Glastonbury has never been neat and tidy. The UK music festival that started life on a Somerset farm in 1970 celebrates freedom and alternative lifestyles, now drawing 135,000 people for a wild five-day extravaganza.
But as the festival has grown, so has its impact on the local environment. The hangover from five days of fun has become notorious. Volunteers work for days cleaning up the detritus left behind when a city-sized crowd suddenly sets up camp in a field, before vanishing just as quickly.
Now the organisers are cracking down, banning the sale of single-use plastic bottles for this year’s festival in June. At the last event held in 2017, more than a million plastic drinks bottles were sold. This year, festival goers are being encouraged to bring reusable containers, which they can fill up for free at hundreds of taps which are connected to mains water all over the site. The number of Water Aid kiosks is also being tripled, and free drinking water will be available from all the bars.
Traders who previously sold drinks in plastic bottles will switch to aluminium cans, which are recycled much more easily. In 2017, the festival’s on-site recycling centre processed 45 metric tons of aluminium, and expect significantly more this year. The ban will apply to artists backstage as well as festival goers.
The festival had previously stopped food traders using plastic plates and cutlery, insisting that they use compostable materials instead. Drinks bought from the bar are served in reusable steel cups. All drinking straws are made of paper instead of plastic, and even the entry wristbands are made of cloth.
Organiser says Emily Eavis says “It’s paramount for our planet that we all reduce our plastic consumption, and I’m thrilled that, together, we’ll be able to prevent over a million single-use plastic bottles from being used at this year’s Festival. I really hope that everyone - from ticket-holder to headliner - will leave Worthy Farm this year knowing that even small everyday changes can make a real difference. It’s now or never.”
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Glastonbury isn’t the only event to try to clean up its act. More than 60 independent festivals in the UK have promised to phase out all single-use plastic by 2021. California’s Coachella has banned plastic straws, and the world’s largest concert promoter, Live Nation, has promised to do the same.
The scale of plastic pollution is immense. The UN Environment Programme estimates at least 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year - that’s the equivalent of a garbage truck every single minute. Plastic bags and other trash choke marine animals and destroy ecosystems like coral reefs. Microplastics make their way into the food chain, filling the stomachs of creatures from turtles and whales to seabirds. And the plastic going into the sea now will last for centuries.
Currents can transport plastic pollution to all corners of the planet. It has been found in the stomachs of birds living on remote islands in the Canadian Arctic, and in the sediments at the bottom of the deepest trenches of our oceans. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that, if current trends continue, by 2050 plastic will outweigh fish in our oceans.
Many manufacturers have pledged to reduce single-use plastic, pledging to make 100% of their packaging ready for recycling or composting by 2025. As the World Economic Forum’s “Towards a Circular Economy” report notes, there are potentially huge economic, as well as environmental, benefits in the transition to more sustainable use of resources.
So anyone lucky enough to have secured a ticket to this year’s Glastonbury in the half an hour before they sold out can let their hair down and dance along to Stormzy and Kylie Minogue, happy in the knowledge they are taking a small step towards reducing their impact on the environment. But it still won’t protect them from the mud.