Festival season is in full swing in the UK and Europe, with over one million people attending live music events in London alone, in the first week of July. Glastonbury festival in Somerset, UK attracted a crowd of around 210,000 people. Tomorrowland, Belgium is set to double even that total in a few days time.

It’s easy to understand the popularity of events like these – festivals offer a unique chance to spend time outdoors with friends, watch live music, absorb culture, and take a break from reality. However, huge volumes of visitors, plus the staff and equipment that are needed to make festivals possible, naturally come with serious environmental consequences. From energy usage to wildlife disturbance to pollution, the impacts of outdoor music events are numerous.

On the other hand, while some may choose not to attend, boycotting festivals is not the only option for eco-conscious music-lovers. There are many ways of reducing your environmental footprint when attending these events, and you still get to still dance to great music in a big field with a drink in your hand. Here are our top four “do’s and don’ts” for more sustainable festival-ing.

Don’t…Leave litter and rubbish!

This one goes without saying, but recent research has shown that music festivals generate 25,800 tonnes of waste per year in the UK alone. That’s a huge amount of waste to dispose of even if it is put in bins and separated for recycling. The truth is, despite the efforts of clean-up teams, plastic and other litter can get into the environment by wind, waterways, or being buried in soil over time. Clean-up operations only take place on the grounds of the festival so litter that makes its way out of these bounds usually stays there.

Do…Take responsibility for your waste!

The best thing you can do to help festival waste disposal is to create less in the first place. Save on single-use items like water bottles, and rain ponchos by bringing your own reusable water bottle and rain coat. If you are a smoker, consider carrying a pocket ashtray or using a refillable vape. If you can, try bringing a reusable drink cup with you and ask if you can use it instead of disposable cups when you buy a drink. Some events are even starting to introduce reusable cup initiatives, such as Norway’s Oya festival, which also serves food in compostable containers and recycles over 60% of its waste. In the UK, major festivals are yet to take on reusable cups, but City to Sea’s Refill Campaign offers a guide for their introduction, which individuals can support here.

Don’t…Forget to take into account your transport emissions.

In the UK, studies have found that around 80% of an event’s carbon footprint comes fromtransport emissions (including audience, artists’, crew and suppliers’ travel). Recent reports state that on average 70% of audience members travel to UK festivals by car. Since, on average, cars produce around 180 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre while trains and coaches emit less than a quarter of that, choosing public transport over car travel makes a huge difference. Plus, with fuel costs rising, it might even be cheaper!

Do…Travel less and travel greener.

Music festivals are everywhere- instead of getting sucked in to the biggest and most famous events, why not check out some lesser-known festivals that are local to you?  If you do have to travel, you can make the most of travelling more sustainably by taking advantage of various incentives provided by certain events, such as entry-and-travel tickets, bicycle services, and train discounts.

Don’t…Buy new things just for the purpose of a festival.

The number of tents, chairs and other camping equipment that are left behind after these events is an indicator of the number of people who buy those things accepting that they are unlikely to keep them for future use. Festivals also tend to generate a lot of sales for the fast fashion industry due to people buying single use ‘festival fashion’ outfits, which brings a whole new list of environmental impacts into the mix.

Do…Reuse your festival gear!

If taken proper care of, decent quality camping equipment can give you years of use and happy memories. We recommend buying good quality camping gear and making it last, or if you don’t like the hassle of packing up, many festivals offer special packages with tents provided. If you don’t already have camping gear, try looking for second-hand things online, in charity shops, or at car boot sales and camping exhibitions. The same applies to festival outfits! Second hand clothing has seen a huge rise in popularity in recent years and for good reason – kilo sales, resale apps like Depop and Vinted, and online vintage retailers have made buying second hand clothing more accessible than ever.

Don’t…Avoid the bathrooms.

 Given the questionable cleanliness and long queues that can come with festival bathrooms, you could be forgiven for wanting nothing to do with them. With that in mind, baby wipes and deodorant may seem a preferable option to showering, and a discrete patch of grass may be more appealing than a wait for the toilets. However, peeing on the ground is a big source of pollution. This applies to everyone, but it is particularly important that people don’t use the land as a toilet when under the influence of drugs, which can enter the environment that way and are toxic to wildlife. The “baby-wipe-shower” is also problematic, as it creates a lot of waste in disposable wipes, which can take up to 100 years to decompose.

Do… try your best!

We’ve all found ourselves caught far away from a bathroom but desperately needing to go. Most big festivals provide plenty of toilets but it can be difficult to make your way through a big crowd, or maybe you don’t want to go too far away and not be able to hear the artist you’re seeing. In these cases the best advice is: go before it starts! When it comes to showers, you could take the opportunity to be a little smelly for a few days, or you could invest in a camping shower (which you can fill up from festival water points).

Event Responsibility

Whilst festival-goers should do all we can to minimise our environmental impact, it goes without saying that event holders have a very big role to play in ensuring the sustainability of their festivals. The live music industry is waking up to climate and environmental issues and there are an increasing number of festivals that represent a good example for others to follow. On top of that, it has to be said that artists themselves have significant influence over how their performances are delivered. Take Billie Eilish’s ‘Overheated’ climate conference, Coldplay’s low-carbon world tour, and the 1975’s vegetable oil-powered gig for a few examples.

These things considered, we are left with one very big Do… support sustainable festivals!

Be Curious!

  • Take action with Music Declares Emergency.
  • Involved in event planning or management? Download the Sustainable Festivals guide for a comprehensive list of sustainability measures and how to implement them (skip to page 76 for English translation).
  • Volunteer for an environmental cause at a festival, for example Greenpeace or WWF.
  • Check out the Festival Liftshare website- the next best thing to public transport is having the maximum number of passengers per car.
  • Share this article with your festival mates! The more people being influenced to make sustainable choices, the better.

Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash

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