Glittered faces, fields crammed with tents and headline acts are what make summers memorable for so many people – but the environmental impact of festivals is often forgotten. A 2015 report calculated that 23500 tonnes of waste was produced by UK festivals every year, 68% of which ended up either in landfill or an incinerator. Both of these disposal methods have their own consequences for the environment: while rubbish in landfill leaks pollutants into the earth and denies the “embodied energy” of the waste a chance to be used sustainably; incineration releases greenhouses gases, as well as nitrogen dioxide, contributing to acid rain and having harmful effects for our lungs.
The festivals themselves create nearly 100 kilotons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. Fossil fuels are being burned to power the performances, create the infrastructure and provide food and water and, while these may seem to be unavoidable necessities, there are ways in which this considerable carbon footprint can be reduced, such as using locally sourced ingredients for the food provided by the festival. It has been found that often the equipment used for the stage performances will use up to double the power necessary, and so by just using more efficient pieces of apparatus, we could cut down on a significant portion of emissions. However, the majority of the CO₂ released actually comes from travel to and from the festivals, and it is certainly within our own power to car-share, use public transport and take advantage of the coaches that many festivals provide. Glastonbury’s “Green Traveller” initiative even offers perks to those who take these options, including festival t-shirts and free yogurt!
Audience surveys show that the environment is an important consideration for the majority of festival goers, and so there is an increasing push to create greener events. For example, Latitude recycled 55% of waste and sent none to landfill sites, while Bestival runs all its campsites on waste vegetable oil and repurposes left over tents and camping equipment for those who need it, which would otherwise end up in landfill. There is a growing effort across the UK music festival industry to increase the use of renewable energies such as wind and solar power, pioneered by the likes of Croissant Neuf Summer Party and Shambala festival, both of which run on renewable energy alone.
Largely, it is in the hands of the festival organisers and suppliers to determine how eco-friendly their events are. However, there are many things we can do ourselves to reduce the negative impact that the festivals we go to have on the environment, whether this be by recycling, using biodegradable glitter, taking our tents home to be used again, or sharing a car with a stranger. All of these choices will add up, and by voicing our opinions and raising awareness of the issues we can continue towards a future of greener and more sustainable festivals.
OCS Media and Research Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.