July 9, 2008

How Green Was Your Festival?

By Susie [email protected]

After the fun comes the clean-up. The revellers may have left Glastonbury on Monday, but 600 people are still on site cleaning up - and they will be there for at least three weeks.

It will probably be another six weeks before cows can return to the land, according to Glastonbury spokesman John Shearlaw.

"It's a truly wonderful thing watching Glastonbury return to being a farm but you can't do it overnight - the festival is a city the size of Oxford when it's up and running," he said.

"Every last fag end and bottle top has to be picked up, field by field."

Last year, seven tonnes of wellington boots were abandoned, plus a staggering 15,000 mud-covered tents whose owners could not face taking them home after four days of relentless rain turned the site into a quagmire.

The wellies were sent to Senegal, where they will be put to good use, but the tents ended up in landfill.

Last year's wellie and tent mountain may have been unusual but it illustrates some of the challenges facing festival organisers.

Glastonbury is considered one of the greener festivals and its recycling rate is pretty impressive - at 50 per cent it is more than most UK towns.

But when you gaze at the rubbish-strewn fields left afterwards, with tens of thousands of cigarette butts mashed into the soil and mounds of discarded food and drink bottles, cans, plastic chairs and wet wipes, it is hard not to regard festivals generally as environmental disasters.

Britain is home to more than 450 music festivals a year, ranging from small, 2,000-strong events to massive jamborees involving 40,000 or more people. So why do so many people treat the ground they have just been partying on as a bin?

Ben Challis, director of charity A Greener Festival, which has established a benchmark eco-award for music events based on carbon footprint, recycling, waste and environmental impact, says it is about lack of awareness.

"You wouldn't leave a tent to rot in your back garden, but people will leave boots, tents, sleeping bags, the works, after a festival," he said. "You ask them why and they say someone will clear it up.

"They don't know it's going to landfill."

It is not just the waste left behind that causes problems.

Festivals consume a huge amount of energy - so much that they are responsible for up to one million tonnes of CO2 a year, according to Julie's Bicycle, a charity devoted to reducing the UK music industry's carbon footprint. However, there are moves to make festivals greener, with Glastonbury leading the way.

The festival handed out biodegradable tent pegs made from wheat and potato for the first time this year and banned trade stalls from using plastic utensils, insisting on compostable cups and cutlery.

It increased its use of solar and wind power, as well as the number of generators fuelled by waste cooking oil, and asked people not to use wet wipes - the scourge of Glastonbury litter picking because they are not biodegradable and blow into hedges.

And in an attempt to reduce the rubbish mountain, it urged people to take their stuff home, with the 'Love The Farm, Leave No Trace' campaign.

There was less rubbish at Glastonbury this year - although it is hard to know whether that was down to the campaign or better weather.

Rob Kearle, Glastonbury's recycling manager, said: "People are using the appropriate bins to put their waste in, so they have learned to recycle."

That is borne out by a survey of 1,400 festival-goers earlier this year that found they were becoming more eco-aware. More than a third said they now considered how green a festival was before buying a ticket, and nearly half would pay more for an eco-friendly one.

"A big shift has taken place in the last year," said Alison Tickell, director of Julie's Bicycle.

"There's a growing commitment of festival promoters and organisers to go green, and the audience is definitely learning." However, there is one tricky environmental problem and that is how people get to festivals.

Transport to and from festivals accounts for a whopping 75 per cent of their carbon emissions and is their most damaging element.

"Someone living in a tent for four days is going to burn less energy and produce fewer emissions than someone at home with a kettle, TV and stereo on," explained Alison.

"But how festival-goers travel is out of our control - we can only ask people to think about reducing their own footprint."

This is an issue that has been on the minds of rock band Radiohead whose own research found that if more fans shared cars or used public transport, it would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Reducing the number of people travelling by car is high on Glastonbury's eco hit list.

This year saw the festival an impressive 47,500 people arrive by public transport.

But even with these efforts, Glastonbury's Rob Kearle is swift to debunk any notion that festivals can be considered 'green'.

"At the end of the day, you can't drag nearly 200,000 people through a field and call it green," he said.

"There's no such thing as a green option, that's nonsense. The only green option is not to do something.

"It's about balance. We have to learn that all our daily actions have an environmental impact, and we have to balance what we do to cause minimum harm."

(c) 2008 Western Daily Press (Bristol UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.