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The Gap Year Blog

What festivals can learn from Extinction Rebellion

11 Jun 2019 11:40 AM

When the government announced a climate emergency earlier this year, the work of Extinction Rebellion was just beginning. Following mass protests in London where activists glued themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange, staged die-ins on busy roads around the capital and chained themselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s home, the government formally addressed the emergency.

In the aftermath of these protests, critics of the movement were quick to share an image of rubbish dumped at Hyde Park which they claimed was left by Extinction Rebellion protests, attempting to discredit the actions of the eco-warriors as hypocrisy. The image, however, was originally shared by The Hemp Trading Company and was a picture of the rubbish left at Hyde Park by 420 festival-goers. The original post shamed these revellers for leaving the waste and stated that it was Extinction Rebellion who led the clean-up.

This act of social media shame shows what festivals can learn from Extinction Rebellion as events which bring people together for a common cause. The environmental effects even of small festivals can be seriously harmful and festivals should be encouraging their attendees to leave a cleaner, greener footprint once the festival is over.

The average abandoned festival tent leaves as much as 8,750 plastic straws worth of plastic waste. Additionally, in 2018, 10% of festival-goers left their tents, equating to 875 tonnes of plastic waste in total. Even those festivals who have pledged to remove plastic straws from their events could be creating a much more dramatic problem with even one abandoned tent.

The often-heard myth that all festival tents are collected for charity has also done more damage than good according to Teresa Moore, director of A Greener Festival. Moore highly advises that festival organised should be clear in their communications with event-goers what happens to abandoned tents and to advise attendees not to leave their to help reduce this massive contributor to plastic waste.

There are many initiatives that festivals have in place to help reduce their environmental impact. Many festivals have plastic-free deadlines set, promote things like biodegradable glitter and recyclable entry wristbands. Britain’s largest festival Glastonbury also hands out reusable water bottles to all attendees to encourage them to leave their single-use plastics behind. Many festivals also have biodegradable or compostable serveware to avoid food and drink related waste.

However, there are a number of things that all festivals should be considering to help reduce their environmental impact and promote greener community spaces. 

Some examples include:

Recycling: This includes forming a comprehensive recycling strategy as well as ensuring recycling facilities are clearly signposted, regularly available and promoted. Festivals should also consider their entire waste process to ensure as little waste as possible. For example, finding out what happens to the recycling once it’s removed. Contractors who simply burn all recycling waste are only contributing to harmful environmental practices so aim to use those who recycle consciously.

Energy use: Another way to ensure every part of the process of organisation of a festival is as clean as possible is requiring sustainability standards of energy providers. Requiring renewable energy sources will encourage energy providers to include this information in their brief, helping you to choose the most responsible option.

Clean-up culture: Providing incentives for being involved in the clean-up or recycling will help improve the culture of an event, for example those who help with the clean up could benefit from reduced ticket prices or other VIP treatment options.

Removing single-use plastics: Requiring all vendors to use recyclable materials and banning single-use plastic items such as bottles from all stall will help bring festivals closer to being plastic-free and will greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste left behind once the festival is over. 

Tips for small or new festivals:

• Use recyclable or compostable serverware

• Ban single-use plastics such as bottles and straws

• Ensure attendees are fully aware of what happens with abandoned tents

• Keep the planet in mind at every step of the organisation process

• Set yourself achievable, measurable goals to keep improving on with each event 

Across the world, climate emergency is becoming an increasing threat to our way of life. Taking a leaf out of the book of Extinction Rebellion can help other community events reduce their environmental impact and keep conservation cool.

Guest blog written by Damon Culbert

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!