When we’re half cut in the middle of a field enjoying quality music with our mates, I think we can all agree plastic waste is the last thing on our mind.
But thanks to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, the ‘unfolding catastrophe’ that is the world’s plastic pollution crisis has been brought to centre stage, and we’re thinking more and more about the effect our plastic consumption is having on the planet.
When McDonald’s decided to ban plastic straws, you can bet I was over the moon that global franchises were finally cottoning on to putting the environment above making money (admittedly, there’s still a hell of a long way to go). But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t gone on a three-day festival bender and left everything but the bag on my back as evidence, because being a hungover mess and caring for our dear planet earth doesn’t always go hand in hand.
It’s easy to make excuses for ourselves, but does anyone really know what actually happens to the masses of tents, chairs, sleeping bags and goodness knows what else, that’s left in the fields and forgotten about by hungover, dirty revellers?
I’ve often heard people say that tents and other camping paraphernalia is donated to homeless charities, but I’ve also seen first-hand the sheer shitshow that’s left after a three-day bender. Chances are, the tents are either broken, ripped, been pissed on/in and that’s before I go onto the other unmentionable things that happen in festival campsites. If you know, you know.
Sadly, it’s down to event organisers to sift through all the wreckage to find what can be recycled, but unfortunately, thanks to the mixed materials some tents are made of, this isn’t always possible.
Glastonbury’s co-organiser Emily Eavis told UNILAD:
It’s always sad to see when tents are left behind. We try to recycle what we can of what is left, however the tents that are abandoned are often in such a state they cannot be re-used and as they are made of mixed materials, they are not easily recycled either. Besides in the last few years, we’ve all begun to see how simply recycling is not really a solution.
Anything branded as single-use is a real problem for our planet. It’s unnecessary manufacture just consumes so many of our natural resources and contributes massively to climate change.
According to Beatherder festival organiser Nick Chambers the ‘someone else will do it’ mentality is the biggest problem surrounding festivals.
He told UNILAD:
The thought that someone else will sort it is really evident, like the constant public myth that ‘all the tents go to charity so it’s fine.’ Well, we all know that they don’t. In fact this is the same thought process as, ‘I’ll just drop my litter on the street as road sweepers exist/my litter is recyclable, it’s utter nonsense.’
In desperation I actually invited three charities in the aftermath of Beatherder last year, they came and took as much as they could. They might have taken 100 tents, 50 sleeping back, 50 chairs and 40 ground mats but there was still around 1,000 tents, chairs and mats there – the scale is immense.
It purely doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t. If people really want their tent to go to charity then take it home and then donate it to a charity shop or organisation there.
But, it’s not just the festival goers who are responsible for tent waste, as Nick explains it’s often down to retailers who advertise cheap ‘festival tents’, encouraging consumers to only get one use out of them.
In many cases it’s the items like the ‘festival tent’ for £12.99 – this need to stop at such a throwaway price point and they’re useless anyway. It’s the education in many ways that will benefit more than a plastic straw and we’ll be doing all we can on-site and in the build up to drive the message home, which is don’t be part of the problem, take it home and instilling the responsibility on the individual – we can all only hope.
These thoughts are echoed by Emily Eavis, who agrees the manufacturing of single-use festival products is damaging to both festival culture and the environment.
She told UNILAD:
It’s awful to imagine any tent or bit of camping equipment could be branded as single-use, especially as so many precious resources are used to make it. I think we’ve seen the damage created by this idea that something can be made to be used once and then just thrown away. We now realise that we really do have to make some changes to the way we live. And hopefully now that we’ve all finally woken up to the urgency of our predicament, there’s no going back.
We need to shift our thinking away from simply using and recycling to actually reducing what we use, and reusing things again and again instead. While they’re with us, we’d like to inspire our festival-goers to live their lives more sustainably: to refill their water bottles, avoid single-use items and be conscious of their energy use and where it comes from. And if we can help them be more aware of their lifestyles, we might turn these small ripples of action into huge waves of change.
However, both festivals are paving the way in combating the waste problem in their own way, despite being vastly different in size.
Beatherder is rewarding 15,000 its revellers with free drinks to those who fill up bags of rubbish throughout the three day festival.
The festival says:
As much as we like our litter crew, we’d rather you kept the site clean and tidy and gave them a little less to do. They could then reduce their bill and we could spend your hard earned money on something more exciting and festivally.
For the second year running, the festival will use aluminium cans to serve water, and have a total ban on single-use plastic bottles, food trays, straws and sauce packets – a trend which is catching on among UK festivals this summer.
This year, Glastonbury is teaming up with Greenpeace to create a more sustainable festival environment by banning the sale of any single-use plastic bottles.
Organisers behind the festival, which will see 135,000 people descend onto Worthy Farm, said:
Greenpeace advise that by far the best way to avoid plastic pollution is to reduce plastic usage. With more than one million plastic bottles sold at Glastonbury 2017, we feel that stopping their sale is the only way forward.
Festival organisers far and wide are starting to cotton on to how to reduce festival waste, but ultimately it’s up to us to pick up our shit, pack up our tents and have a bloody good time, without it coming at the expense of the environment.
I think we can all agree that festivals can easily be up there with some of the best experiences of our entire lives, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of the environment.
Have fun with your mates, get pissed, then pack up your shit, leave the field in the same state you found it, and everyone’s a winner.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining the LADbible Group team in 2017.