Posted on

Festivals Are BIG NEWS, But Who Is Accountable for the 23,500 Tonnes of Waste?

With over 23,500 tonnes* of waste produced annually by UK music festivals, ultimately who is accountable for this? #UKEAsks are festival goers to blame or do we need to change our perspective?

Everyone has an impact on the environment, no matter how eco-conscious they choose to be. So, it’s natural to conclude that individuals attending festivals are completely responsible for the amount of waste they produce, right? We’re not so sure. Here’s why…

On Bank Holiday Monday 2019, Used Kitchen Exchange answered the plea of Million Stars, a local company, asking for support for the recovery of tents from Creamfields Festival. Based in Liverpool, Million Stars started as an events company, but upon recognising the urgent need for reuse and recycling made this their primary focus – salvaging tents for reuse during organised family camping trips or turning inhabitable tents into eco-clothing – a great idea, I’m sure you will agree!


We posted a handful of photographs on our social accounts after capturing the scenes of what greeted us once the last festival reveller had left the campsite. You can see our video footage above. Our social posts were positive, thanking the organisers for allowing us entry after the event to help recover these tents – although, with a secondary intention of demonstrating the importance of taking your tent with you after a festival. The organisers asked nothing from us and fully supported our activities, in fact, the individuals staffing the event actively helped us – fully valuing our efforts and applauding us. However, we felt that there was a general feeling that it would be preferred if our recovery efforts weren’t publicized. We had to consider why.


From the response we received online from our brief social coverage we can see why. Immediate public outrage! Words such as ‘disgraceful’, ‘snowflakes’, ‘disgusting’, to name but a few, were all brandished aimed at the festival goers – but, having the advantage of being on site and looking at the facilities available, we started to question if it was right and just to hold them accountable?

To work this out we have to ask, ‘where does the buck stop?’ So consider this, we can ask festival goers to be responsible for their waste and trust that most right-thinking people would happily comply, but without the education, facilities and the ability to comply: can they be held accountable? To dig even further, should the accountability rest with the people/organisations that take ownership of the event?

The scene which greeted us on arrival.

When looking at this from a business perspective, company owners/directors are always held accountable for the performance of a business, however staff remain responsible for their areas of expertise. Should festivals be run in the same way? Ie Festival goers are there to party (and it costs them a fortune!) so should the venue should provide adequate support services for waste? When we began our tent recovery at Creamfields what was immediately apparent is many festival goers were trying to act responsibly; packing their rubbish into bin bags and generally clearing as much as they could. We believe that these people must have pre-planned for this, bringing bin bags with them.

What was obvious was that the waste disposal facilities at each campsites appeared lacking – in fact for a field with approximately 1000 tents there was only 1,  sometimes 2 industrial bins, at one end of the field. These bins were for general waste only, with no obvious and accessible way to recycle waste.

In addition, with thousands of tents left behind, we have to question why? I’m sure we’re all agreed there is a responsibility for campers to take these home with them, however, let’s look pragmatically at the reality of this – most festival sites need to be vacated the morning after the festival ends. Not to be a party pooper, let’s consider the idea that people are not going to want to get up early after 3 days of partying to pack up their tent! Does this make them a ‘snowflake’ or should more time be given to allow for an ecologically sound clear up?

Maybe a more realistic solution would be organised camping where tents are provided for people? Let’s be honest, how many parties have we had in our own homes which have left a trail of destruction that needs to be cleaned up the following day and given the option/financial ability would we pay for someone to do it for us?

So, how do festival organisers embrace their accountability as the enablers of this conundrum?

It would seem that standard practice is to remove people from site as quickly as possible to enable the clean up to begin – in doing so, we believe they inadvertently remove the responsibility from the festival goers. After all, if they are not given the facilities nor time to clear up how can they solely be held accountable for the mess?

From what we saw, it would appear that the quickest and possibly cheapest method of clear-up is to bulldoze the site once everyone has left – with only 2 machines making light work of a field you can see why this is the quickest and most financially viable option. Obviously, this puts pay to any reuse or recycling opportunities at the same time.

With over 3.17 Million* UK festival goers annually, 19,778 tonnes of carbon emissions and 23,500 tonnes of waste – 68% of this reported to be headed to landfill, it is clear there needs to be a more sustainable approach to music festivals. Chris Johnson, chair of Power Thinking was clear on this stating, ‘as festival organisers we know how to create unforgettable experiences and how to inspire people. We know who to get things done in challenging circumstances and we are accomplished at communicating with audiences.

The Earth is literally on the verge of ecological collapse, and it is well within our reach to turn our industry into an exemplar of environmental responsibility. If we can create space in our busy lives and pull together as an industry, we can make a vital and significant contribution to a future that we want our children to inherit.

Festival organisers working with their many diverse partners, from concessions to the supply chain, contractors, charities and brands, can provide leadership for what is perhaps the most important conversation of our time. THE SHOW MUST GO ON’


What do you think? Is it right to hold attendees accountable? Or, is it time for new thinking from festival organisers?


*Festival facts marked with an asterix are drawn from Powerful Thinking’s ‘The Show Must Go On‘ Environmental Impact Report and Vision for the UK Festival Industry.



Tell a Friend: