What Can Festivals Learn from Extinction Rebellion?

*This article is part of Insider Insights’ Sustainable Summer series, in which we dedicate half of our monthly output to guidance on decreasing the environmental impact of festivals.

Damon Culbert works for The Juice Guru, a UK based mobile juice vendor. The Juice Guru is dedicated to sustainability and all of its products are compostable and recyclable.

In every facet of our lives, going green is becoming more vital than ever. Driven by the UN Secretary’s words at the end of 2018 (‘humanity and life on Earth now face a direct existential threat’), Extinction Rebellion is a group which has formed to fight against climate change on a global scale. By following a decentralised organisation strategy, Extinction Rebellion have created a community movement that involves thousands of people and has made eco-consciousness cool.

Following the latest protests in London during April 2019, critics of the movement took to Twitter to accuse the group of leaving waste strewn across Hyde Park, falsely using an image from the nearby 420 festival.

The Hemp Trading Company posted the image on Facebook, claiming that they were ashamed of attendees of the festival for their disregard for the environment. This stark contrast highlights just how important it is for community events like festivals to commit to conservation ideals due to their ability to bring people together and the respect that regular attendees have for the space they use each year.

In 2018, 10% of festivalgoers abandoned their tents after a festival, equating to 875 tonnes of plastic waste. 93% of festivals have pledged to ditch plastic straws, but when the average tent equates to 8,750 straws each, festivals still have a long way to go to reduce their impact on the environment.

Teresa Moore, Director of A Greener Festival, has stated that while some festivals collaborate with charities to collect tents, this has now become a festival myth that means even more tents are left behind and eventually sent to landfill. This is not only an example of how festival culture affects the levels of waste left behind but also how festival producers must be dedicated to raising awareness of just how attendees can best contribute to the aims of the festival.

Many festivals have already put conservation strategies and targets into place, such as going plastic-free, using recyclable entry bands and promoting biodegradable glitter. Glastonbury has run the ‘Love the farm, Leave no Trace’ campaign since 2008, asking patrons to reduce, reuse and recycle, as well as ensuring food vendors use biodegradable materials. However, there are still many issues that producers, vendors and attendees need to face before festivals can be truly dedicated to environmental consciousness.

Festival organisers need to ensure that sustainability is at the heart of planning, so that every feature of the festival is best optimised to reduce waste and promote renewability. Organisers need to not only make environmentally conscious decisions but also influence their attendees to make conscious decisions too. Issues that need to be faced include:

  • Energy usage, and ensuring contractors are following environmentally friendly practices
  • Making sure there are enough, clearly marked facilities for recycling, waste and water to discourage litter and single-use plastics
  • Clean-up procedures and the amount of waste being sent to landfill, as well as how non-landfill waste procedures are undertaken, for example whether waste is simply being burned
  • Festival culture, including patrons’ awareness of the sustainability efforts of the festival and how they are a collective responsibility

Food & drink vendors are becoming more conscious of their effect on festival waste and many festivals have reusable cup bar initiatives and biodegradable serveware. For those that don’t, some issues that must be tackled include:

  • Single-use plastics, non-compostable or recyclable materials and food waste. All of these issues cost money to remove from festival grounds and results in much larger landfill contributions
  • Recycling during sales time – with their own products, vendors can reduce waste levels by having committed recycling practices of their packaging during the festival
  • Waste either from products or packaging being left for volunteers to clean up once the festival is over

While the systemic practices of festivals need to be tackled by those involved in its production, attendees must also dedicate their time at a festival to being as waste-free as possible. The most common issues at all festivals are:

  • Waste, including food packaging, toiletries and drinks containers not being recycled properly
  • Tent waste, one of the largest contributions to festival waste
  • A culture of leaving waste behind, taking more than necessary to festivals and poor recycling practices, often due to improperly implemented systems

Many of the larger festivals in the UK have implemented a number of practices to help tackle their negative environmental contributions, but for all festivals, here are a few top tips to making a start on reducing waste and promoting sustainability.

Use recyclable serveware

Using compostable plates and cutlery, and banning the sale of plastic bottles across all concessions will help drastically reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials being distributed and left behind. Be sure to provide recycling bins for both festivalgoers and catering teams, and make sure recycling is clearly signposted and promoted for both attendees and vendors. Distinctly differentiated bins will also help prevent contamination of recyclables.

Involve contractors

Contractors such as energy suppliers and waste management companies must also hold the same sustainability standards, and making this a necessity will encourage them to include sustainability practices in their bids.

Change festival culture

Ensuring festivalgoers understand what eco-conscious practices you are following will encourage them to get involved. This can be done by suggesting the greenest travel methods, raising awareness on plastic waste and being clear about how tents are disposed of once the festival is over.

Recycling rewards

Some festivals may also want to set up rewards for volunteers, such as money off tickets, VIP entry or coming up with an exclusive reward for those who help with the clean up.

As climate change becomes a climate emergency, it’s the responsibility of collective events like festivals to help bring people together in support of the environment and work on changing practices from top to bottom.