If you have ever seen a picture of a stage at a major music festival after the show is over then you have probably seen a huge problem plaguing many festivals. That problem is the amount of waste generated by trash left on the dance floor and pretty much everywhere at the festival. Various things like beer cans, used lighters, food containers, and other single-use items can be found littered across a live event site. However, it is not just the fact that patrons are not using the proper receptacles, it is that so much waste is being produced in the first place. It’s no shock that when tens of thousands of people congregate in one place that a surge in trash is seen. However, the amount generated over a few days is very alarming. Coachella Music Festival, for example, collects over 107 tons of waste each day. In 2015, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival created 679 tons of waste. Rolling Stone reported that “The biggest component of that waste was single-use disposable plastic: water bottles, beer cups, straws, utensils, wrappers and packaging”. This demonstrates a huge problem in the live events industry surrounding the number of single-use items used.
Hope Through Shifting Mindset
While these numbers can be shocking, there is hope as festival and event producers start to put an emphasis on being more sustainable. In an interview for XLIVE Jen Caruso of Caruso Presents stressed that first thing that needs to happen is a shift in mindset. “I worked 30 something festivals last year, and week to week and city to city, you just see the impact of how much waste we go through, and it’s staggering honestly. We create these pop up playgrounds, and really have no recourse for how the trash is diverted. We throw it together and it’s amazing and it creates all of these wonderful experiences, and then we leave. It’s kind of like out of sight, out of mind. I think, really, the responsibility falls on the patrons … as well as the producers … to shift the way we think about these things. We really need to start thinking about how we can move into these four day festivals where you don’t have to use a Solo cup for every beer that you drink. Shifting the way we think about how we do things, is something that I’m passionate about, because it is such a big deal.”
Reducing Single-Use Containers
Luckily there are a host of festivals that are working to fix the problem by eliminating the creation of waste in the first place. One festival especially conscious of the environment is Envision Festival in Costa Rica. They put so much intention on not only lessening the impact of the event but on leaving the grounds better than they found them. They focus on this so much that they won the XLIVE award for Oustanding Green Event at the 2018 FestX Awards. One of the most identifiable attributes that separate them from most festivals is the banning of single-use anything. If you want a drink at the bar you either bring your own cup or rent one from the festival. If you order a burrito, it will come wrapped in a compostable banana leaf. Their “Dishcoteca” is a place where patrons can return their dirty rented plates, silverware, or cups and get a ticket for the next time you need one of those items. This system helps those that do not bring their own items to be able to enjoy the festival more smoothly while also maintaining the sustainable ethos of the festival.
Glastonbury, one of the largest festivals in the world, is undergoing a major sustainable transformation as it preps for its 2019 rendition. The event announced that it will be banning all plastic bottles. This is huge considering that an estimated one million water bottles are estimated to be left behind every year after the five-day event. In 2014, the festival started its “war on plastic bottles” by introducing free water refill stations. In 2016, they also worked to integrate a “Love the farm… leave no trace” initiative. Now, it is finally taking the drastic measures that are needed to effect real change. Hopefully, this creates a ripple effect across other festivals and live events and they enact bans similar to the one at Glastonbury.
While banning single-use items is the most ideal change for a festival to make, if it is not viable given the behavioral changes needed to be made by the event and its attendees, then choosing more eco-friendly options like compostable food ware is a great first step in the right direction. Pairing it up with the right recycling program can also have a major impact to lessen the footprint of the event. Founders Entertainment, the company that runs Governors Ball and the Meadows have been working to make their events more eco-friendly without disrupting the fan experience. “One of the things we do is require our food vendors to have compostable foodware,” says Tom Russell, co-founder and partner in Founders told Nylon. “We also set up a recycling station at each and every trash station, and encourage people to recycle as much as possible, whether it be via social media, stage screens, or through our volunteers who are walking around encouraging people to recycle, really just hammering the message about how important it is to take care of our planet and to do what we can to make a positive impact.”
Outside Lands is one of the largest festivals in the United States leading the charge in being a more sustainable festival. In 2017 they created 400,000 tons of waste but diverted 91% of it through recycling, composting, and reusing. Not only do they ensure that all cups, utensils, plates, and bowls are compostable and put in the correct receptacle they have also enacted a refillable cup program for their beer and wine areas. One key to their success has been to collaborate with the right partners. Through a partnership with Eco-Products, they were able to ensure their vendors complied and used the proper food ware. They collaborated with Yeti to offer guests a unique bottle that could be purchased and refilled throughout the venue. Finally, by working with the non-profit Clean Vibes they were able to create a program where guests could bring recyclable items to the Trading Post to receive free items and even be entered for a chance to win free tickets to the event. Many festivals like Austin City Limits and Voodoo have implemented similar programs that encourage guests to help in their waste diversion efforts.
Whether it is making small changes like switching to compostable food ware or major ones like banning plastic completely from the event, festivals all around the world are enacting changes to have a global and local impact on the environment.While music festival may have gained a bad reputation from the amount of waste that they have generated over the years, fortunately, many are working to break those bad habits and even leave the grounds they operate on better than they found them.