Festivals are a staple all over the world. Millions of people travel to different locations to see the biggest acts of the year performing. There were an estimated 241 festivals planned in the UK alone before the pandemic happened, and festivals like Glastonbury see over 200,000 people squeezed into a modest 900 acres (roughly 1.5 square miles) of land. Festivals attract masses of audiences, but along with those audiences, it attracts their litter, their waste, and sizeable carbon footprint; enhancing the environmental impact of festivals.
No one is blind to the fact that festivals have a litter issue. Attracting masses of people to a relatively small area where they’ll eat, drinks and snacks means the waste has to end up somewhere. Some of this rubbish finds itself in a general waste bin on the first day of the festival. However, as the days trickle by, the rubbish increases exponentially, and the bins aren’t always emptied quick enough. Before long, people start dropping their rubbish and leaving the scene of the crime where it lays in waste till the festival finally draws to a close. Festival organisers are expected to hire companies to collect the waste, but it’s estimated that only 1/3 of possibly recycled materials end up at recycling plants. The rest is carried over to landfills, buried in the earth, which is a substantial amount of plastic and non-biodegradable materials to bury when you consider large festivals like Glastonbury produce over 2000 tonnes of rubbish each year. Adding all this rubbish and waste across all the festivals happening each year and then seeing it slowly increase as the years go by, the festival litter problem isn’t one to scoff at and sadly isn’t going to be solved anytime soon.
Then you have the bodily waste issue accentuated by many festivals preferring cheaper chemical-based porter-loos over long-drop toilets. Most of the human waste produced and excreted into a chemical-based loo is then carted off to landfills where it poisons the land because of the chemicals they’re mixed with. For ease and cost-effectiveness, these decisions’ impact is a problematic one because it shows resistance to action changes that are more environmentally friendly. However, some festivals are adopting to ban chemical-based loos, favouring long-drop ones that can then be treated and reused in agriculture. Rather than leaving it to rot in a landfill, it becomes repurposed to help grow crops and become more environmentally friendly.
Yet, there are other issues as well. Travelling to festivals leads to thousands of people taking to the roads in cars, causing sharp increases in CO2 emissions and traffic. Some festivals encourage public transport by offering car parking at a high-price or making the car parks obnoxiously far from the festival. Still, with public transport being costly (trains most of the time), large groups of people travelling together see driving a car as a more viable option. Then you have the leftover tents which have to be collected by outside companies to be resold or repurposed, and the list goes on for all the factors of a festival that harm the environment.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Festivals are making changes to help lessen their environmental impact. Some have banned chemical toilets, some are pushing only to allow recyclable plastics, and others incentivising the use of public transport; all demonstrating care for the planet that they’re affecting. Although, this is a select few. Most festivals are still preferring cheap and damaging practices to maximise profits. For as long as money takes priority over our planet, then the impact of festivals on the environment will continue to be an unnecessarily harsh one.