Published on June 29th, 2015 | by Katy Evans


I love freedom and fireworks but…

Originally published in 2013 and upon further research inspired by a reader comment, significantly changed after publication. 

I really dislike Freedom Fair. Summer festivals are typically a bit more than I can handle but Freedom Fair always seems especially oppressive, grueling, and sticky.

A massive crush of more than 100,000 descend on Ruston Way many, many hours before dusk, wander about getting increasingly grumpy, sunburned, and tired, and make it impossible to comfortably observe pretty explosions from the many pleasant vantage points Tacomans typically can access.

I braved the crowds seriously only once – camped out along the waterfront for six hours, holding down a few square feet of space from where we could enjoy some fire in the sky – and I will never ever do it again. It was hot, loud, very crowded, and, in pretty much all things, a mess.

More than the fact that Freedom Fair is gross, I want there to be some sort of dastardly, terrible secret at the heart of the Fair so I can malign it effectively.

There must be more for me to dislike than heat, crowds, and prosaic programming. Maybe, um, we can dislike the Tacoma Events Commission work because despite the name, they’re based in University Place and only put on this one event? The Freedom Fair flyer is not very good looking?

Every year they spin into a panic and beg for money to secure the fireworks? (Like now in 2015 for example) Amway was/is a sponsor?

Although many of us could agree that these elements may irritate, they’re not very good or even legitimate reasons to hate something. Sadly, I initially wasn’t able to find anything consciously ignominious happening in what-I-wish-was-a-dark heart of the Tacoma Events Commission. Or is there?

The very serious mess that is Freedom Fair

Really, all I had to cling to is the incredible amount of Freedom Fair garbage and noise pollution that an estimated 100,000 bring, wreaking disaster and ruin along our lovely Ruston Waterfront each year.

And thanks to a City of Tacoma press release seeking “recycling” volunteers (see a call for 2013 volunteers here), we know that in 2012, Freedom Fair produced 60,000 pounds gallons of garbage that went into our local landfill.

Freedom Fair's litter is so substantial, artist R.R. Anderson featured it in a Tacomic.

Freedom Fair’s litter is so substantial, artist R.R. Anderson featured it in a 2011 Tacomic.

But damn my cursory internet research: Initially 60,000 gallons seemed like a horrifying amount and but in the grand scheme of messy festivals, it isn’t that bad. Only kind of bad and awful to think about. turns out, it is in fact horrifying!

[added post publication thanks to a heads-up from excellent close reader Michael Fitzgerald. Thanks, Mike!] The weight of a gallon of garbage can be difficult to pin down. If you were throwing away 60,000 gallons of liquid, that would weigh just a smidge more than 218 tons. And although there are some half filled lemonade and soda cups included in Freedom Fair’s 60,000 gallons, for sure all of the weight isn’t liquid. The average American fills a 13 gallon trash bag with about 10-20 pounds.

So lets make a gallon of trash average about 1.5 pounds. That means that Freedom Fair would generate about 90,000 pounds of garbage: that’s around 40 tons.

Fun, only slightly relevant fact: according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, Tacoma’s municipal landfill accepted 277,437.94 tons a year (so, about 760 tons a day).

Maybe the Freedom Fair attendance number is a little inflated – since Folklife in Seattle averages about 25,000 a day and Bumbershoot averages attendance at their full, three-day festival attendance at 100,000 – but if truly more than 100,000 is accurate, 60,000 gallons of garbage is very bad in comparison to other festivals.

The music festival Austin City Limits averages attendance at 75,000 a day and generates about 30 tons of garbage over three days (half of what Freedom Fair generates in one day). Bumbershoot recycles 7.4 tons of waste annually (they unsurprisingly don’t share their garbage accumulation).

And THIS information renews my flames of hatred!

And makes all vitriol valid! (Additionally, this proves that Post Defiance is not written by accredited and/or reliable journalists.)

Armed with only mildly suspect math, we, the year-round Tacomans, don’t even have to pretend to like or even tolerate Freedom Fair.

Sure, we can observe tradition and ogle fireworks by crowding onto our North Slope or North End neighbors’ lawns and patios, but lets be real, I know not all that many of you love fireworks as much as I do. I know many of you Tacomans, like me this year, sanctimoniously avoid the shit show all together.

We douse our pets with Rescue Remedy, flinch when the air show dive bombs our neighborhoods, drink beer poured from our reusable and locally-filled growlers, compost our bbq scraps, and fuel our own ritual disapproval of Freedom Fair with just a little Independence Day sound and fury.

Or you can be a great Tacoman, brave the mess, and help out as a recycling volunteer. 

Congratulations, Freedom Fair, you and Amway have been downgraded from active rage to a shrug of irritation. Active rage has been reignited, the shrug of irritation I shirkingly encouraged everyone to initially deploy can be retracted!

Call me when Freedom Fair actually gets its garbage production down to 60,000 pounds. Until then, I’m out.

Now I just have to keep myself from researching the terrible environmental effects of fireworks.

Some things must stay sacred.

Tacoma fireworks by Kevin Freitas

Photo courtesy Kevin Freitas;



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

Founder and Co-Managing Editor at Post Defiance, Katy writes and fundraises for Tacoma. Follow her @katynicoud.

5 Responses to I love freedom and fireworks but…

  1. Mike Fitz Mike Fitz says:

    Ugh, that’s a lot of trash. By the way, that press release you linked says “60,000 gallons” not pounds. Not sure how much a gallon of trash weighs but that’s still gross to imagine.

  2. K to the F says:

    I agree the garbage production is an issue but Freedom Fair can actually make quite a lovely day. Park somewhere up in the Proctor neighborhood and walk down through the cool, shaded ravine trail of Puget Creek Park in the early afternoon. That time of day the crowds aren’t so nuts and the sun not so hot. See the airshow as it’s meant to be seen not as a flyover when they’re banking over our peninsula but an impressive dance/ballet in the air and over our beautiful waters. I’m not much a fan of war myself but the flying machines largely inspired by it are a sight to behold. Then, before the rowdy evening crowds decend, stroll back up through Puget Creek and find a quiet vantage point to watch the fireworks. I like sitting in the parking strip just off the sidewalk just off Proctor St. a few blocks on N. 34th.

    Freedom Fair done right can be a great day. Pack lots of water, enjoy the walk and people watching, and make it a great day!

    Check out more pics of how fun a day it can be over on my website at

  3. Squid says:

    Yeah, except it SUX for all of us who actually live in the Puget Gulch neighborhood where seemingly half the county is parking helter skelter anywhere they can pull two wheels up on a curb, tossing their red cups everywhere, blowing off illegal fireworks that end up on rooftops, creating gridlock for hours into the night after the show, generally acting like arseholes, etc. etc. I wish it would all just go away, far far away. Thankfully it is just one lousy day. I guess I can stand it, but Freedom Fair is the furthest thing from fun I can imagine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑
  • Pages

  • Thank you to our sponsors

  • Look/Listen

  • Tacomagram

  • You like us

  • Comments & thoughts

  • Defiance in your inbox

    Subscribe to get Post Defiance newsletter style; we’ll make sure you don’t miss the good stuff.