Over 30 million people attend UK festivals each year (NME, 2017), and last year alone over 10,000 tonnes of unrecycled waste was produced from festivals (The Waste Place, 2018). We explore what is being done to tackle this issue and how you as a festival goer can make a difference.

When you imagine a festival and its so-called revellers, your mind may conjure up an image of an earth-loving, laid back character as seen in the Woodstock era of festivals. Here, caring for each other and the planet was the common ground that many of the festival-goers had, and the environmental impact was minimal. Further, single-use plastics and cheap tents weren’t accessible like they are in today’s throwaway culture, meaning that people were more responsible with their belongings and their disposal.

Fast-forward to current day, and the festival industry has exploded to become part of our mainstream culture. According to the Financial Times in 2017, there were more than a thousand festival events that took place, a figure that has doubled in a decade and is likely even greater now.

And not surprisingly, this massive rise in popularity for music festivals has come at a cost to the environment.

The problem

The infrastructure and waste management solutions simply haven’t been in place to support such a large increase in popularity and the subsequent waste that is produced. We may be recycling heroes at home, but it seems that these green intentions get easily left behind when in a festival environment. This is magnified by the confusion of what can and can’t be recycled, paired with the added effort it takes to dispose of something correctly.

A step in the right direction – Glastonbury Festival leading the way

Festivals are starting to take more responsibility to reduce the impacts of waste by taking steps to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place. The most notable was Glastonbury festival announcing that this year they would be ‘single-use plastic-free’. Whilst this didn’t mean the site was saved from tides of plastic aftermath, it was a step in the right direction. As identified by Sir David Attenborough, over a million plastic bottles of drinking water were saved, and also over 99.3% of tents were taken home this year - an 81% reduction when compared to the tents left in 2017.

A Glastonbury camping field this year, taken from organiser Emily Eavis

The solution

Improving recycling rates at festivals would have a significant impact on the overall carbon emissions of a festival. According to Greenbox Events, in 2015 the average recycling rates for festivals were around 24%, and they suggest that increasing this to 50% would reduce overall carbon emissions by 17%.

6 things festival organisers can do to improve recycling at festivals

  • Simplify signage – make sure it’s super clear for festival-goers to know what goes in what bin
  • Plenty of bins – make it really easy for people to recycle with bins in easy reach
  • Empty bins regularly – make sure bins don’t become full
  • Check the supply chain – make sure that your suppliers aren’t selling or giving away lots of different types of materials that aren’t readily recycled on-site
  • Set the agenda – let attendees know that recycling is a key part of the festival’s ethos
  • Use a waste supplier with a zero-to-landfill guarantee

7 ways to be a sustainable festival-goer

As a festival-goer, from the moment you pack your bags to when you leave the festival gates, there are lots you can do to be more eco!

  • Avoid single-use plastics when bringing in food and drink
  • Bring a reusable water bottle
  • Leave the wet wipes at home – many people forget that wet wipes typically contain plastic
  • A reusable cup and reusable plates and cutlery are also useful as you can use them at bars and food vendors
  • Normal glitter is a single-use plastic, so stock up on some biodegradable glitter instead
  • Recycle right by putting your rubbish in the right bin
  • Leave no trace and this includes your blow-up mattress and tent – you’ll thank yourself for the effort next time you want them for a festival!

Festivals have the potential to be a significant platform for sharing ideas, knowledge, and shifting cultural norms in our modern society. Therefore, it is extremely encouraging to see sustainability now at the heart of many festival’s agendas in recent years. An added benefit is that many revellers will see the sustainability efforts that are in place, namely the big push on recycling, and hopefully take these lessons away with them.