Plastic Festival Waste: Are YOU Doing Enough?

With global warming (at its worst), many Event Managers are looking for ways to make their events greener. This blog will highlight the recent discovery of plastic waste being sent abroad and ways to combat this issue. It is important for us, as Event Managers to understand where our waste is going so we can do our part for the environment and avoid any negative publicity.

Credit: Pixabay

Music Festivals, on average, generate 23,500 tonnes of waste which includes plastic bottles, food waste, abandoned tents and clothing.

“BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend produced 60 tonnes of rubbish. It took 160 large bins, 300 wheelie bins and 22 skips to collect the waste”

Where does your festival waste end up?

Credit: Unsplash

One of the biggest contributions to festival waste is plastic. Roughly two-thirds of plastic waste in the UK is being sent overseas with the aim to reduce costs. However, countries such as China, Malaysia, Turkey and Poland are starting to reject plastic waste, due to its impurity. Back in 2018, China decided they will reject any plastic waste that is more than 0.5% impure. The amount of UK waste taken by China dropped by 94% after this period.

Credit: South China Morning post

With the event industry growing and festivals being one of the largest contributors to plastic waste being sent abroad, it is an Event Managers responsibility to do our part for the environment.

Why should we care?

With greener events becoming more popular, a number of festivals are banning single-use plastic, including the UK’s largest festival, Glastonbury. David Attenborough appeared on the main stage during the festival to speak to over 100,000 people about the importance of going plastic free and its effect on the planet.  With popular festivals taking their first steps to being plastic free, you don’t want your event to fall behind and gain a bad reputation with your out-dated waste management policies.

An events environmental footprint has been deemed one of the key parts of a company’s reputation. Environmental violations can influence the public’s perception of an event. Reputation risk is increasing due to the rise of social media, where bad news spreads faster. A bad reputation can be extremely damaging and can affect the event dramatically, from a decrease in attendance and support from sponsors. It can also look like the company has weak regulations and management incompetence, not only affecting the image but also planting doubt about the organisers.

This year, Biffa has been fined £350,000 for sending waste to China. This makes us question the reliability of our contractors and how much plastic from festivals is being sent abroad?

How can we stop this?

When you are thinking about entering into a contract for recycling or other waste collections, it is useful to ask some questions to make sure the service fits your requirements. Questions to ask your contractor:

Credit: Pixabay
  • Does the waste collector have a waste carrier’s license? Anyone who collects and transports your waste must be a registered carrier of controlled waste.
  • What happens if the wrong materials get put in the recycling bin? Will bins be rejected? Or will you incur additional charges if bins are ‘contaminated’ with wrong materials?
  • Ask them about where the waste and recycling is taken and how it is disposed of? – If you suspect the waste carrier is disposing of the waste illegally, report them to Crimestoppers.

However, sometimes it can be hard to know the truth about where your contractors are sending our waste. Here are some tips on how you can encourage attendees to cut back on their plastic waste:

  • Bring reusable bottles and hot coffee cups.
  • A festival without glitter- microplastics on the land or in waterways is a problem. Crack out the face paints!
  • Carnival costumes- Create costumes using second hand/recycled/reusable materials, to avoid buying plastic tat that is worn once and chucked in the bin.

With developing countries sending our festival plastic waste back, it is important to consider the above suggestions to protect your reputation and produce a greener event.

Please let us know in the comments below, your thoughts on this topic and how you plan to cut back on your plastic waste!


Recycling fundraising Llanelli says:

Excellent blog! I think I you’ve covered a very important topic here being that key waste contractors are not recycling their waste which also raises another issue regarding the catering industry which is even worse because despite councils having targets to recycle household waste…. the catering industry do not have any targets at all and whilst they use these contractors, the waste will not be recycled but chances are they’ll end up in landfill or even incinerated even though many of the catering produce comes in fully recyclable material…. I think a lot more regulations needs to be put in place regarding catering and events, perhaps when the politicians eventually settle brexit they can tackle very pressing matters that are being swept under the carpet at the moment 😔 !

Also I think festivals need a lot more recycling points and bins too.

A bin for compostables ( should only ever have compostable packaging at these events now) Glass bins, plastic bins, food waste etc also only have water refill points and not sell water in plastic bottles… so much could be done

A very good blog… well done to you all.

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to leave a comment.
We completely agree that the catering industry needs to implement stricter regulations to reduce plastic waste. Some festivals, such as Glastonbury, have banned their traders from selling single use plastic bottles, which we believe should be adopted by all events.

As known to the festival industry, discarded tents are a massive contributor to plastic waste. What would you suggest Event Managers could do to encourage attendees to not leave their tents behind?

Megan says:

I love the reusable cup idea – event managers could consider creating an incentive if customers reused their cups or bottles. Such as 20p off every drink if you reuse your cup – I would consider doing this for sure!

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Megan, thank you for your comment.
We love your idea of creating an incentive to help reduce the use of plastic cups at festivals.
More organisations should definitely consider this when planning their event!

Rob Jackson says:

From personal experience providing service as a waste contractor to the Glastonbury festival going back to the early 2000’s
We can provide waste containers to segregate all types of waste to divert away from landfill but in the end it’s always going to be down to the discipline of the user of the service. If too much contamination then loads have to be diverted from recycling destinations to landfill
This can have a major cost implication to organisers
With landfill in excess of 100£ per tonne and a potential income to be generated from clean plastics, paper and cardboard, and reduced cost disposal for food waste and wood there are immense benefits to be gained both financially and for the environment
In recent years things have got much better with the increased focus of younger generations on recycling pollution and the environment in general
There are always new schemes coming on line, recycling of ever more grades of plastics and in the past couple of years major festivals have collected tents left behind sending them to benefit refugees and homeless in places like Africa

we are still only part way on the journey to be environmentally sympathetic in the disposal of our waste
Regional / General Manager
For both regional and national waste management companies

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Rob,
We are pleased to hear of your experiences from a waste contractors perspective.
We agree that it is down to the organisation to enforce these measures to assist contractors in their fight against contamination in plastic waste.

From your experience, what would you suggest Event Managers can do to support waste management companies?

Eve says:

Perhaps a money back scheme where you can bring back 10 cups and get a free drink in return, which might encourage people to collect and pick up rubbish left behind!

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Eve,
Great idea! We believe money back schemes would have a ripple effect on reducing plastic waste.
Thank you for reading our blog and taking the time to leave a comment.

Summer Dixon says:

Great blog, and very contemporary topic, something we all need to be thinking about! We as event managers can put in practices at our events but how and to what extent can we police/monitor the use of single use plastic by event traders when there are often 100’s / 1000’s traders attending? Also what realistic precautions can be put in place if we were to effectively monitor this that aren’t going to effect event logistics, aesthetics and trader attendance or experience?

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Thank you for your comment Summer, we are so pleased that you have taken the time to engage in our contemporary issue and give us your feedback.

We agree that it is difficult to monitor all use of single use plastic by traders. Festivals such as Glastonbury, have banned their food traders from selling plastic.
Do you think this could be easily adopted by smaller festival organisations?

With this being a contemporary issue, this is still a developing area for Event Managers with lots of trial and error. Small steps can make a massive difference!

What steps have you taken as an Event Manager to reduce plastic waste?

Summer says:

I definitely think the ban on traders selling plastic is a good idea, step in the right direction and something we can all try to implement at our events. As an event manager for me the concern as I mentioned originally, would be monitoring this and ensuring trader are complying by the rules – what precautions do you take if you do find trader using plastics? Also do you think implementing this ban could effect the number of trader applications which could potentially negatively effect us smaller events?
We are currently looking at the use of reusable cups within the bars at our events and also the potential hire of water point stations so visitors are able to reuse their cups/bottles rather than purchasing more than one.

Lesley darlaston says:

‘Really interesting blog-I think most people in this industry focus on trying to reduce costs as much as possible and sometimes can effect the important issues such as finding reliable contractors’ .

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Good afternoon Lesley, we are so pleased to hear of your interest in our blog.
We agree that costs is a major issue for Event Managers when trying to tackle the issue of plastic waste.
Companies need to think about the most important issues at hand, environmental impacts. Smaller events may struggle to enforce their policies with a reduced budget, however, any little thing that they can do, makes a huge difference!

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

Sarah Wanden says:

I’ve been a waste sorter and a waste collector at Glastonbury and also have worked in events for many years.
My thoughts:
Paper cups plates and wooden cutlery are a definite winner, using volunteer staff to sort and segregate the waste at festivals is key to keeping it pure.
Some UK festivals – especially those with younger attendees offer small amounts of money back for every paper cup collected – I’m sure we would all pay a little extra as consumers for this?
As an event organiser id definitely be looking to my suppliers for proof of how they look after my customer waste and perhaps even some kind of feedback or scoring system to show their qualities and credentials could apply. Certainly consumers now are more and more looking to suppliers to take control of waste issues!

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Sarah, thank you for your response to our blog and sharing your experiences with us.
What have you found to be the largest contributor when collecting and sorting through Glastonbury’s waste?
We definitely agree that all food traders should be using paper and wooden utensils and support the idea of money back incentives.

Ocean Helper says:

At Ocean Helper we fully support recycling schemes but we are also aware that we cannot feasibly solve the problem of pollution, especially plastic, with recycling alone.
A big part of the solution is to refuse and reduce first. So where possible to find reusable alternatives to reduce waste in the first place.
When it comes to improving current recycling trends, more transparency is key. There is so much distrust, and rightly so in many cases with ‘recycling’ being dumped in landfills and the oceans. But this distrust causes people to care less and think that it is no longer worth trying to recycle. Knowing where the recycling is going and what it is going to be used for can be a very important part in encouraging people to do the right thing.
Incentives are great too but not always doable, especially for smaller festivals and events that don’t have the budget to be handing out cash exchanges for people recycling. It is a shame that protecting the planet isn’t incentive enough.
We are really excited to see more events and festivals take a greener approach and we look forward to seeing the progress they make in years to come.

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Thank you so much for you comments, we too hope that future Event Managers will make more ethical decisions to support their environment, and eventually the day will day will come when saving the planet will be enough of an incentive.

Thank you again for taking the time to read our blog on Festival Plastic Waste!

Ellie says:

I think vendors at festivals could sell reusable foldable cups / bottles (similar to what high-street coffee shops do currently) and then give customers a discount for using these in the future – especially if they were themed for the festival!

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Thank you Ellie for your insightful suggestion.
Having branded cups, not only reduces single use plastic waste, but also creates a great marketing opportunity for events.

s1606672 says:

A very interesting read. You have covered a topic that I think will always be a contemporary issue, it all depends on the ways event managers work around this. I know from my experiences of going to festivals that a key technique to help this issue is to get festival attendees to collect their waste at the end of the festival and they then receive something back for doing so. Hopefully this issue can be resolved.

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Thank you for you comment.
We agree that helping our environment will always be a contemporary issue and should be at the forefront of everyones mind. Event Managers especially, due to the growth of the festival industry and its impact on the climate!

Sarah says:

Really enjoyed reading your blog. Well written and very contemporary, such a big issue at the moment and probably will continue to always be one. I think that festivals should continue with the banning of single-use plastic, and provide reusable cups to customers- they could pay a deposit and either keep it at the end as a souvenir or hand it back and receive their deposit back. Hopefully event managers can come up with some ideas and solutions to the recycling/waste management issue and we can all do our bit to help save the world!

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Sarah, we appreciate you taking the time to read our blog and leave a comment.
We agree that plastic waste will always be an issue within the event industry and hope that Event Managers will continue to come up with new solutions and policies.
Many Event Managers have implemented the idea of using reusable cups, do you think festival managers should also consider banning glitter from their events?

Ellana says:

This is a really good blog and very insightful into a topic that many festival attendees care a lot about (the environment) but also isn’t always at the front of there mind when wanting to enjoy the festival. I think one way this could work through the food stalls is if they all worked together in agreeing to provide their food in the same tubs similar to that of a takeaway Chinese style tub that isn’t single use and the same for good quality plastic cups that after finishing eating/ drinking you can return to any food vendor or even have collection points for these and then re-used, there would though have to be a way that these can be washed and then re-used which obviously will use a lot of water resource and manual labour to do so (maybe a volunteer job again) in return for a free ticket, I don’t know just a thought

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Good morning Ellana, we are so pleased to hear of your interest in our blog and that you have taken the time to leave a comment.
This is an interesting and initiative idea that could be well received within the festival industry.
How do you think we could encourage food traders to get involved in this scheme?

Rachel says:

Glastonbury did water in cans this year which was great, however, expensive (I think 2 quid a can or something). We bought the metal flask think for a tenner. And filled it up at all the water points, will take it back with us next year too.

We stay in a motorhome so are able to separate our running easily but down in the camps it’s like a war zone 😬

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Good morning Rachel, thank you for your response. We think that it is great that Glastonbury is doing so much to cut back on their plastic waste. The metal flasks are a great idea, more festivals should follow in their footsteps to encourage their attendees to re-use drink containers. Do you think bringing in more water points around the festival would encourage attendees to bring their own flasks? This could be something event managers at festivals should consider.

Hazel says:

Ive litter picked after a big festival and we tried to start separating the litter into recyclable and non. But as the day progressed our managers told us not to bother because they all go into the same place. This was rather sad as we had days of picking up so much litter and knew it was not going to be recycled at all! I think this issue was caused by lack of time and funding. It might be worth setting up a charity in the festival to help fund the clean up.
Additionally, i went to another festival and they had engaging things to encourage recycling, such as a giant heart where people could recycle their cans in to fill it up. I think this is a good method because its a cost free incentive and looks cool.

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Hazel, thank you for your comment and for being involved in the clean up of festivals! It is sad to hear that the managers didn’t take the environmental issue seriously. Do you think having more volunteers at festivals would help implement a recycling scheme? Many hands make light work. We love the idea of bringing in an incentive that encourages festival attendees to recycle their waste in a creative way. More festivals should incorporate a similar feature into their event.

Liv says:

Great article, it’s really made me think about the impact these huge festivals are having on them environment.

I think there should be incentives put in place to make individuals think more about their usage of plastic at these events. Creating the cup scheme of people bringing their own cups back and giving them money off a drink would work quite well I believe.

Also maybe introducing a fine of some sort for those festival goers who leave behind their tents and waste rather than keeping the tent for another year?

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Liv, thank you for taking the time to respond. We agree more incentives should be implemented in festivals to help minimise the amount of plastic waste they produce. Introducing a fine on abandoned tents is a great idea, do you think this is easily manageable at larger such as Glastonbury?

Derri Breslin says:

Great read and an extremely hot topic as more people are becoming aware of the impact plastic waste has on our planet. Over the last couple of years the campaigning and media awareness that has gone into exposing the damaging effects has had a great part to play in plastic consciousness. I’ve experienced some great ways of engaging recycling at events and over the years this is becoming more standard routine.
Firstly – eco-bonds, whereby festival go-ers can claim a small refund from their ticket price for recycling one bag of rubbish each – a great way to entice young people who are more than likely needing that extra £10 for their post festival service station hangover meal! Other festivals I have attended such as Shambala, have completely ban plastic from the site. Re-usable cups are purchased at the bar for a small fee which you can refill during the event and keep afterwards, also a great weekend memorabilia. Shambala going plastic free means they have stopped using plastic straws, food containers, condiments such as sachet sauces and even re-usable and plastic free cable ties! In 2019, Shambala also boasted to the nation that only 6 tents were left behind during the festival clean up, this is an amazing result. I feel this festival is one of many who are pledging to be almost fully eco-friendly and others are following in suit.

Another avenue for re-using your plastic waste is to make Eco-bottles, this is a home friendly solution and fun to do with family and friends! Plastic that cannot be recycled such as wrappers or cling film are condensed into a plastic bottle which must meet a minimum weight guideline, which varies depending on bottle size. Once the bottles meet the min. weight they can be taken to your local brick station where they are used for building. We’ve produced 11 so far and they’re extremely satisfying once complete!

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Derri, we loved reading your response. We agree that recycling plastic waste is now a contemporary trend in events. Shambala festival has really pathed the way, and many festival managers should take note on their plastic free policy. Implementing the fun activity of condensing plastic into bricks at a festival could be a great attraction to family and friends. This could be advertised throughout the site to encourage attendees to get involved.

Laura says:

I definitely learnt something from this! You never think about things like glitter affecting the environment! Definitely making people aware of stuff like this will make a difference!
This is also a clever business idea as I’ve never heard of eco-friendly glitter!

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Laura, we’re so glad you engaged in our blog and learnt something new.
It is important to bring up key issues that affect the environment, even if it is as small as a little bit of glitter!

Jake says:

Really well written blog post! However, I’d be interested to know how the volume of waste produced at festivals compares to the volume produced by a similar sized group of people over the same amount of time in everyday life. Festivals aren’t the only places we should be cutting back on waste – but they are definitely a good place to start with so many like-minded people gathered together, ready to learn and enjoy themselves.

Plastic Festival Waste says:

Hi Jake, thank you for your comment!
We agree that festivals could influence attendees about the importance of recycling plastic waste due to so many like-minded people being together at one time. This could then be applied to their every day lives, helping to reduce the overall consumption of plastic waste.

Comments are closed.