Resource Use

The post-party clean up

Summer may be over, but the clear-up operation of the waste created by the UK’s 6.5 million festivalgoers continues for a long while afterwards. Leonie Butler reports

This article originally featured in Resource 81 in Summer 2015. Summer isn't quite over yet...

Oh, the excitement of getting ready for a music festival. Tent: check. Preparing not to wash for at least three days: check. The promise of frenzied fun: double check. The waste you’re going to create or any thoughts about who is going to clear it up is a long way from your mind. 

However, cleaning up these ‘mini towns’ once the revellers have departed is a big operation. Glastonbury festival (pictured, below), perhaps the most well known, requires 15,000 bins and 1,300 recycling volunteers to clean up after its 135,000 attendees – estimating it costs £800,000 to clear up all the waste streams (see Resource 59).

And it’s not just Glastonbury that has to deal with such numbers. Reading Festival, Bestival, Shambala, Creamfields, V Festival and Green Man are just some of the other UK festivals attracting thousands of visitors each year. Festival organisers often have to deal with a pervasive attitude amongst festival-goers that waste isn’t their responsibility and it can all be left behind. Indeed, a recent study by Bucks New University found that 86 per cent of music festival waste comes from campsites and 60 per cent of respondents admitted to discarding of their festival tents. Further, 36 per cent said they were unsure if their behaviour would ever change, and 35 per cent were certain it wouldn’t!


The survey, comprising of 1,200 respondents from a number of countries, showed that cheap tents and camping equipment play a major part in this: of the respondents, 46 per cent surveyed paid less than £75 for theirs, and 60 per cent said they left their tent because it was broken. Only 28 per cent would accept an increase in the price of a festival to include the disposal of their tent.

Teresa Moore, Head of Department, Music and Events Management at Bucks, points to the growing number of events and festivals across Europe as exacerbating the problem, with many of those in Eastern Europe now dealing with campsite waste for the first time. She says: “We wanted to put some data behind the annual media coverage of campsite waste at festivals. What we found confirms a growing problem, which is not confined just to the UK. As tent prices continue to fall, more cheap tents are discarded at festivals. It’s time for retailers to take their share of their responsibility and work with event organisers to tackle this problem.”

In response to stats like that, the Love Your Tent campaign has been designed to bond people with their portable homes, encouraging reuse rather than waste. Founder Juliet Ross-Kelly cites the group’s collaboration with the Isle of Wight Festival as one way to change festival-goers’ wasteful habits. Launched in 2012, the ‘RESPECT’ campsite requires its temporary residents to sign up to the ‘Tent Commandments’, promising to take their tents and all belongings with them at the end of the festival. The RESPECT field at the Isle of Wight sold out within a day this year, and with so many people on the waiting list they opened up a second field.

Helen Innes, Awards Director at non-profit organisation A Greener Festival, says that the speed of improvement in festival sustainability is impressive, as long as it continues: “The sustainable festival industry across the globe has developed a lot in recent years with some festivals championing sustainable practices, hosting conferences dedicated specifically to sharing ideas, and networking with like-minded professionals that put the environment before profit. There is still a long way to go, because although there is a proportion of conscientious organisers, the festival industry is huge and there is a lot more that could be done.”

She lists a number of essential elements in creating a sustainable festival, including “prioritising reduction, recycling, reuse; ethical procurement; reducing energy consumption; implementing effective travel management, water management, land management; and communicating this effectively”, amongst others. With such dedication needed to employ green practices, Helen points out that there are still barriers that mean some festivals do not take a sustainable approach, especially when there are concerns that adopting these practices will affect already tight budgets and resources. She suggests “enforcing mandatory terms that bind suppliers and partners to adhere to requests”, such as Glastonbury’s rule that only compostable or reusable plates and cutlery can be used by traders. 

the post party clean up

A Greener Festival has a new project starting up in partnership with FareShare South West and the Nationwide Caterers Association to encourage traders not to waste edible food. The Eighth Plate, supported by WRAP, is currently being rolled out to major UK festivals, aiming to collect edible food, and cook and preserve it onsite so that it can be redistributed to people that need it.

Meanwhile, A Greener Festival Award Winner Shambala festival in Northamptonshire, attended by around 15,000 people, is also trying to lessen its environmental impact. A Recycling Exchange Initiative was introduced in 2013 to incentivise engagement in recycling, where festival-goers are charged a £10 recycling deposit fee when purchasing their tickets, which they get back if they bring a bag of recycling back. In 2013, 3,492 people used the exchanges, with any unclaimed deposit money strictly ring-fenced for improving recycling and green initiatives. Despite some critics claiming they produce ‘no waste at all’ (!), the festival says it has been a success: “For the very few people who create no waste, we encourage them to do a few minutes’ litter picking to exchange for their deposit”, says Shambala’s Aisling Mustan. “We accept that in a handful of cases, for those who genuinely create no waste, this seems tough, but the initiative seeks to address a very real, wider problem and the rates achieved through the Recycling Exchanges are 75 per cent compared to less than 40 per cent in the campsites. In our post-event survey, we had 87 per cent approval rating for the initiative.”

the post party clean up

Every waste stream is sorted onsite at source, e.g. behind blocks of traders and at each campsite pen. It is then sent to an onsite recycling yard, checked for contamination, bulked, and sent off to specific recycling facilities in separate containers. Mustan says: “This is the only way we can be confident that waste streams are dealt with properly when they leave site, as we have little confidence in most MBT or MRF plants’ efficiency – it is more often the case that large loads from festivals are simply landfilled.”

This year, the aim is to improve the festival’s overall recycling rate: “Having done a robust study of waste streams in 2014, we now know that 65 per cent of the waste produced during the festival is recyclable… We are now concentrating all our efforts on segregating waste at source throughout the site to achieve high recycling rates.”

This article was taken from Issue 81

She adds: “Like many other UK events, encouraging younger festivalgoers to clear their campsites at the end of the event is still a challenge, but families and those in camper vans are very good. This year, we have an interactive initiative to engage campers in recycling, which is lots of fun, and involves medals and improved infrastructure. This issue is currently the space race of our time for the festival industry. Our clear-up costs are not significant – less than one per cent of ticket revenues. But, having said that, we would prefer to be spending budget on creativity rather than landfill and increasing recycling targets.”

The festival has also been host to Surplus Supper Clubs in conjunction with FareShare in an attempt to tackle food waste. Moreover, in 2013, it banned bottled water completely and introduced reusable bar cups, preventing 100,000 cups and 10,000 bottles being used once and discarded, and making the festival site noticeably cleaner.

In terms of its total carbon impact (63 per cent of which is audience travel, compared to an industry-wide average of 70 per cent), it is hoping to increase the amount of people using subsidised coaches. The target of 15 per cent last year fell short by five per cent, so here’s hoping this year sees more people making a collaborative effort. Mustan concludes: “In five years, we have reduced the carbon footprint of the festival by 81 per cent by leaving no stone unturned, achieving 100 per cent renewable power, and eliminating disposable plastics by introducing reusable cups and encouraging metal water bottle use. Festivals have a unique and valuable role in providing inspiration about how we can live better, and we are proud to be industry pioneers in this way.”

So, it seems, even though you might not necessarily be able to keep clean (and hey, who cares?) at a festival, at least you can be green. 

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