Music festivals: such a waste... really?

  Leave no trace...

Leave no trace...

I've just finished a Skype conversation with someone from Sheltercare. Sheltercare is a Belgian company producing sustainable tents for, among others, festival goers. The company is born out of the realisation that so many tents are left behind at festival sites. At European festivals this tent dumping is a real problem.

Pictures of the 2013 edition of Reading Festival in England showing the vast amount of waste left behind at the festival site went viral. Outcry followed but it's pretty much the same at other festivals worldwide. Festival attendees, tired after several days partying, look at their tent and think: it's a cheap tent, I'm tired, and I can't be bothered to break it down and bring it all the way back home. Let's leave it!

  Composting, recycling...whatever it is: make it easy for your audience!

Composting, recycling...whatever it is: make it easy for your audience!

The assumption is that the festival will clean it up. After all you paid a lot of money for your ticket so surely they can afford someone to clean it up. You see the same attitude in cinemas. People buy a gallon of coke and a bucket of popcorn. Once the movie has finished people get up and leave the buckets behind making sure Hans & Gretel can use the popcorn on the floor to find their way out of the theatre. After all, you paid for the ticket so someone else can clean your mess. 

But if that is the attitude than surely that attitude changes when people visit a festival organised by a non-profit? Not really. Last year I worked at San Francisco Pride. A not-for-profit organisation that is well known here in the Bay Area. Last year the event welcomed almost one million people. That's a lot of people and also a lot of waste. A lot of waste is created by sponsors handing out gadgets wrapped in plastic or cardboard. The audience likes getting stuff for free so they accept the gadgets. Once they had a good look at it, they throw it away. Not in a bin. Bins are overflowing with waste already anyway. So on the floor it is. It makes the festival site look like a mess (let alone a safety issue). Not what the organisation had in mind and surely also not what a festival attendee wants?!

So is it 'green fatigue'? I guess it comes down to the psychology of the attendees. If something is already a mess you don't feel guilty for littering. After all you didn't start it, you just did what all the others are doing. Right... But still someone started it and must have thought that is was okay to do so. So what can we do to change that attitude? 

Millennials are not as green minded as they say they are, according to a 2013 research study from DDB Worldwide. They don't recycle as much as baby boomers for example. But interestingly they do feel that an individual can make a difference. 

Can festivals promote their cleaning activities to an individual rather than a crowd? I think they can. Make it a personal issue! Perhaps they can promote the benefits of their waste program to their audience. How they deal with waste and why they want to reduce the amount of waste collected needs to be communicated. What is it that a festival wants to achieve with their waste management program? A cleaner site, more pleasant environment for attendees, a safer place, sustainable motives? Whatever the goals are they need to be communicated to the audience in easy to understand messages. And for crying out loud make it easy for your attendees to actually do what you want them to do. Your average Joe doesn't know the difference between biodegradable plates, recyclable plates, and those plasticky looking plates. Is that plastic? Don't give them a reason to get 'green fatigue'. 

As far as the audience goes they need to understand that their behaviour has a price tag attached to it. Someone has to pay for cleanup and a festival organisation will recoup the money somewhere; most likely your ticket price. No one likes to sit on a waste dump so try to keep the festival site (relatively) clean. I hope you agree with me so why do you litter when you're at a festival site? Don't tell me you're too wasted (...) to think about it. 

  Great green initiative from festivals

Great green initiative from festivals

So, this summer we'll all pick up the cr*p we've created when at a festival site. We promise to throw everything in the bins provided and we promise to take our tents back home with us so we can reuse them again. And again! Let's start a culture change. Somehow I need to think of the South Koreans who made it to the semi final in the 2002 football World Cup. Huge crowds gathered to watch the game and afterwards they made sure they took all their stuff with them, leaving behind a clean place. So perhaps we need a Korean approach at festivals: a change of culture!  

Over the years festivals have launched initiatives such as 'love your tent', 'leave no trace', and 'pack it in, pack it out'. Great initiatives but the real struggle is to convince the audience to participate. Let's hope 2015 will be the year that we start loving our tent and we pack it in and out so that we don't leave a trace. Please!