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Sustainability heads say pandemic prompted “sea change”

Sustainability heads say the pandemic has prompted a “real sea change” in the industry’s attitude towards green issues.

“The pause allowed for time to think and reflect about their own businesses but, more than this, different sectors of the industry have recognised that they are part of the bigger live ecosystem and need to work together in a much more joined-up way to tackle climate change and the industry’s environmental impact,” explains Teresa Moore, director at A Greener Festival (AGF).

“In my mind, it has undoubtedly speeded up progress, and the launch of Live Green and the Beyond Zero declaration felt like a genuine collaboration across the industry,” says Moore.

The declaration, led by the sustainability arm of live music umbrella trade body LIVE, was revealed last September at the Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI).

The initiative sets out a roadmap for how the UK’s live music businesses can reach net-zero emissions by the year 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement.

The launch of the declaration came a month before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (aka COP26) – which Moore says acted as a focal point for change.

The seminal year led to “huge demand” from the industry for AGF’s A Greener Arena and Greener Touring certification and set the bar for 2022.

“There is a tsunami of inspired, positive, and powerful actors in the industry pushing sustainability to the front of our rebuild”

“I do think we will see a greener live experience in 2022 as festivals put the commitments they have made into practice,” says Moore.

Claire O’Neill, founder of GEI, is also optimistic that the live industry will build on the momentum of last year.

“The good news is there is a tsunami of inspired, positive, and powerful actors in the industry pushing sustainability to the front and centre of our rebuild,” says O’Neill. “I am extremely confident that we will build a better future.”

However, O’Neill warns that in order to tackle best environmental practices on top of everything else, the industry needs to be proactive in protecting the wellbeing of ourselves and each other.

“The workload is immense and we’re all a little bit rusty around the edges. When we are no longer stressed out, environmental best practice will be easier to achieve. So long as we’re permitted, there will be a great upturn in attendance to gigs, festivals, and events of all kinds.

“This will help us to recover financially, but also gives us back the incredibly important platform that we can use to influence important and urgent societal changes for deeper connection, acceptance and care – for ourselves, each other, and the environment we are a part of. Let’s make 2022 the year that we step up to our responsibility and power as agents of change.”

The GEI conference will return this year, this time taking place within the main conference programme of ILMC on Friday 29 April. For more information visit 34.ilmc.com.


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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?”


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