Don’t Be Trashy at Music Festivals

Guest Written by Barbara Joens
Bright lights and smoke at a music festival in Spain.
“Music festival Spain” by Marko Radosevic

Are you one of the many people planning on returning to music festivals?  As COVID-19 recedes, music festivals will make their exciting comeback.  Fans from all across the globe have been anticipating the joy and excitement brought by these special events as a way to unwind and connect with others as we once did pre-pandemic.  There is no doubt that as the pandemic comes to an end, these events will attract large crowds of enthusiastic music-lovers.

Music festivals are a great chance to enjoy your favourite artists, discover new music, and party with old friends and like-minded strangers.  After the hardships people around the world have suffered since the beginning of the pandemic, music festivals will be a welcome return to normal.  Many popular music festivals have been rescheduled for later this year and early next year.  Tickets have already been purchased by music fans excited to see their favourite world-famous performers, such as Travis Scott and Megan Thee Stallion at Rolling Loud (scheduled for July 2021), and Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers at Summerfest (scheduled for September 2021).

In spite of the positive aspects of enjoying live artists and gathering with fellow music-lovers, there is a dark side that will undoubtedly cause major issues for the environment once festivals resume.  While wrapped up in the fun of an event, people may forget to be mindful of their negative effects on the environment.  This is a problem that must be addressed by environmentally-conscious individuals.

Colourful popcorn wrapper lays on the ground.
“Washboard Music Festival” by Dan Keck
What role do music festivals play in pollution and climate change?

An unwanted consequence of music festivals is the massive amount of waste that they generate.  The total waste comes from various sources: plastic pollution, energy and water consumption, overuse of resources, and more.  According to a report by Powerful Thinking, based on 279 summer music festivals in the UK, the industry is responsible for producing 23,500 tons of waste (Powerful Thinking, 2015).

It is easy for concert-goers to fail to see the consequences of their behaviour.  Someone might not see the long-term effects of throwing a plastic bottle or food wrapper on the ground, but over time, that waste begins to accumulate.  This litter either has to be properly disposed of, or it accumulates and degrades the environment.

Attendees are not always at fault for not properly dealing with the waste that they generate, given that many trash bins are either inaccessible or already crammed with refuse due to their inadequate size and distribution.  Toilet facilities are also oftentimes inadequate for the number of festival-goers and the waste they produce.  Therefore, the waste generated in toilets often accumulates and becomes an issue.

Some of the trash at music festivals comes from the attendees while other trash comes from vendors.  Some people bring equipment, such as tents and mats, that they fail to properly dispose of after the festival is over.  Other times, trash comes from food in plastic containers, drinks in plastic cups, and plastic cutlery.  People do not want to take their trash home with them or go through the extra effort of properly disposing of it, so instead, they leave it on the ground, contributing to plastic pollution.  These plastics are hard to break down, often get eaten by animals who then become ill or die because they cannot properly digest them and damage the soil and surrounding plant life.

Another form of waste that must be taken into account is that, due to the majority of music festivals being located in remote areas, there is a reliance on the importation of power rather than being able to connect to an already-established energy grid to power these events (Baker, 2019).  In order to provide power, diesel-fueled generators are brought in.  These generators can supply the music festival with sufficient energy to support several days’ worth of sound systems, lighting, RV power, and more.  The non-stop burning of diesel fuel as the power source for these off-the-grid music festivals generates harmful particles and carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming.

It is significant to note that travel and transportation are also major sources of festival-generated pollution.  Transportation involves fossil fuels.  These fuels produce large amounts of carbon dioxide, leading to increases in temperature across the planet.

Performers, management, and vendors also travel to music festivals, along with their equipment.  Since these festivals draw crowds from around the world, some festival-goers must travel long distances to see their favourite artists perform live, which contributes to their carbon footprint and impact on the environment.

Ski bottles and cans lay on the ground under a branch in early spring.
“Lake Rupert” by Dan Keck
What can be done to limit this impact at music festivals?

While some festivals are already taking steps to be more eco-friendly, the attendees at these festivals also have a responsibility to minimize pollution.  Festival-goers are aware that some of their habits have had to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  These changes relate to being mindful of others, such as wearing a face mask in public and practicing social distancing guidelines.  If we can change our habits in response to the pandemic, then we should be able to make similar changes to minimize the harmful effects of pollution from music festivals.  With the threat of global climate change, the accumulation of plastics in the environment, and the overuse of resources, it is important to do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint and minimize other forms of pollution when music festivals open up again.

There are several reasons why altering behaviour may be difficult.  First, people are not always willing to change their old ways.  Second, it may seem overwhelming to want to undertake such a big task.  Finally, it may seem like the effects of one person on the environment are small.  People find it difficult to realize that small acts by a large number of people can lead to major effects, either positive or negative.

How can festival attendees minimize damage to the environment?
  • A great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to plan your transportation carefully.  If there is a bus that can take you to the festival, consider taking it.  Carpooling may also be an option.  If no one in your personal circle is attending the festival, see if there are people online that are looking for other festival attendees to carpool with by searching hashtags on social media.  Be sure to be careful when choosing who to go with.  Additionally, when carpooling, plan the route you are going to take and aim for one that minimizes the amount of driving required.  In addition to reducing harm to the environment, you will also benefit by saving money on gas.
  • Body glitter is often viewed as a fashionable must-have for music festivals.  However, it can be harmful to the environment.  When rinsed off, the microplastics contained in glitter can end up in waterways and take many years to degrade.  However, some make-up brands are moving towards biodegradable glitter, which has a less harmful impact on the environment.  By opting for an eco-friendly brand, you can reduce harm to the environment while still looking as festive as ever.
  • Festivals are a great opportunity for brands to host giveaways.  However, some people take items just because they are getting something for free.  For that reason, many give-away items, such as bracelets, lighters, and fans, end up as trash once the festival is over.  Although it may seem like just a few small items, the contributions from all the attendees adds up and contributes to pollution. Make sure to dispose of any items you don’t want to bring home with you.  Additionally, if you don’t need the item, don’t be tempted into taking it just because it’s a freebie.
  • Opt for recyclable and/or reusable items, including packaging.  These are a more sustainable choice than petroleum-based products.  There are many eco-friendly alternatives to plastic products, such as all-natural bamboo toothbrushes.
  • Tents are a festival staple.  However, it is not uncommon for tents to end up as waste after the festival is over.  Knowing that people want to enjoy festivals while also keeping the planet clean, some brands have started to offer recyclable cardboard tents that can even withstand bad weather conditions.  If you use a non-recyclable tent, ensure that you do not leave it behind.

The future of music festivals can be both cleaner and more sustainable.  However, in order to achieve this, everyone must be prepared to make environmentally responsible decisions.  Although it may take some time to adjust, small individual actions and urging others to do the same will lead to a cleaner environment with fewer hazards to humans, animals, and the planet.  With persistence and mindfulness, this future can become a reality.  By keeping the environment clean, we can ensure a future where the following generations will enjoy music festivals as well.

References

Baker, B. (2019, November 2). How Music Festivals are Destroying the Earth. EDM.com. https://edm.com/opinion/environmental-impact-festivals

The Show Must Go on Report. (2015, November). Powerful Thinking. https://www.powerful-thinking.org.uk/resources/the-show-must-go-on-report/

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