Music festival waste: is prevention the way forward?

With huge amounts of waste being created every year by music festivals across the world, is it about time that events try to minimise waste to help preserve the planet that we all rely on? Glastonbury alone created 1650 tonnes of solid waste with 54 tonnes of that being plastic bottles and cans! This begs the question, should we all carry on and slowly suffocate our planet or should event managers step up and take responsibility?

Why should festival managers minimise waste?

It is simple, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that human’s hedonistic lives are having, and are making an effort to reduce their own carbon footprints. Therefore, the incentives are clear:

Due to the incentives of becoming a green event, some festivals can be seen as green washing their event. This is when they say they have green policies in place to gain the consumer demand however they do not always implement those policies. Consumers should be aware of this so that they can make an informed decision and watch out for green washing festivals.

So why wouldn’t you want to attract a more conscious consumer who wants to enjoy festivals without the negative impact? Becoming green is not a token gesture for the marketing department, it is a long term investment so inevitably it has some cons:

  • Expensive
  • Time consuming
  • Difficulties in sourcing suppliers of green products

These challenges are offset by the increasing consumer demand of green events which means it can become cost effective in the long term. Here are the people who have already jumped on the bandwagon and are proving green is the way forward. Now the only question is should resources be used to prevent waste or to manage it once it has been created?

Prevention methods

The ideal event would prevent all waste from being created, in reality this will never happen but we should all prevent as much as possible. One music festival in the UK leading the way is Shambala with a 10,000 daily capacity. They have received a Greener Festival Award two years running and champion prevention of waste. Their main initiative to achieve this is banning single use bottles and selling metal bottles that can be filled up from the taps around the site. This prevented an impressive 10,000 plastic water bottles from being wasted. Additionally the caterers and drinks outlets used hard plastic glasses where people paid a £1 bond to use them, gaining this bond back when they returned the glass. These preventative measures and their wind turbines has allowed them to be carbon net positive, so why are we not all following suit?

Waste management methods

Even after your best preventative measures, chances are there will still be some solid waste floating about the arenas and camp sites, so what do you do with it? A leading example is an initiative in Ohio, USA which has received awards for its work with music festivals to divert as much waste as possible from landfills. In the first year it managed to divert 33% of a festival’s waste materials from landfill, four years later and the figure is approximately 96%.

How they avoided landfill:

Both prevention and waste management methods sound good, which should I use?

The dream festival would be able to prevent all waste however this is unrealistic. Therefore festivals need to apply resources to both prevention and management of the waste created. The European waste hierarchy creates a standard protocol that all festivals could follow to make sure they are being as green as possible.

Image sourced from Wikipedia (2016)

Applying the hierarchy to festivals, the most favourable option would be to prevent the waste in the first place. We could all learn something from the Shambala festival where their prevention methods are already proving successful. As you move down the pyramid the focus shifts to what to do with the waste that you do have. The more of it that you can re-use or recycle the better. Any other last ditch attempt to recover items may seem futile at this point but is an important part to make sure as much as possible avoids landfill. The items that cannot avoid landfill can then set the new waste target for your festival!

Happy Greening

Sources of images used:
Wikipedia. (2016). Waste Hierachy. Available: Last accessed 25th February 2016.
Hedges, D. (2015). Glastonbury Festival 2015. Available: Last accessed 25th February 2016.


This is a great article and a very interesting concept. I have recently discovered that some festivals have actually been accused of ‘greenwashing’ their audience – advertising green policies and making green claims to enhance their image, but not actually fulfilling these and being unable to prove claims when questions. Do you think that some festivals are just putting out green policies purely to make themselves look better, rather than to increase their sustainability and reduce waste? What do you think is the most effective and practical way for festival organisers to reduce waste?

Thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree that some festivals see the benefits of being a green event (and market themselves as such) but do not always take the time or resources to put in place green policies. Unfortunately this can give a bad reputation to the festivals that do enforce these policies however I believe it would be hard to regulate as one persons idea of ‘green’ may be completely different to someone else. I think the most practical and effective way to reduce waste is to not make it in the first place! This is where advanced planning can make all the difference, so the policies should be in place in advance, for example the ban of single use bottles. One effective way to plan is to look at what other festivals are doing, how they’re doing it, how successful it is and then adjust it to suit your own event. I hope this answers your question.

Katherine says:

Interesting topic, and I agree that prevention is better then the cure. I’m not sure making festivals greener will make that much of an impact on the bigger problem of climate change? Just cant see that it will make that much difference when the rest of the world is still damaging the environment.

Thank you for the comment. I agree that climate change is a much bigger issue that festivals alone could not solve. However if we all had the attitude that ‘we can’t make a difference’ then nothing would be done at all. By promoting green festivals and events, it shows as a profession we are taking responsibility for the environmental impact that we are having. Hopefully people will then see what we are doing and follow suit. We should all be doing our bit, then as a collective we can make a big difference!

Katherine says:

If you look at it from that point of view then I guess it can make a difference. Just need to encourage more people to be greener in everyday life.

sara says:

I love the article and think it highlights some really key issues, a particular question I have is once a festival had decided that it wants to be ‘green’ should their be one body who regulates this to stop the effect of greenwashing, therefore festivals have to meet certain criteria to be able to claim to be sustainable? if so, who would then enforce the implementation of any policies? and how? If the US has managed 96% reduction then why shouldn’t we!

Thank you for taking the time to comment Sara. There is a document that sets out the international standards for event sustainability. However, they do not set out specific performance levels that an event needs to achieve, instead it “requires that and organisation has in place a transparent process which… evaluates the issues relevant to its operations and sets its own objectives and targets for improvement”. This ensures that the individual event is always improving their waste management with the aim to continually increase their green credibility. This would still allow for an event that is not particularly green at the moment to reach the standard as long as they were continually improving. However I do agree that there should be published performance levels that set the standard, this would also allow consumers to have an informed decision of which festival to attend. If you would like more information on the event sustainability document, here is the link:
If you have any other questions please do not hesitate to ask, Jennie

Olivia says:

You have chosen a great subject matter, do you have any example regulations that have been implemented by the Ohio initiative to create such an increase in diverting waste going into landfill.

Do you think that bringing these regulations to the UK will have a negative impact on the number of festivals that we are allowed to have?

Thank you

Hi Olivia, thank you for the comment. The Ohio initiative does not have regulations that need to be met but instead work closely with festivals to come up with ways to divert the waste from landfill. This requires the willingness from the event to become greener, which has many incentives for them such as increasing consumer demand for environmentally friendly events. By working collaboratively it allows them to share ideas and get more events to become greener. Here is a link if you would like more information on their initiative:

As for the UK, there are some standards for sustainable events (ISO20121). Although these do not have set regulations that every festival needs to meet. I believe festivals have a choice: to be green or not. There are many incentives to becoming green and I think festivals should work together to share ideas. I do not think becoming green would have a negative impact on the number of festivals as being green is something to be desired. I hope this answers your question, Jennie

Robin says:

Improvement in waste management at music festivals requires a concerted effort from everyone involved from organisers to attendees. Organisers need to have this message hammered home to them from as many sources as possible. The message needs to be got out to all festival goers by the organisers prior to and at the event. Year on year momentum will build and festival goers will start to police themselves.Older generations were brought up not to litter and use everything to its full. Nothing was wasted. Modern consumerism has created a throw-away society and it requires a step-change in attitudes to overcome the problem. Music festivals are a good place to start.

Hi Robin, thank you for your insightful comment. Everyone should be responsible for making an event green, not just the festival manager but the attendees too. Modern consumerism has many benefits but unfortunately I have to agree that it has also created a throw-away generation. Luckily, not all is lost and now the industry has recognised the damage waste can do and has started to take responsibility, we can go some way to preventing any more damage!

Shirley Netherton says:

Having never been to a festival, I have to say I’ve never given this topic much thought. However I can remember seeing images of Glastonbury after the event and it was pretty appalling. Maybe there should be financial penalties for event organisers who do not demonstrate that they are making progress to effectively manage the waste that their event generates?

Hi Shirley, if you have never attended a festival- I would definitely recommend it (a green festival of course!) Seeing a picture of the aftermath of festivals such as Glastonbury is quite emotive and can have a bigger impact than the figures. Perhaps these photos should be displayed around festivals, to show people the devastation in a hope that it would have a bigger impact. Unfortunately I am not sure how enforceable a financial penalty would be as one persons idea of green is different from someone else’s! I think the way forward is for festivals to be willing to become greener and collaborate with others who can help them achieve their green aims, for example other festivals and environmentally friendly charities. I hope this covers your question.

Shirley Netherton says:

Thanks for your reply Jennie – I’m sure you’re right!

Nelly says:

The article is interesting and it covers good points. In my opinion, law regulations should be the way forward until event companies realise the importance of sustainable development and improve their ethics. It’s was surprising to see that prevention and waste management are perceived as two different methods of dealing with the problem.

Hi Nelly, thank you for your comment. I do believe law regulations would go some way to improving sustainability within the events industry but also think the festivals should take responsibility for making their own event green. Although there are different methods for prevention and management, no event will be able to prevent all waste so resources should be put into both methods to get the most sustainable event possible.

Kate McIntyre says:

A very interesting article on a topic not discussed enough! Whilst people are aware of the damage inadequate waste management can have on our planet, I don’t believe the public have an awareness of the shere volume of waste produced at such events. This is certainly an area our whole nation can improve on, and shambala have proven it’s not only possible but also our responsibility to do so.
You mentioned shambala using metal glasses which clearly can only be seen as a positive step forward but are there any further large scale techniques these events can use to prevent waste? Do you believe that larger festivals etc are concerned with health and safety in term of having heavy glasses that could perhaps act to cause injury?

Hi Kate, thank you for your comment. I agree that people are aware of waste at these events but maybe not the amount of waste and how damaging it can be. Shambala is a great example of a responsible event doing its best to limit its impact on the environment. They use hard plastic for their glasses but sell metal bottles to fill up with water from the taps. I do not believe these would be a risk, and if they were used to injure, I’m sure those people would be dealt with accordingly. As for more prevention methods, food waste is another issue. To prevent food waste, one method is to make sure that caterers know how many people will be attending the event so they can have the correct amount of food so it is not wasted. The only negative of this is that caterers can sometimes be worried that they will run out of food and therefore sales so tend to bring more food products than they need. I hope this answers your question, Jennie.

Nicola says:

Nice article to read, and the case studies show what can be done if you work hard and want to become greener. Are there any other good examples of festivals that are trying to minimise waste?

Thanks, Nicola

Hi Nicola, thank you for reading my blog. There are plenty of green festivals out there- just be aware of green washing. This is when festivals will display that they are a green festival but do not follow through with the policies. I suggest that you look at festivals with green awards to differentiate genuine green events and green washers. This article might be of interest to you:

Paige says:

I think in regards to waste prevention it’s a lot easier for start up festivals with a direct aim and vision to carry out the correct measures. For long term standing festivals with a regular routin each year, it may become more difficult to implement strategies regarding waste prevention. As the festival you mentioned where they pay £1 for a hard plastic cup which can be refunded if the cup was returned could take time and investment to implement, which may not be their main aim or objective as a festival.

Hi Paige, thank you for taking the time to comment. That’s a very good point about start-up festivals and how it may be easier to start prevention from the very beginning. I agree that it is more difficult for a long running festival to set up these measures but I believe it is an important step to try and reduce the impact festivals have on the environment. The bottom line of any festival is it has to be financially viable and with increased consumer demand for environmentally friendly events, I believe it should be an objective of every event (even if it’s not the main objective!)


Joan Mitchell says:

I can’t believe how much waste is created at these events!!! People need to be more aware of what impact they have on this planet. Some people think they can go through life and not take responsibility… one day were going to kill this planet!

Hi Joan, it is staggering the amount of waste that is created at festivals such as Glastonbury. The whole industry is taking a step in the right direction with more and more events jumping on the green bandwagon, long may it continue in this direction!

paul says:

Its shocking to see all that waste in the feature photo. Makes a much bigger impact!! It’s a good job that festivals are starting to become greener now before its too late.

Hi Paul, yes it is great that festivals are becoming greener, just wish they had started sooner!

Doug says:

Prevention is definitely better than the cure! Additionally to not create waste, it means energy isn’t used to create the item in the first place… I think that attendees should take responsibility as well as the event managers though… I always feel guilty when I throw away rubbish!

Hi Doug, prevention is definitely better. Attendees need to be aware of the impacts so that they can take responsibility. I think that also extends to every day life- not just at events!

Anna Gordon says:

Interesting article and nicely presented. The european waste hierarchy was interesting- made it clear that prevention is the way forward. I can imagine it takes a lot of planning, but worth it if we can prevent some environmental damage.


Hi Anna, yes I thought the waste hierarchy was a good way to display the best ways to manage waste. The planning is all worth it, especially with the incentives that come with being greener!

Jack says:

i dont think ive ever really thought about the impact i make when i go to a festival. really make me think and i will be more aware of my actions in the future when i am attending events.

Hi Jack, that’s great that my blog is going to make you more aware for the future. We need more festivals attendees like you!

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