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Cleaning Up Summer Camping Festivals

While most are familiar with the “leave no trace” rule encouraged at campsites during festival season, it seems more difficult to follow at live music events.

#Festivalseason. For many music-lovers, it’s an escape for a weekend filled with celebrating music, dancing to good tunes, and a care-free state-of-mind. Unfortunately, thousands of people camping or day-tripping is a recipe for massive amounts of trash. It is a common scene to see campsites and venues abandoned at the end of a weekend riddled with food, clothing, and tents, and concert grounds trashed with glow sticks, beads, beer cans and cigarettes.

While most are familiar with the “leave no trace” rule encouraged at campsites, it seems more difficult to follow at live music events. The throw-away society cannot be escaped even by festival-goers, a predominantly Millennial demographic cited as being environmentally minded. Pollution and litter are issues far from mind for people letting loose, so waste diversion at festivals, concerts and other large events must be as much a part of the design as is staging and décor.

To put a dent in the estimated 1.5 million+ pounds of instrument string metal that go into landfills annually, instrument string manufacturer D’Addario teamed up with my company TerraCycle starting in 2015 to create Playback, a free recycling program for any brand of strings, guitar to sitar, open to all. D’Addario has directly worked with Lock’n, Afropunk, Grey Fox Bluegrass and WXPN Festival and collaborated with artists such as My Morning Jacket and Vulfpeck to recycle their guitar strings.

Cleaning Up Summer Camping Festivals


As brands in the consumer products space strive to operate sustainably, events must follow suit. Bonnaroo tackles trash by teaming up with the organization Clean Vibes. By engaging volunteers to pledge time cleaning during or after the show or educating attendees on best practices for garbage and recyclables in return for a free ticket, the group has diverted almost 16 million pounds of trash from landfills since 2000.

Rewarding attendees for doing the right thing where they are paying admission to have fun, relax and be entertained is essential to converting eco-mindedness into actions with impact. Another program incentivizing sustainable activities comes from Lollapalooza, which has a Green Card program where participants can get stamps for participating in green actions and earn a chance to win free gear.

In a quite literally “carefree” environment, access to solutions is essential to waste diversion. If an appropriate bin isn’t readily available, one has no choice but to toss things into the trash bin, or worse: litter. Not only do proper bins and alternatives to the single-use plastic bottles, cups and eating utensils need to be available, consumers must be engaged to use them.

Dubbed the most sustainable festival in North America, Lighting in a Bottle boasts extensive receptacles for garbage, recyclables and compost with clear signage, instructional literature and positive messaging around keeping it clean—important for sorting waste correctly. Outside Lands only uses compostable or biodegradable utensils and food containers, High Sierra partners with local farmers to divert food scraps from landfill, and Hangout Fest takes it up a notch by including open beach clean ups on the schedule.


Cleaning Up Summer Camping Festivals - Photo by Aranxa Esteve on Unsplash

Photo by Aranxa Esteve on Unsplash


The bigger the brand, the bigger the impact. Glastonbury, the mammoth UK festival, is banning all plastic bottles when it returns Summer 2019, citing recent estimates that five million bottles are used during the five day event. In the past employing optional programs for reusable steel pint cups to replace the need for water bottles, it is to be seen how they may scale up on this effort to provide and enforce the alternative.

Music culture reflects the values and vices of society, so if its players strive to be less wasteful, perhaps the public will be inspired. However, it is really up to the individual to make a conscious choice to produce less garbage. We’re all groundskeepers at an outdoor music festival.

Avoid single-use plastic, and bring reusable utensils if possible. Share rides to cut down on fuel and parking space, and when pitching in on food and camping supplies, care not to buy in excess. If every festival-goer picks up one piece of trash, or pledges to produce a little less waste, there will be fewer concerts filled with stepping on garbage while dancing, and more room enjoy the music. Most importantly, it’d mean less pollution for the Earth, the ultimate venue and backdrop to all festivities.

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