Sustainability Program awarded grant for Fairgrounds kitchen improvements

Benton County Sustainability
Friday, January 4, 2019

Every year over 50,000 single-use cups, plates or utensils are thrown away at the Fairgrounds by groups utilizing the site as a meeting or event venue.

In September, the Benton County Sustainability Program applied for nearly $15,000 from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in grant funding to purchase a commercial dishwasher and improve the kitchen facilities at the County Fairgrounds. The 2018 grant round was highly competitive. DEQ reviewed 59 grant proposals requesting a total of over $3.4 million and selected 16 projects totaling over $600,000. Benton County was notified in early December our grant project was awarded funding.

The improvement project will result in an immediate reduction in the amount of solid waste at the Fairgrounds; in the first year alone, the project is expected to reduce the disposal of single-use dishes and utensils by 50%.  This reduction will be sustained and increase over time, as the durable tableware will be used year after year by the County and growing number of community members and groups that utilize the facility.

The project will build the infrastructure at the Benton County Event Center & Fairgrounds that will result in the long-term and sustained reduction of solid waste generation in Benton County. Upgrading the kitchen at the Fairgrounds will build capacity to replace the use of disposable dishes and utensils with the use and continual reuse of durable tableware (dishes and utensils). The project costs are nominal when spread over 10 years—the expected minimum lifespan of a commercial dishwasher—and continue to decrease the longer the tableware and dishwasher remain in service.   Over the next 10 years the project will, at a minimum, stop 372,000 single-use plates, cups or utensils from entering the waste stream and impact the behavior of 250,000 people utilizing the Fairgrounds facility. 

The Benton County Fairgrounds has a long history as a meeting and event venue for community members and groups.  Spread over 29 acres, the Fairgrounds has rental facilities for large and small groups. Annually, the Fairgrounds hosts 1,100-1,200 distinct events or meetings, including the Santiam Ski Patrol Ski Swap, Corvallis-Benton County Library Big Book Sale, the Indoor Winter Market, 5K Runs for good causes, the Master Gardeners' Plant Sale and 4-H activities almost daily. The venue is rented for weddings, quinceañeras, and fundraising events.  The County uses the facility for its annual staff appreciation breakfast, the chili cook-off, and a host of other internal meetings and events.  In 2018 the Fairgrounds began a new Master Planning process, beginning with a rebranding of the site as the Benton County Event Center & Fairgrounds.  This project comes at an ideal juncture that will merge the County’s sustainability and climate action goals with the rebranding and updating of the Fairgrounds.

Installation of the dishwasher and other improvements will begin in January 2019 and be completed by February 2019. Installation of educational signage and other guidance will be rolled out in February as well, with progress reporting beginning in June 2019 after the first six months of use.

“This is such a win for the Fairgrounds, the community and for the environment. I couldn’t be happier with receiving this grant award on behalf of the County. I am eager to begin making these improvements in the New Year,” said Jen Brown, Sustainability Coordinator.