facts."

Ringo, meanwhile, is bolder in their calculations. According to Falten, calculation results will depend on what they're compared with.

"If we compare with cellulose packaging, then our footprint is three times smaller," the COO said. "If we're talking about the PET [plastic] used to package prepared foods in stores, then our footprint is five times smaller."

Estonia's XIII Youth Song and Dance Festival will take place in Tallinn from Friday, June 30 through Sunday, July 2 next summer.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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