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Music Festivals Create Enormous Amounts of Waste - What Can Be Done.jpeg

Music Festival Waste and Event Sustainability - What Can Be Done?

Festivals are a temporary escape to a new world, where you can join like minded individuals, be yourself, make friends, and make memories. As festivals are becoming more expensive, attendees are not the only ones paying a steeper price tag, so is our planet. As the threat of climate change becomes more and more severe, festival producers and festival goers are looking for ways to help reduce the amount of trash produced.

Before the Festival Starts

Unfortunately, the battle for festival sustainability starts before the festival event starts.  In 2016, attendees traveled on average 903 miles to get to each music festival.  While this number may seem high at first glance, when you consider destination festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, where attendees often travel across the country or even come internationally, you can see how this number got so high.  Additionally, we've all heard horror stories of bumper to bumper traffic experienced when attempting to enter a camping festival like Bonnarroo, in which attendees can be waiting in their cars for hours.  These cars are still running, and producing C02.

What Can Be Done?

  1. Public transportation - When possible, take a bus, train, or car pool!  
  2. Go Electric - As electric buses become more and more common, we're hoping to see festivals employ them as complimentary or for-purchase methods of transportation for attendees.  If festivals with the largest number of driving attendees offered carbon-free, complimentary bus travel to its attendees, we would undoubtedly see great reception from the broader festival community.  Even if these initiatives cost money for the event producers, the praise and reception from the community and positive press would likely offset incurred costs. 

At the Festival

If we use some ballpark numbers and agree that the average music festival is 15,000 people, and the average person produces 4.5 pounds of waste per day, over a 3-day festival, we arrive at the number 202,500, which is the number of pounds of waste a festival produces.  And this is just from the attendees! 

Food Waste

Food is one of the most important parts of any music festival.  Jazz Fest in New Orleans is a 9 day mega festival at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, which many people famously attend just for the food.  Think crawfish mac-n-cheese, homemade jambalaya, soft shell crab po-boys, and more. 

The amount of food wasted from festivals can be staggering.  In a world where million of people don't know where their next meal is coming from, it's always discomforting watching large amounts of food go to waste.

A leader when it comes to festival food sustainability is Slow Food Nation Festival, and the zero-waste community supper which they held this year.  The festival employed several chefs, and challenged them to create a family style feast, using all the leftover food from the festival's food demos, workshops, parties, pop-ups, and more. 

The result?  A large closing supper which further brought attendees together, further created a community atmosphere, and even added another revenue stream for the festival as the tickets to the community supper were paid.

Compost festival.jpeg

Photo from cleanvibes.com

Single Use Plastics and Garbage

Single use plastic is cheap.  That's why festivals, restaurants, businesses, and citizens use them so much.  Luckily, many attendees are demanding reduced use of these plastics, and festivals are listening.  

Live Nation introduced a sustainability plan of being 'zero-waste' by 2030 at all their event venues.  Glastonbury implemented a ban on single use plastics as well.  Here are some initiatives we're seeing today.

  1. Paper straws, or no straws at all. 
  2. Water refilling stations, encouraging attendees to bring their own reusable water bottles.
  3. Recycling and composting!  We're seeing more and more festival include a third bucket next to the standard trash and recycling cans onsite, like the photo above.
  4. Reusable plates and cutlery.  In true camping style, we're seeing more and more festivals provide each attendee with a small set of dishes for their experience, which they can then return at the end of the event.  
  5. Technology and incentives. As more technology enters festivals from wristbands to mobile apps, event organizers can create creative incentives for attendees to limit waste.  Think the gamification of sustainability, with incentives to boot.

What's Next?

Attendees have spoken, and many festivals have listened.  The average festival goer is looking for a sustainable event, and with more and more festival options available for attendees, festivals need to listen to what their fans want.  As we move from the consumer economy to the experience economy, people want to align themselves with organizations which share their viewpoints and concerns, and want to refrain from supporting companies and brands which they don't agree with.  Transparency is key for festivals, and while the constant pursuit of sustainability may incur some costs for festival producers, the brand equity and loyalty created will undoubtedly make this a financially sound decision.  Not to mention, our planet needs it!

Learn more about event sustainability by attending XLIVE 2019, where the session Going Green: Live Events and Their Impact on the Environment will take a deep into event and festival sustainability, and the no-trace left behind ideology.

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