Trashy: Reducing Your Festival Footprint

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Ahhh festival season. The summer vibes of sunshine, good music and cold beer. And of course getting together with all your buddies. It sounds a dream, right? I mean, it is. Floating out of everyday life and into utopia really does lead to the greatest of ‘ups’. Though tragically this is followed by the a contrasting, nightmarish down as you have to wake up the next day and ‘resume life’.

Festival environments are absolute pinnacles of creativity and connection. They are an opportunity for us to put forth intention for the creative kind of life that we would like to lead. Plus – of course – immerse ourselves in a hedonist music scene. My problem, however, is the trash.

You have no doubt seen the horrendous photographs of festival grounds left looking like a post-apocalyptic no man’s land on the day the crowds disperse and make their sorry way home.

Daily Mail

What we see left behind is anything and everything not considered of value to these people: cheap tents that were bought with the intention of only being used once, cheap fancy dress costumes only intended of being used the once, food and drink packaging, clothes, shoes, sleeping bags and pretty much any other item you can think of that one would need to survive at a festival for a few days at a time.

There are three main issues that lead to this wasteland. These are problems in society at large; not simply for the few days of a year at a festival.

Packaging – especially the non-recyclable or non-biodegradable kind

You need to replenish yourself between seeing your favourite artists. This means you’ll likely hit up one of the food stalls on-site and purchase a meal and maybe a drink. It’s important to think about the packaging these are served in. One-use Styrofoam or plastic containers will outlive you. At the very least 500 years. Think about that. And you’re just one person at one music festival! That’s a hell of a footprint you’re leaving on the earth.

Some festivals are doing things oh-so-right. By this I mean only providing biodegradable or recyclable packaging. They also offer a plethora of bins specifically for these items, with the intention of encouraging the crowds to make smart choices in their disposal.

There is a way around using any packaging at all. This is what I’m determined to do for my next festival: bring my own containers for food and beverages. Vendors often don’t care what they put your portion in. Give them the cash and bring your own container. This reduces your demand on resources.

Mentality – if it’s cheap, it doesn’t matter if I only use it once

This is something that spreads far wider than a 3 day festival. It is the drive behind our fast fashion industry and cheap superstores offering bargain-price shit that won’t last. We have got it so wrong when we live by this logic, because we are leaving a lasting pile of crap to accumulate, all because we somehow think we’re getting a better deal. A cheap alternative of whatever material item will never be as good as one made well and built to last. And surely it’s better with things that will stick with you through the times than having to go to the effort to compile a collection of new one-use items each time the demand calls?

What we need – globally – is conscious consumption. Think about each purchase you make. Do you really need it? Where was it made and why whom? Will this last? Is it made well with attention to detail?

What will you leave behind when you die? The earth will keep on spinning and future generations keep on blooming, but our pile of waste on this rock continues to grow at alarming rates. It is filling our oceans, smothering our land, destroying our wildlife and ridding our planet of its natural beauty. Think about the bigger picture when you next sway towards a one-time-use object that will lie around without decaying for the rest of your life.

Responsibility –it’s an organised event so someone else will clean up, right?

This is one of the toughest conundrums, because festival organsers plan for their grounds to be destroyed by the end of the event. They thus make sure they have ample back-up support in place to implement ‘mission clean-up’ once the crowds have left. It’s a safe assumption to make, because there is indeed an ocean of litter left behind. But this also backfires because all the guests know that someone will clean up that bag of camp trash they leave behind, that water-logged tent or that welly missing a sole.

The only way I can think to get around this is to allocate a spot to each group of campers. This way, there is a name attached to that specific plot of land and so someone who has no choice but to take responsibility for the miscellaneous items left behind for someone else to clean up. But this would be a massive change to typical ‘free for all’ camping festivals so the process of implementing such a practice massive and with many aspects to plan for.

I walk the city streets and don’t generally see people throwing rubbish on the ground. Most people wait for one of the bins scattered along the pavement and do the right thing by throwing it in. At a festival, it becomes acceptable to throw your waste wherever you feel like because there is this unspoken ideology that someone hired for the job will throw it away for you, dispose of it properly.

One of the most powerful things you can do is live by example.

  1. Make a point to throw your trash away properly
  2. If you see a friend leaving stuff on the ground, politely ask them if they would like you to throw their rubbish in the bin. It’ll bring their awareness to what they’ve done without causing conflict.
  3. Think about containers you can bring with you to fill with food and drink and re-use.
  4. Think about your purchases pre-festival in preparation for the big event. What will be the life story of those items once the festival is over?

If you have any environmentally-friendly festival ideas worth sharing, please comment below as I’d love to read them!

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