Thoughts on Glastonbury waste

Steph French – on-site photographer 

Images such as these are typically associated with Glastonbury festival. However, the sight of rubbish piled sky high seemed to me to be reduced this year.

When giving post-festival feedback to Villages Liaison Officer, I was full of praise for the reduction in overflowing rubbish bins this year. The Officer commented that this was probably due to the increased number of long-drops.

The increased number of toilets, meant a reduced need for emptying them. With fewer tractors on the field performing this task there were more refuse trucks emptying the garbage in the bins – so fewer overflowing bins!

Whilst the festival site looked more attractive as a result, I still couldn’t help being disappointed. People were dumping just as much rubbish as ever. Only now it was being removed from the site more promptly, so that we didn’t have to look at the results of their laziness.

In my view, there are two broad types of visitors to the Glastonbury Festival. There are those who live happily alongside others, like the chap who lifted my 10 year old son onto his shoulders for over 20 minutes so that he could get a decent view of ‘Imagine Dragons’ on The Other Stage, and the lovely lady who gave me the last of her toilet roll to clean the camera lens cap I dropped in the mud.

Then there are those, such as the young man who dumped his empty cup on the corner of the William’s Green table at which I was sitting with my family. Ignoring the rubbish bins just a few yards away, it begged the question, whose job did he think it was to put his rubbish in the bin?

The festival organisers continue to campaign for people to take away their tents and other rubbish at the end of the festival with their ‘Love the Farm, Leave no Trace’ message. It shouldn’t even be necessary to ask people to do this. Where did our society lose its way? When did it become acceptable to allow others to pick up the debris of our lives?

On the commercial front, there was Deri at The Ethical Chef in the Greenpeace field who opted to offer a single menu option only. Whilst this might reduce the number of opportunities for sales, he wanted to minimise his waste. By offering only a single menu choice, he kept the food waste at the end of each day to negligible proportions – a model of really smart sustainable thinking.

There was the stall holder running the Growing in a Nutshell stand in the Green Futures field, finding ways to use all sorts of discarded materials for growing vegetables in small spaces. Whoever would have thought of using old bras as plant holders?

Thankfully, for every visitor at the festival dumping their waste, there are plenty who abhor the current throwaway culture so prevalent in our society. Every action counts, however small. If we all changed one behaviour it would make a difference. Sometimes the difference might be small, but sometimes it can be greater than we can foresee. Whoever would have thought that increasing the number of compost toilets at the festival would reduce the amount of litter decimating the farm?

Lori Campbell – musician and performer 

The crowd at Glastonbury is a special thing. They arrive anxious and desperate to get a good camping spot. They are separate and preoccupied with their individual timetables and expectations. However by the Sunday whether a worker, a punter, a musician… as a group we have been through so much. We have experienced thunderstorms, laughter, tears, sunshine, love, ecstasy, exhaustion, sweet music, mud, lack of sleep, brand new experiences of all shapes, flavours, textures and colours…. It is difficult not to have the feeling that in some strange way we have become one enormous, living thing attuned to the collective consciousness. It was that comradery that I felt emanating from the thousands of strangers belting out the words ‘one love, one heart’ as the Wailers played on Sunday evening. It is a corny thing to describe, but there’s definitely something in it. Unfortunately, there is a missing link in the chain somewhere between this phenomenal group experience and the individuals responsibility to ‘leave no trace’ when it comes to the clean up.

Somehow by the Monday morning everyone has become an individual again. It’s like some strange version of the Cinderella story, where at the stroke of midnight the proud, prancing horses are transformed into meek, anxious mice that want to scurry home as quick as possible, pretend the ball never happened and in the process leave broken shards of pumpkin scattered all over the ground. Unfortunately oversized pumpkin shards are biodegradable, while broken Gazebo’s, chairs and tents are not.

The ghastly and staggering amount of waste that Glastonbury’s revellers leave behind is disturbing and needs to be addressed. They have become wayward children who need a proper telling off and to be sent to bed with no disco.

I don’t have a solution for this problem and I don’t claim myself to have left no trace, but it is a situation that we really need to think about. If you’ve got an idea that would help connect the polar opposite states of ecstatic togetherness and brutal individualism then please let me know.

One group of people has put this thought into action by tatting tents from previous festivals and setting them up on Pennard hill as a ready prepared camping facility, which they clean themselves at the end. They are CampLight. You can check out the photo from post Glastonbury last year…

So this is my message to you… Leave no trace is an impossible task, but please think about what you leave behind. It will all catch up with us at some point, and once the landfill is full what will we do then?

Images by Steph French

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  • OliverDowding

    Excellent writing, Steph. I like to think mine was a minimal imprint,
    that I wasted no food – why would I as there were some great organic
    food vendors on site. Then I reused cups, correctly binned what was true
    waste etc. I also lamented seeing the wanton waste and lack of care
    around me, and have much respect for those who have and will spend time
    trying to dig every last discard out of the mud.

  • Emily Firmin

    We’re all guilty of contributing to this footprint, whether consciously or without knowing. It’s just a case of having baby shoes rather than clown feet!
    Not a solution, but unfortunately people respond well to rewards!! Things like money for empty cup collections where they can be suitably recycled. I was shocked however to find the cups sold at the bar were non-recyclable!!!! Or even get a cup with your wristband and keep it for the weekend.
    Another option could be to have amnesty skips at the exits on the Monday; one for tents, one for chairs and perhaps even rubbish. With every tent put in people could be entered into a big draw for the opportunity to win £250 or maybe ticket for next year maybe!!

    • kieran vanden bosch

      yes an incentive scheme is generally how some european countries have increased recycling. The sustainability director of Glastonbury festival IS trying really hard to get a reusable stainless steel cup for 2015. But the drinks companies like tuborg and carling are blocking her. They have been giving the ridiculous excuse that the drinks won’t taste as good! But they sell their beer in steel anyway! Clearly an excuse. . .