Problems with Waste at UK festivals

Since the conception of mainstream festivals in 1970 with the first Glastonbury, festivals have been integrated within popular culture and people’s lives across the globe. People, myself included, have fallen in love with the muddy fields, camping, loud music and shocking personal cleanliness. However, after growing tired of the horrendous weather of Parklife and the monotonous lineups of Reading and Leeds, I ventured out into mainland Europe to sample an alternate festival experience.

During the summer of 2015 I travelled to Amsterdam for PITCH Festival, a non-camping festival with notable performances from Jamie xx, Hunee, Kaytranada and Evian Christ. An incredible two days of music, 30°C heat and with the festival only a short bus ride away from the hostel, a relatively cheap weekend.


PITCH festival


Then in the summer of 2016, and the focus of this article; two friends and I travelled to Germany for Melt! festival. A truly amazing festival built upon an abandoned mining factory, boasting a 24-hour sleepless stage and talent such as Fatima Yamaha, MCDE, Ben Klock, The Black Madonna and DJ Koze, to name a few.

I felt that Melt! stood out from any other festival I had previously been to, as, as any modern festival should, it truly cared about the environment and the lasting footprint that would remain after the festival. Melt! offered reasonably-priced drinks at €1.50 a pint and with this you received a deposit token, which could be redeemed for 50 cents, subsequently meaning your next pint would only cost €1 and the can would then be recycled.

Plastic bin bags were also handed out, and returning a full bag of waste could be traded for €5. These significant monetary incentives led to people cleaning up after themselves, and in some cases for students like us who had a few days in Berlin coming up, cleaning up after others.

With regards to tents, at the end of the festival, the vast majority of attendees packed up their tents and took them home or recycled them, forcing us Brits to do the same. The attitude of the Europeans was the direct cause of a greener and more pleasant festival.


Melt! festival


With 3.17 million UK festival goers producing 23,500 tonnes of waste in 2014, and 68% of that going to landfills, waste from festivals in the UK is really becoming serious problem. If we look at some more statistics from UK festivals, in 2014, 74% of the waste produced from Reading Festival was sent to landfill and offer only a 10p deposit on cups, which are then not disposed of in bins and end up in landfill.

Festival Republic state in their ‘Greener Festival’ policy that they employ 100-150 ‘Green Messengers’ across 3 festivals (Reading, Leeds and Latitude) to ‘run the recycling initiatives and spread the message across the site with great enthusiasm and passion’, which evidently people are listening to and are running with enormous success… This furthers the point that UK people and festivals and people alike are not doing enough for the environment.

Despite these facts, all is not lost. Again in 2014, Leeds Festival recycled 82.4% of waste and the smaller Larmer Tree Festival in 2015 sent nothing to landfill, turning 54% of waste into energy and recycling 46%. Glastonbury states ‘all cans, glass, paper, wood and organic waste are separated and recycled. There are 15,000 bins around the site clearly identified for either wet or dry recyclable materials or non-recyclable rubbish.’

Success will be achieved solely by a positive attitude of young people about taking care of the environment and recycling at festivals, taking lead from European festivals such as Melt! I am obviously aware of the carbon footprint created from travelling abroad to these festivals but consider a festival like Melt! when deliberating over the festival you choose this summer.

But, wherever you choose to go, think about your personal carbon footprint and how you can limit the damage to the environment.

words by James Ramsay


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