How to Be Sustainable at a Festival: A Guide for an Eco-Friendly Experience

Young girl at Positivus festival, Salacgrīva, Latvia – How to Be Sustainable at a Festival A Guide for an Eco-Friendly Experience

After two years of hanging in the balance, music festivals are back on the cards. Pre COVID, the festival scene was booming, and there were an untold number of them taking place all over the globe.

In the years preceding the pandemic the outdoor events industry was beginning to come under intense scrutiny for its sustainability (or lack thereof) practices.

Large-scale events like Glastonbury and Coachella effectively create small towns and cities in idyllic scenery so that we can let loose for a long weekend.

But because of competition and the fact that we generally aren’t willing to forgo our smashed avo toast or skinny soya lattes even for a weekend. Festival organizers need to bring a whole ton of plastic, food, and other waste. According to the BBC nearly 25800 tonnes, to be exact, and that’s just in the UK!

It’s not all doom and gloom, though, thanks to the likes of vison2025 pushing the industry towards becoming more circular.

“Vision: 2025 is a growing network of over 500 outdoor events and businesses taking positive climate action. We provide the industry’s roadmap for a shared journey toward net-zero and the knowledge to help get there; tools, resources, guides, news, case studies, green suppliers directory, and events that connect people.” – from the Vision 2025 website

Before we get too carried away with pointing the finger at event organizers and their responsibilities to us and the environment. Let’s take a minute to consider ourselves and where we fit into the picture.

Yip, that’s right. I’m talking to all the Wellington Boot wearing festival warriors out there. How can we be more sustainable for the next festival season?

According to a study done by Ecolibrium, nearly 80% of emissions around field music festivals are produced by audience travel to and from the venue.

If we consider this one statistic, it’s clear how much of an impact each festival-goer has.

So get ready for some knowledge bombs to help you and your crew give a telepathic high five to mother nature this festival season.

1. Travel eco-consciously

Yip, the trip to and from the festival is the biggest carbon footprint issue facing the outdoor event industry, including top UK airports.

There are several different ways that we can all reduce the impact of travel and many festival organizers realize this and help by arranging shuttles to and from the nearest train or coach stations.

Train travel is far more eco-friendly than air travel is. So if you are heading abroad for a festival why not consider if the train will get you there and back.

In fact, you can travel directly between London and Amsterdam on the Eurostar with far less stress than Heathrow or Gatwick airport security will cause you. Not convinced you can travel without flying? Then check out this article.

If you can’t get to a festival on the train, then look into carpools or coach trips run by the organizers. Many festivals have bookable coach/bus options from nearby cities and feel free to ask them if you can’t see any on their website.

2. Avoid single-use items & packaging

We all know the apocalyptic scene at the end of the headline artist each night. The feeling of plastic bottles littered all over the floor. And let’s be honest, it would take a saint of a human to say that they have never dropped their plastic water bottle and left it there.

So in preparation for the upcoming festival season, why not look into getting a reusable drinking vessel. Extra points if you buy one that’s already made from recycled materials.

So instead of hoping that the organizers recycle the plastic drinking bottles, you can take matters into your own hands and do refills. Oh yes, and it’s also way cheaper to refill your water bottle from onsite facilities.

And this principle also goes for your morning coffee. Avoiding single-use coffee cups also goes a long way to becoming a greener festival reveller.

Since we are on the topic of single-use throw-away stuff, let’s talk about the dreaded festival tent.

It’s staggering just how many of these get left in the camping fields year after year. According to the BBC, the average tent is equivalent to 8750 plastic straws. So if you don’t have the budget to glamp or boutique camp, then be sure to take your tent off the premises (more on that later).

After that, you can give it to charity, or once those post-festival blues have worn off, you may look at your shelter more fondly and decide to take it to your next festival.

3. Replace wet wipes with a cloth and bowl

Face wipes can be all you need to get ready for another round once that sun starts to bake inside that polyester oven you’ve slept in.

But here’s the thing. They are terrible for the environment. Plus, they look extra gross when you see them littered all over the pathways through the campsite.

The vast majority of them aren’t bio-degradable either, so they will inevitably end up in a landfill.

Why not go the old school way and take a cloth and bowl with you? In addition, you get the bonus of having to go get the water which inadvertently will do wonders to reduce that hangover.

4. Use naturally biodegrading festival glitter, not compostable

All that glitter looks great, and your Insta photos are going to make everyone not attending have a severe case of FOMO.

Just know that the vast majority of glitter is made from plastic. So that’s what you might be washing away (hopefully with your cloth and bowl) each time.

That’s an easy solution (I hear you say). I can get some biodegradable glitter. Not so fast. You need to investigate these products in more detail. Does it biodegrade in nature, or is it compostable?

What’s the difference? Well, products that say they biodegrade by composting need a range of different factors to be present for that to happen. Such as specific temperatures, pressure, and bacteria to biodegrade correctly.

So unless you are willing to pick up every piece you use and then take it to a compostable plant, you’re better off getting one that biodegrades in nature. Meaning it can decompose in landfills.

There are some brands that specialize in bio glitter, such as:

5. Say no to fast fashion

Vintage shopping and thrifting are the best ways to avoid feeding the fast fashion pollution machine. Plus, if you’re wearing a rare vintage rave coat, you just look more original!

The likes of H&M and Zara might appeal to your budget, but they don’t do well for mother natures budget.

Supporting independent thrift stores not only keeps your hard-earned money out of the greedy corporate world but also supports the local market and high street.

Thrifting is a fantastic way to keep clothing circulating and give it a second breath of life as part of your festival attire.

Another option is for you to purchase clothing at independent boutiques that you find in the festival venue. Look out for pop-ups like Jack Fruit, who have a large array of colorful and fun hoodies, sweaters, jewelry, and other interesting items in the UK festival circuit.

By supporting these pop-ups, you are also making the festival itself viable. The whole aim is to be circular. So stick it to the man (in this case, fast fashion) and trust in the saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

6. Take everything home with you

Once the festivities end and the inklings of the post-festival blues are beginning to appear in the back of your mind. Many of us festival heads have a flight response.

In this case, that translates into leaving everything except the clothes you’re wearing and maybe your sleeping bag or backpack.

This is a no-brainer. At the very least, we should pack up everything that we brought with us and take it home. Extra points if we can pick up as much litter as possible on the long walk to the car park, train station, or pick-up point.

Earlier, we mentioned tents, and it’s worth mentioning again because they are a massive trash problem festival organizers face. So please take a deep breath, break it down and carry it offsite.

And remember, if you’re not prepared to take your tent back with you, cough up the dough and get a pre-pitched glamping or boutique option.

7. Choose a festival that is actively committed to sustainability

Earlier, we mentioned that the whole picture must be circular to be sustainable. And this also includes attending festivals that walk the walk when it comes to being the best sustainable festivals out there.

There are more green festival options available now than there have ever been. So it’s not like your choice is limited anymore.

DGTL festival in Amsterdam is at the forefront of the circular economy concept. Check out the video below to see how they have done this.

Terraforma in Italy does a brilliant job by considering everything from water usage to travel and even repurposing old stages for each edition after.

And North festival in Denmark became the first major festival with 100% green power. At the same time, all its food & alcohol is 100% organic, except beer (94%).

Those are just some of the pioneers of sustainable festivals. So before you click buy on your next festival ticket, be sure to ask them what sustainable policies they follow and see if they match with your beliefs.

Final Thoughts

After having to wait so patiently for so long to get back to a summer festival season, it’s easy to forget how to be a greener festival-goer.

But being equipped with knowledge about how we can do more for mother nature while in her backyard is key to making sensible choices.

And while there are plenty of ways we can act more sustainably at festivals, the ones mentioned in this article are:

  1. To make more sustainable travel choices. Either through carbon offsetting or selecting eco-friendlier methods of travel.
  2. Please avoid single-use items, whether that be plastics, paper cups, and plates, or other things that we throw away immediately.
  3. Go old school and replace wet wipes with a cloth and bowl of water.
  4. Not allowing marketing to fool us by claiming glitter is compostable. Instead, go for naturally certified glitter products.
  5. Saying no to fast fashion. And rather heading to the local thrift or charity shop instead of H&M or Zara.
  6. Leave no trace. Check out this article for a deep dive into the topic.
  7. Align ourselves with festivals that actively act on sustainability and attend these events over ones that don’t.

I, for one, am incredibly excited about the summer after the pandemic and can’t wait to get back to enjoying my favorite artists surrounded by festival-goers and not trash.

What are your thoughts? Are there any ways that you practice being sustainable that I missed? Be sure to leave a comment below and get the discussion flowing.

Mathew is a music festival and travel lover living in Mallorca. He writes about unusual boutique music festivals and off the beaten path travel experiences at On The Beating Travel.