As the Summer tide rolls in, the first fragrances of festival season waft on the breeze. Bring on day time boozing. Wandering from stage to stage under the sun. Music to be experienced like a delectable assortment of tapas: your favourite performers and always, something new and surprising.
Climate change might be the subject furthest from your mind. But as a growing number of festivals move towards greener measures, it’s crucial to reflect on the waste that piles up at such events. To inspire you to enact an eco-friendly mindset, member Hannah talks about Glastonbury’s cleanup and offers some earthly tips for mindful partying.
It’s 33 degrees, and I’m standing in a warehouse waist high in garbage. I’m dressed in a white hazmat suit, gloves, a facemask and hairnet. The air is thick with the smell of evaporating alcohol and rotting food. This chaotic scene is the aftermath of the largest greenfield festival in the world: Glastonbury.
In exchange for a free festival ticket, a bunch of friends and I voluntarily clean up, working through the literal tonnes of rubbish. More of a small city than a music event, Glastonbury houses approximately 700 acts and 80 stages. We’re among the 1,300 recyclers who sort plastic from towering piles of rubbish. Four days of long, laborious work. Expect: backache, bad smells and getting coated in a liquid residue the veteran cleaners call “bin juice”. Definitely not the best hangover cure.
Watching the sunrise on Monday morning is a dystopian sight: tarpaulins, crisp packets and paper cups fly like tumbleweed. Single waterproof boots stand lonelily in puddles of mud. Airbeds pepper the landscape. There is detritus everywhere. An influx of cheap, disposable tents means that campers abandon their temporary living quarters. We’re instructed not to wear flimsy shoes because of discarded broken glass and ruptured metal.
This is a sobering end to three days of magic. All sorts of weird and wonderful treasures surface from the trashtopia. Designer clothes, packaged, untouched food and once, an entire bottle of sealed vintage cognac. (We drank the latter in discarded folding chairs post-shift.)
In 2019, Glasto has made the bold move to ban plastic bottles. Enacting veto on this size and scale sends a strong message globally: that a waste-free future is possible. The decision follows suit with other ecologically minded festivals such as DGTL, who this year introduced a number of groundbreaking eco-incentives including a technology called pyrolysis that liquifies plastic into a reusable oil. By popular demand, Amsterdam Dance Event scheduled a series of discussions about the sustainability of music events.
Whether or not green living is a fleeting trend is yet to be seen. The devastation of climate change and pollution demands meaningful, long-lasting change. Festivals are our utopias – where we go to dance freely, experience art, music and the surreal. How we behave in them matters. Compostable toilets, vegan menus, biodegradable food containers from vendors are all are small but important steps towards an environmentally friendlier wider world.
So, if you’re visiting a music festival this year, spare a thought for me in my itchy hazmat suit!