Green campaigners call for festival tent tax
UK-based environmental organisations have urged for a deposit scheme to be implemented on festival camping tickets, with funds returned to those who take their tents home.
Clean Up Britain called for a £25 “tent tax” to be paid by all those bringing a tent to a festival, with founder John Read stating it was “very sad to see so many tents abandoned” this summer.
It is estimated that 250,000 tents are left at UK music festivals each year, resulting in almost 900 tonnes of plastic waste every year.
“That is hypocrisy, leaving tents in an age where we are doing our best to fight plastic bags and water bottles,” says Allison Ogden-Newton, chief executive of anti-litter charity Keep Britain Tidy.
“That is hypocrisy, leaving tents in an age where we are doing our best to fight plastic bags and water bottles”
The proposed “tent tax” is the latest in a host of initiatives to cut down on tent-related plastic waste at festivals. The Association for Independent Festivals (AIF) this year launched a campaign urging festivalgoers to take their tents home.
A 2016 pledge to reduce waste at Glastonbury Festival reaped rewards this year, with organiser Emily Eavis announcing that over 99% of tents were taken home after the 2019 festival, an 81% increase from 2017.
Many festivals implemented their own green initiatives, including Reading/ Leeds Festivals, Sziget, Roskilde, Tinderbox and Lowlands. Live Nation also launched its Green Nation campaign this year, committing to eliminating single-use plastics at all its events and venues by 2021.
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“Take your tent home”: AIF tackles single-use tent
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has issued a call to major retailers including Argos and Tesco to stop marketing and selling ‘festival tents’ as single-use items.
The call comes as part of a new AIF initiative to reduce the waste caused by single-use festival tents. As well as appealing to retailers, today (May 8) the association has launched a campaign to tackle consumer behaviour, urging festivalgoers to “Take your tent home” and “Say no to single use”.
The campaign includes an animated educational video that will be displayed across social media for all participating festivals.
AIF’s ten-year report revealed that almost 10% of people attending its member events, which include Shambala, Boomtown Fair, Boardmasters, Kendal Calling and End of the Road, had ditched a tent during the 2018 festival season.
Across the UK in general, it is estimated that 250,000 tents are left at music festivals each year, resulting in almost 900 tonnes of plastic waste every festival season. The average tent weighs 3.5kg and is mostly made of plastic – the equivalent of 8,750 straws or 250 pint cups.
“AIF launches this campaign to raise awareness and highlight abandoned tents as part of the single-use plastics problem”
Research by Comp-A-Tent, an organisation dedicated to reducing festival waste, suggests that Argos and Tesco tents make up as much as 36% of those left at festivals.
AIF member festival Boomtown is partnering with Comp-A-Tent to provide a pre-order tent service, selling £45 tents for collection at the festival. After the festival, attendees can choose whether to keep the tent or sell it back for £10 to be cleaned and resold the following year.
“We call upon major retailers to stop marketing and selling tents and other camping items as essentially single-use, and profiting from disposable culture,” says AIF chief executive Paul Reed. “AIF launches this campaign to raise awareness and highlight abandoned tents as part of the single-use plastics problem.”
Reed stresses that “the message here is not ‘buy a more expensive tent’”, but for festivalgoers to “reduce their carbon footprint simply by taking their tent home and reusing it.”
The issue of tent waste has been at the centre of attempts to make festivals more eco-friendly in recent years. A coalition of 36 festival organisers and six festival industry associations and sustainability groups formed the Campsite Roundtable in January 2018.
“As festivals, we can work with audiences to inspire better decisions, reduce single use and waste, and minimise ecological damage at this critical moment in history”
The group, led by A Greener Festival and Yourope’s green operation division, Go Group, aims to tackle “campsite chaos” and reduce waste left by festivalgoers.
The reduction of single-use plastic has also been a central issue. AIF launched Drastic on Plastic in 2018, an initiative encouraging member festivals to commit to eliminating all single-use plastic at their events by 2021.
Glastonbury Festival announced a ban on single-use plastic bottles at this year’s event and Danish festivals including Roskilde and Tinderbox are replacing disposable plastic cups with reusable models.
“We’re finally waking up to the climate crisis en masse,” says Shambala festival co-founder and director Chris Johnson. “The stuff we use is part of the problem – everything has an impact, usually hidden from the user.
“As festivals, we can work with audiences to inspire better decisions, reduce single use and waste, and minimise ecological damage at this critical moment in history.”
Tent waste: A single-use plastics problem
Question: How long does it take for a tent sent to landfill to decompose?
Answer: It’s estimated that it will take between 1,000 and 10,000 years, although landfill archaeologists (yes, they exist) haven’t been around long enough to check.
Yet again in 2018 we were confronted with the aftermath of festival camping, with image after image of campsite waste, mainly tents, appearing in the press. The “teenage wasteland” of our times. But in fact, waste is a problem that besets many different types of event. Just watching the clear up after Notting Hill Carnival with over 60 tons of waste left behind confirms that waste is a problem not just restricted to festivals. But what is a problem unique to festivals and one that we are all too familiar with is that of single-use tent waste.
Why? Reasons and myths
Reasons for tent waste are variously given as: lazy punters who couldn’t care less; campers too hungover to dismantle pop-up tents; the weather: it’s wet, it’s muddy and many just want to get home after the party; simple economics: a festival tent, chairs and table cost around £40 in the UK and hold little value so why bother to take home something that’s probably broken and that you’re going to get rid of anyway; marketing: the “festival tent” has come to imply disposability; and of course, peer influence: because “everyone else leaves stuff behind.”
We’ve also seen the rise of the “it’s OK to leave your tent as they all go to charity” myth. It started with the best of intentions – a couple of festivals teamed up with charities in a genuine attempt to put leftover tents to good use. Suddenly it became the morally right thing to do and resulted in even more tents being left behind. Those charities are only able to salvage one in ten at best, partly because many are in no fit state for reuse and partly because they don’t have the storage capability to hold many before redistribution. As a result, many festivals now tell their audiences not to leave their tents as they don’t go to charity.
Scale of the problem
This summer it was estimated that around 20% of tents (one in five) had been left at a major camping festival of 60,000–70,000 campers. If the 2018 figures are accurate this would mean that around 14,000 tents were left at a single large festival. Scale this up across the UK and Europe, and we are potentially looking at hundreds of thousands of discarded tents all adding to the plastic pollution problem.
In 2016, it was estimated that it cost Glastonbury £780,000 to dispose of all the rubbish after the festival, the vast majority coming from the campsite
It’s rather ironic that in 2018, when David Attenborough and the so-called Blue Planet effect drew attention to a global plastic-waste emergency, inspiring the national conscience to wage war on single-use plastics, that the single-use plastic tent somehow slipped the net.
And, of course, there is a financial element to all of this. In 2016, it was estimated that it cost Glastonbury £780,000 to dispose of all the rubbish after the festival, the vast majority coming from the campsite.
So, what can be done in 2019?
The development of compostable tent materials. There are currently several forms on the market. This may work as a short-term solution, but the term “compostable tent” tends to perpetuate the idea of single-use and disposability when we need to move towards reuse.
Glamping is likely to continue to grow with pre-erected tents eliminating a proportion of tent waste.
Schemes that have been successful are those that focus on green camping and behaviour change, such as Love Your Tent and Respect schemes at the Isle of Wight Festival, Eco-Camp at Download and Clean Out Loud at Roskilde. In each case, creating clean campsites and no tent waste. It is only surprising that this approach hasn’t gathered more momentum.
It’s my belief that festival organisers with tent-waste problems need to take a serious look at long-term strategies to change festival camping behaviour. Festivals need to introduce green camping as an option and those that already do should focus on expanding their green campsites. Green camping can incorporate much of what the festival audience is looking for in terms of a great camping experience in return for a commitment to change their behaviour.
I started with the question “How long does it take for a tent sent to landfill to decompose? This is the wrong question.
It should be: “How long will it take for festival campsites to become tent-waste free?”