Traditional camping is embodied with notions of being at one with nature, shirking the luxuries of brick and mortar, insulation, (most) devices and a solid bed in favour of the great outdoors. Exchanging our human-made surroundings for the natural environment.
But pair camping with music, stalls, entertainment, booze and others, and humanities ability to desecrate nature reaches a horrifying crescendo. As the festival season draws to a close, fields and recreation grounds are left coated with the remnants of sleepless nights and wired participants who applied the carefree and joyous abandon spirit of festivals to the jilted tents and other paraphernalia.
The grounds of Richfield Avenue that are host to the Reading festival have been deserted by visitors, leaving over 60’000 one and two-man tents in their wake. It is a similar sight across the UK’s event fields, strewn with sleeping bags, chairs, gazebos and packaging floating across the wreckage that has become synonymous with the festival season.
Short of thousands of brave volunteers willing to sort plastic bottles from unrecyclable tent shells, the 23,500 tons of waste abandoned every year from UK festivals are destined for landfill, where they will sit as they have done, but in a place less visited by human eyes.
Without the careful waste management systems that sanitise our modern ways of life that regularly transport the leftovers of our lifestyles to designated collection points far from public view, the festival industry sheds an uncomfortable light on just how much rubbish we’re capable of producing.
If anything could call more for biodegradable materials, it’s the festival season. So much of our lives are consumed by materials that are designed to last only a moment but will plague the environment for over a hundred years. With biodegradable materials, the products we used every day will harmlessly breakdown into the natural ecosystem as nutrients. But short of a materials revolution, our recreation fields are destined to become dumping grounds for the few weeks after participants return home to use their reusable keep-cups after an enlightening excursion into the great outdoors, soothed with loud music and sweating bodies.
There’s a sweetly naive belief between festival goers that leaving your tent is making a donation to homeless and refugee charities. After a couple of festivals made such claims a few years ago, the number of tents, sleeping bags and chairs abandoned in the wake of an event skyrocketed. The reality is that some 90% of disowned equipment will be sent straight to landfill rather than Calais or Dunkirk. And with the festival scenes reputation being encouraged by outdoor retailers who advertise ‘festival tents’, the flimsy construction of assumedly disposable apparatus makes them too shoddy for a second use.
Some festivals are trying to break the trashy reputation the season has earned. No Planet B Festival aims to confirm its namesake by banning single-use products on its grounds and will feature talks by zero waste influencers. The more established event, Download festival trialled the new Greenpeace initiative ‘Eco Camp’ this year, a free designated campsite that festival goers pre-register for in exchange for agreeing to the rules: separate your waste and take your belongings home with you. While the strategy was a hit, it seems curious that the most basic courtesy of not jettisoning your trash required a segregated area and booking in advance.
Festivals are an integral part of summer activities, flush with new bands, new faces and a trip into the great unknown. But they have also managed to imbue a sense of disregard, a blasé attitude to belongings that is often only found amid the hazy mindset of festival culture. Outside of the grounds of thousands of glittered participants, our inclination to waste is not much different, though our consumption of single-use semi-permanent products is much more neatly disposed of. As environmental concerns reach a critical point, festival organisers will have to implement stricter regulations on our items. But for now, the age-old camping proverb still rings true: leave it as you found it.