Climate Action

This is how music festivals are tackling plastic waste

tonnes-of plastic waste is-produced-by-music-festivals

Figures from the UK show an estimated 23,500 tonnes of plastic waste is produced by music festivals each year Image: REUTERS/Petr Josek

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Crisis

The tons of plastic waste that is generated at music festivals can create a serious environmental problem and a major challenge for festival organisers. But here is how they are tackling it!

It’s been 50 years since the legendary Woodstock music festival was staged in New York State. Performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker helped establish music festivals as a celebration of counterculture. Opposition to military campaigns, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction were embraced by the hundreds of thousands of music fans that went to Woodstock and millions who attended subsequent festivals.

The UK’s Glastonbury Festival is now one of the biggest in the world. The logos of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Greenpeace still adorn the various stages. But in recent years, it's been the images of the festival site (with mounds of plastic waste) after the revellers have gone home that has made headlines.

Plastic waste littered around on the grounds Image: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

The sight of mountains of plastic waste and thousands of abandoned tents littering the grazing pasture of Worthy Farm have dented the environmental credentials of Glastonbury and many other festivals.

A BBC investigation into the environmental impact of music festivals shows reducing plastic pollution is now a major challenge for festival organisers. Figures from the UK show an estimated 23,500 tonnes of waste are produced by music festivals each year – about the same weight as 78 fully loaded Boeing 747 airplanes. Research shows that major festivals in the US, such as Coachella, Stagecoach and Desert Trip, generate around 100 tonnes of solid waste each festival day.

Figures for plastic waste generated in music festivals Image: Powerful Thinking

Tackling plastic waste

Now, organizers of festivals around the world are fighting back with a range of eco-friendly initiatives. Here are some of the most popular.

Greener catering

The organizers of Denmark’s Roskilde festival revamped the way drinks are served at the site’s bars to reduce the amount of single-use plastic used.

Festival goers were sold reusable plastic cups that they could bring back to the bar for refills. The glasses were cleaned in a washing machine the size of a van, before being filled again, rather than thrown away after being used once.

Each cup could be washed up to 25 times. At the end of the festival, customers could return the cups and claim a partial refund on their initial deposit. The return rate was around 92%.

Banning plastic bottles

For the 2019 festival, the organizers at Glastonbury banned the sale of plastic water bottles. More than a million water bottles were sold at Glastonbury in 2017, so the saving on plastic waste is significant. There is no ban on festival-goers bringing plastic water bottles onto the site but they are encouraged to bring a refillable container instead. Free drinking water is provided at hundreds of taps across the festival site, as well as at all the bars.


What is Loop and how does it work?

Take your tent home

The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals has launched a campaign against single-use tents. Festival organisers are targeting retailers who market so-called ‘festival tents’ as disposable items. They’re encouraging anybody coming to a festival to buy a sturdy, reusable tent and to make sure they take it home with them.

The AIF estimates that 250,000 tents are abandoned at festival sites in the UK every year. Many people leave them behind in the mistaken belief that the tents are recycled or donated to charities. In fact, the vast majority of them are impossible to recycle and contribute to plastic waste.

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