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Marina McCoy: A Passion for Music and Sustainability

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Marina’s Advice for Festival-Goers

1. Bring your reusable cup and get a little carabiner to clip it on. It’s a habit, like carrying a cell phone.

2. Don’t bring glow sticks, glitter, or feather boas — micro trash is a big problem.

3. If you’re going to smoke, bring a container to put your butts in.

4. Avoid styrofoam coolers.

5. Bring a positive attitude.

More information about Marina McCoy’s business, Waste-Free Earth, is available at; on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube under

People from all over the country and around the world travel to music festivals each summer for a shared musical experience. Festivals provide a communal space for food, drink, dancing, sometimes camping — but after everyone walks away on their path to the next event, the most colossal letdown of all remains: TRASH.
“I first realized I was part of the problem when I saw how much stuff was left behind after my first Frendly Gathering Festival in Vermont,” McCoy says. “There were glow sticks, trash, and pieces of glitter everywhere.”

Born and raised in Rutland, Vt., McCoy excelled on the high school snowboarding team, got into graphic arts, designed the high school yearbook, and won awards for environmental projects. One in particular was her 3R project (reduce, reuse, recycle). “It’s a booklet and I’m proud to say the teacher still uses it today as a reference for other projects — 10 years later!”

McCoy worked herself into a dream job with careful planning and a strong vision. She graduated from Sierra Nevada College in May 2016 with two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Ski Business and Resort Management. Her determination to educate people about ways to reduce trash comes one music festival at a time.

“Having both degrees helps me see both sides of the story. We need to work together to make the business world more environmentally and socially sustainable, and we need to incorporate a touch of business into the sustainability world,” McCoy says.

“You have so much leverage at festivals because there are thousands of people at a time. If you’re saying, ‘hey, you have to have a reusable cup, you have to compost while you’re here,’ people will begin to understand,” McCoy said. “I mainly work for small festivals and we can’t afford to pay for travel. I always have two to three assistants per gig, but I hire locally.” McCoy and her teams have been doing workshops on composting and zero waste at festivals, and they also work to get the bands involved. “Sometimes they bring their Solo cups on stage from the tour bus, and visually that’s not good for the attendees to see, so I’m trying to work more with the bands. They’re the ones who can inspire even more,” she said.

How did you get connected with all the festival people?

Through a college internship with Protect Our Winters (POW). A few of the professional snow-boarders on the POW Riders Alliance started Frendly Gathering, so I reached out to them to work on sustainability. They said, ‘yeah, if you want to be one of our all-star volunteers and help out, go for it.’ They actually ended up paying me that year and asked me back. I ended up with WinterWonderGrass the first year it came to Squaw [2015]. I sent an email and they said I could volunteer. They ended up paying me. I’ve been with them three years. We have a ninety percent diversion rate of keeping trash away from landfills by increasing reusables and composting, which is technically a zero waste festival.

What’s the passion you find in your work?

I can actually see the difference I’m making — the physical diversion away from landfills, increased recycling, composting, and donation initiatives like Imperfect Produce at WinterWonderGrass. Volunteers wore a carrot or avocado costume. If someone took a picture with them and posted it on social media, five pounds of fresh produce were donated to Project Mana. More than 1,000 pounds were donated!

You were featured on a TEDx talk. That’s quite an accomplishment.

It was really random. I had all these goals and I wanted to be on TEDx within five years of graduating, and the Ted Talk Conference within 10 years. Last summer, I was in Montana and saw a post come through that TEDx was coming to South Lake Tahoe. I applied and said I’d like to talk about sustainability, and they said they’d get back to me within a week — they let me know that day. I was overwhelmed with joy, but then a sudden wave of anxiety and stress came along with it.

You mentioned things that people leave behind, like tents and sleeping bags.

Camping gear is so inexpensive now. People don’t want to pack it up. We’re trying to figure out tent renting programs. The first time I saw this was at the Frendly Gathering. There was a rainstorm and people were packing up and left everything; but still, they could have brought their stuff to the dumpsters for us. It’s common for overnight camping festivals. Another big thing is micro trash. People don’t understand that when glitter is left on the ground it actually messes with animals’ night vision because it’s reflective. Feather boas are bad, too, because they shed and they’re made of plastic. These particles enter the eco system.

You say you’ve adjusted your lifestyle and moved into a van.

Yeah. I bought myself a new Dodge ProMaster. It’s a little on the luxury side and I can stand in it. I’m building it out now with help from friends. I’m able to leave it at my friend’s house in Colorado when I travel. Basically, I live one third of the time in Tahoe, one third in Colorado, and one third in Vermont. I have a really good friend base in all of them. When I’m at festivals, I stay in a hotel or a house. I think if it was a full-on van lifestyle I would struggle more.

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February 14, 2019