Mission Green: Music Festivals

Are festivals doing enough for the environment?

Mission Green: Music Festivals

If there’s one thing that Covid-19 has allowed us to reflect on this year, it’s the environment. We’ve had time to get back in touch with nature – by spending the summer gardening, by getting back on your bike and exploring the outdoors, or simply by noticing the wildlife outside your bedroom window since working from home.

During this pandemic, there has been less traffic on the roads. Less planes in the sky. People have shopped more locally, in an attempt to support local businesses. More people are becoming veggies and vegans. This all sounds great, right? But what will happen next? Will we continue to be mindful about the environment once this pandemic is over, or will we return to our old, oblivious habits?

The funny thing is, during Covid-19 many people have (understandably) called the UK government out for its poor planning and lack of urgency. Locking down the country, closing schools, having stricter travel rules – these are all things that, arguably, should have been implemented sooner. Many people understand that acting sooner is far better than acting later. So why aren’t we treating the environment the same way? The longer we manage to brush off climate change, the closer we are to the point of no return.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we’re only 1.5 degrees away from the effects of global warming being irreversible. If we don’t do something now, it really will be too little too late.

As we head back into a world of commuting to work, going out for meals, and holidays abroad, we shouldn’t be aiming to return to the same pre-Covid life. We should be returning to a better one. But how?

Each month I’m going to be looking at a certain topic – from film to food, travel to music – and talking about what can be done to make it a more eco-conscious, sustainable place.

I’m kicking things off with a good look at music festivals. I’ve really missed music festivals. Summers spent at free-spirited music gatherings, complete with welly boots and glitter galore, feel like a distant, untouchable memory. But what will they look like post-Covid, and how can they become more sustainable?

The journey there

Before we even head to the festival, we have to think about how we're actually getting there. A whopping 80% of UK festivals’ carbon footprint comes from transportation. Lots of festivals are pushing for their attendees to arrive via public transport – a much greener option compared to cars. I know, I know, the thought of lugging a rucksack, tent, food, and whatever else you’ve packed, on a train or bus isn’t exactly fun. It would, however, make a huge difference if more of us did it. Many festivals charge an arm and a leg for parking for this reason. Some, like the UK’s Glastonbury and Budapest’s Sziget festival, even supply shuttle buses.

Others are encouraging those who do have to drive to cram their car with as many people as possible to reduce the amount of traffic heading to the festival. Coachella rewards those who carpool with backstage passes, merchandise, and other prizes.

Back to the roots

We all know the lack of festivals in 2020 (and maybe 2021 too) has been a right downer, but it did have the advantage of letting the land ‘heal’. This is something that Glastonbury typically does – it has a ‘fallow year’, the last one being in 2018 – to let the land recover from the pressure of thousands of people dancing on it. But with no festivals in the past year, more land has been given a chance to recuperate. Silver linings, right?

A load of rubbish 

Let’s be honest, festivals are pretty notorious for producing mountains of waste. I’m sure you can picture it now: a muddy field scattered with battered camping chairs, abandoned tents riddled with rips, beer cans littering the ground. In fact, UK festivals create 23,500 tonnes of waste annually, according to Powerful Thinking, and three quarters of this ends up in landfill.

But this can be tackled. A majority of festivals now use reusable plastic cups, and food stalls often offer recyclable packaging and cutlery. And when it comes to abandoned items like tents, sleeping bags and unwanted food, lots of festivals have been donating these to charity. Green Man, a festival held in the Brecon Beacons, has donated these items to refugees in Calais, for example.

Meanwhile, the movement #TakeYourTentHome has encouraged many people to clean up after themselves. The AIF (Association of Independent Festivals) states that  around 250,000 tents are left at UK festivals yearly. Sure, the thought of lugging a manky tent back home with you after a weekend of partying may seem unappealing, but if everyone did it, what a difference this would make. Festival tents are typically branded as single-use throwaway items, but the average tent is made of the equivalent of 250 pint cups. And most of this is ending up in landfill, unless we change our attitude.

For further encouragement, some festivals like Reading and Leeds are considering placing a £25 deposit on tents. Turn up, scan your tent in, pay a fee. You get your money back if you take the tent home with you. It’s a simple yet effective concept.

Holding accountability

The environmental impact of festivals isn’t just down to the attendees – it’s a responsibility the organisers need to address too. Luckily, progress is being made, with over 30 UK festivals signing the Vision:2025 Pledge which aims for festival-related emissions to be down by 50% by 2025.

But while many festivals are having to adapt towards a greener outlook, some have been doing that from the very beginning and there are more eco-friendly festivals now than ever before. Shambala, a music festival in Northamptonshire, is committed to being as sustainable as possible. They don’t offer any meat or fish at any of their food stands, the event runs on 100% renewable power, and they’ve reduced their carbon footprint by over 80%. Meanwhile, there’s We Love Green festival in Paris, Primavera Sound in Spain – they’re popping up everywhere.

Banning the baddies 

Many items are slowly being removed from the festival scene to make them greener, such as single-use plastic, straws, and of course, glitter. This stuff may look fabulous, but it’s also pretty awful for the planet, as glitter contributes towards our growing microplastics problem.

In 2018, 61 UK festivals banned glitter. Today, it looks like the material might be on its way out of the UK completely, with various supermarkets and big brands banning it too. Glitter is one of the most stereotypically ‘festival’ products out there, and yet we’ve kicked it out because the environment is more important. If we can do it with glitter, we can do it with other things too.

Following the trends 

It’s not just about what festivals can do, but rather what they should do. With more people becoming more eco-conscious, there’s a higher expectation for music festivals to be sustainable. A 2019 study by Ticketmaster discovered that two-thirds of festival goers want to see waste-reduction initiatives at festivals, and over half want these events to be more eco-friendly in general.

Ben Robinson, co-founder of festival Kendal Calling, believes that Covid-19 has given festival organisers time to brainstorm new sustainable ideas. He told Access All Areas magazine: “People who work on festivals are very versatile and innovative, so with Covid we have been given the opportunity to take a fresh look at how and why we do things.”

Not only this, but with event management courses on the rise in the UK, more young people with new ideas are heading into the festival industry. University student Emma Tait, who studied event management in Liverpool, even sent her dissertation about sustainable music festivals to David Attenborough last year.

Eco-friendly needn’t be a niche category for UK festivals - they should all be working to be greener in today’s world. I can’t wait for festivals to return, but when they do, it better be worth it.

Header Image Credit: Pexels


Juliet Sawyer

Juliet Sawyer Contributor

Juliet is a tea drinking, procrastinating, cat lover based in the south west. Since studying journalism at uni, she works as a rope technician and marketing assistant by day, and runs a blog by night. You might spot her in the wild at her local climbing wall... or down the pub.

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  • Elle Farrell-Kingsley

    On 15 February 2021, 15:49 Elle Farrell-Kingsley Contributor commented:

    Great to see that festival-goers want to see a cleaner festival environment too! I hope we begin to see some change!

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