S.O.R.T. volunteers needed to continue bringing zero-waste and sustainability to ArtPrize

Written by: Tessa Harvey

If you’re from Grand Rapids, you know about Art Prize – you attend, vote, and maybe even brag about it to out-of-towners who (somehow) don’t know about it.

What you might not know, though, is what happens behind the scenes. With the number of visitors and admirers brought in by such a large event – we’re talking over 400,000 – there’s bound to be a substantial increase in waste, and there has been.

The solution? S.O.R.T., of course.


Just last year, the program was implemented for the first time. Art Prize partnered with WMEAC, the City of Grand Rapids, and Kent County Department of Public Works to support S.O.R.T. stations all around the city during last year’s event, and will do so again this year. S.O.R.T., which stands for separate, organic compost, recycle, and trash, supports education strategies, takes on the task of reducing waste produced during the event and properly disposes of the event’s waste.


The SORT program offers us the opportunity to educate our visitors – and wider community – about successful waste diversion. We bring nearly 500,000 people downtown during the 19 days of ArtPrize and feel a responsibility to look at ways that we can minimize the environmental impact of this type of gathering,” said ArtPrize’s managing director Amelea Pegman.

During ArtPrize, S.O.R.T. uses the idea of a spotlight to convey appropriate waste disposal practices: red for landfill waste; yellow, recycling; and green for compost materials. Attendees can “sort” out their various waste at ArtPrize at S.O.R.T. stations, where volunteers are stationed to educate and help. After the stations are sorted, the City picks up all recyclable and compostable materials.  

Last year, there were six S.O.R.T. stations. According to James Hurt, the director of the city of GR’s public works department, out of the 72,530 pounds of material collected, 12,860 pounds (17%) were recycled, and 4,740 pounds (6.5%) were composted – about 23.5% of the event’s waste. Though numbers like these may seem small, they make a big difference.

“We are so proud of the diversion rate from last year,” says Pegman. “Of course, we hope that in its second year we will up this percentage! Education around successful S.O.R.T.ing takes time and we hope to see real progress in the coming years as composting and recycling become more commonplace in our public/shared spaces, like parks and sidewalks downtown.”

S.O.R.T stations are run with generous help from volunteers. Last year, 169 volunteers donated 681 hours of their time to help manage the stations.

This year, there will be three S.O.R.T. stations: two at Rosa Parks Circle, and one at Ah-Nab-Awen Park. The stations will run the duration of the event, and in order for the stations to be fully staffed, we are in need of 300 volunteers. WMEAC will also be hiring two to four coordinators who will be paid hourly, work 15-20 hours per week, and will manage the event’s volunteers.

“It is SO very helpful to have volunteers at the stations to teach our visitors about what to put in each bin, this educational piece is KEY to success of the stations!!” says Pegman.

If you’re an avid fan of ArtPrize, and want to help keep our city clean and green, come volunteer! It’s the volunteers that help make S.O.R.T. a success.

View our position description to become a S.O.R.T. volunteer coordinator here!

Contact us to volunteer at volunteer@wmeac.org.

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