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The impact of festivals

Festivals are starting to resume around the world following lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After a quiet summer, the images of masses of tents abandoned in fields across the country raise some important questions. What is the impact of festivals on our planet? How did we get here? What can we do to minimize the footprint we leave behind?

Eco friendly music festival.

The Environmental Impact

Firstly, when we talk about the impact of festivals, the first thing that we think of is abandoned tents. An estimated 250,000 tents are left annually at music festivals in Britain alone. Anyone who has used a tent knows what they’re made of – plastic. It’s no surprise that the tents left at festivals do not decompose quickly and so when they’re left behind as a single-use product there is a large volume of material to dispose of.

It doesn’t stop there. There is a string of lesser-known environmental impacts of festivals that also contribute to their overall sustainability and footprint. A case study on Glastonbury Festival found that constant walking over the ground means that the land needs a year off every 6 years to limit soil degradation. High energy consumption is another factor to consider. A massive amount of generators are required to power a festival, and what’s more that many of them were found to be inefficient because they were oversized. This inefficiency means that more fuel is used to power the generators than if at full capacity.

Festival tents.

Let’s also take a look at traditional single-use plastics used over the weekend. Most foods and drinks consumed on-site are pre-packaged or served in plastic trays and many festivals still sell single-use bottles. If you kick around in a field that’s housed a festival, it won’t take long before you find the clues; ring pulls and small pieces of debris despite the armies of litter pickers that swarm the grounds when the music is done. In fact, if you kick around the legendary Bethel field long enough, you’ll start to find pieces of litter remaining from Woodstock, over 50 years ago.

How did we get here?

The all-important question; why do we do it? Researchers have found a few potential factors when it comes to leaving litter, one of them being locational. There is evidence to suggest that our personal feeling of responsibility when it comes to littering is strongly tied to where we are. We are less likely to litter around our homes than we are on holiday as we’re more inclined to feel like it’s not our duty to maintain spaces we don’t usually spend much time in – just like festivals.

We all hate to see litter, however as people we can rationalize littering as a method of getting rid of rubbish faster by telling ourselves that our chip paper will just decompose, after all – it’s paper, right? Even paper can take 6 weeks to decompose, and when it comes to festival items such as tents decomposition time is a whopping 10,000 years.

When it comes to festivals, some attendees often note a lack of empty bins as a reason for leaving bottles and food wrappers behind. But what about the tents? Part of the issue could be that they’re marketed as ‘festival tents’ by many leading supermarkets, along with a low price point this can give the impression that they’re single-use. A cheap tent purchased at £29.99 might seem like a fair trade-off for not having to put your tent down. But, what if you’d invested in something better quality? There may not be the same hesitancy to pack your gear up and take it with you.

Tents left behind after festivals.

Credit: INS News

How can we change?

Some festivals are already taking steps to minimize waste. Many have banned the sale of single-use plastic bottles on-site and some have opted to serve food in biodegradable containers.

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) launched the ‘Drastic on Plastic’ campaign and more recently have called upon major retailers to stop marketing ‘festival tents’ and urged festival-goers to rethink leaving their belongings as part of the ‘Take Your Tent Home‘ campaign.

There are charities and initiatives now working to collect usable tents left behind at festivals to try and give some of them a second life such as Gift Your Gear, whose mission is to help young people get outdoors. This being said, we leave far more tents at festivals each year than what’s needed by these charities. This means doing our bit is still imperative.

Some companies have looked to make biodegradable tent options and others are looking to work with festivals to offer tent renting and buy-back schemes. Options like this mean that festival-goers would have the option of not having to purchase a tent and instead, picking one up from the entrance and dropping it back off once the event is over.

Single-use plastics at festival

Try packing as light as possible next time you go to a festival and invest in a good quality tent. Not only will it be more waterproof, have more space, and be less likely to break, you may also be more inclined to take it home with you. Get durable essentials too, the things you use year after year. Think raincoats, gear bags, and dry bags.

If your tent breaks during the course of the festival, check to see whether it’s fixable. There could be a simple fix that could mean your tent is ready for use next year – we love this video on fixing poles, and this one on mending zips – two of the most common breakages.

Think about sharing a tent with your mates wherever possible. Many hands make light work when it comes to putting down your tent and cleaning your campsite!

Did you go to a festival this year? Let us know what the aftermath was like, and whether you saw new ways of cutting down waste at festivals.