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A guide to effective waste management at festivals and events this summer

May 10, 2024

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Coastal Recycling has compiled six practical tips for managing waste at festivals.

UK festivals are renowned for their vibrant atmosphere and lively entertainment, drawing in millions of attendees every year. With local music festivals alone attracting 6.5 million people, and many more flocking to festivals dedicated to food, dance, arts, and culture, the festival scene is booming.

However, despite the excitement surrounding each British festival, waste management poses a significant challenge for organisers. Whether the sprawling grounds of Glastonbury or the intimate parks of Exeter Street Food Festival, effective waste management is crucial to the success of any event.

Here, Coastal Recycling have compiled six practical tips for managing waste at festivals, which can help organisers prepare ticketholders, liaise with waste management vendors, and create a comprehensive event waste management plan.

1. Engage Festivalgoers in Waste Reduction

Festival attendees are the biggest contributors to on-site waste, so involving them in creating a low-waste festival ethos is crucial.

Take inspiration from Glastonbury Festival and consider implementing a green pledge for your event. This pledge could include principles such as treating the festival grounds and fellow festivalgoers with respect, using designated facilities correctly for waste disposal, and keeping campsites tidy.

Be transparent about any specific waste reduction policies at your event and provide a list of prohibited items that increase waste. Additionally, consider setting up waste reduction schemes, like cup return initiatives, to incentivise responsible waste management among attendees.

Stay informed about industry campaigns, like Decathlon’s ‘No Tent Left Behind’, and share these opportunities with your audience. By actively engaging ticketholders and providing them with the necessary tools and information, you can significantly minimise waste.

In the lead-up to the event, proactively communicate with attendees through email and social media platforms, offering practical tips for reducing waste. Encourage them to bring reusable cups, food containers, bags, and even ashtray pouches. Also, suggest alternatives to single-use items, like packaging-free toiletries and flannels instead of wet wipes.

2. Work with Eco-Conscious Vendors

When selecting vendors for your festival, prioritise those committed to eco-friendly practices and waste reduction schemes. Avoid vendors who rely on polystyrene packaging or other non-recyclable materials.

If composting facilities are available, welcome vendors who use biodegradable packaging, which can be composted alongside food waste. When composting isn’t an option, ensure all food packaging is recyclable.

Acknowledge the inevitability of food waste at your festival and engage in thorough discussions with each caterer to explore strategies to minimise waste. Establish clear expectations regarding waste management responsibilities and determine whether vendors will manage their waste independently or participate in the broader festival waste management plan.

3. Handpick a Waste Management Company with Care

Selecting the right waste management company for your festival is crucial for effective waste reduction and recycling efforts.

Festivals pose unique challenges for waste management companies, often encountering high levels of contamination, leading to decreased recycling rates and increased operational complexity. Consequently, some companies may hesitate to take on the task, while others will eagerly lend their expertise.

While accepting the cheapest quote is tempting, prioritise quality over cost-saving measures. Choose a waste management company that places recycling and sustainability above quick and inexpensive solutions.

Before reaching out to potential waste management partners, clearly understand your festival’s waste streams, attendance figures, and on-site catering requirements. Issue identical quote requests to each company, detailing these factors.

Creating a competitive atmosphere by inviting multiple bids through an invitation to tender process can help ensure you receive the best possible service.

During discussions with shortlisted companies, ask about the final destination of collected waste and whether the company can provide comprehensive waste data post-event.

Be aware that some companies may be reluctant to provide waste data or may only offer limited recycling options on-site, leading to a lack of data. Negotiating a timeframe for delivering waste data and making it a condition of final payment can incentivise compliance and accountability.

Waste data reports hold invaluable insights for future event planning. Analysing this data helps identify areas for improvement and refine waste management strategies, contributing to more sustainable and environmentally responsible future events.

4. Collaborate with Your Festival Waste Management Team

Waste management has been a long-overlooked aspect of festival planning, resulting in numerous challenges and issues. In today’s landscape, it’s essential to integrate waste considerations into every stage of the planning process.

Start by crafting a comprehensive festival waste management plan that outlines vital details and strategies. This plan serves as a blueprint for collaboration between your team and your chosen waste management company. Schedule a meeting to discuss and finalise the plan, ensuring alignment on all aspects.

Key components of this plan should include:

  • Site Capacity and Attendee Breakdown: Provide detailed information on the festival site’s capacity and the anticipated number of ticketholders, staff, performers, and vendors.
  • Vendor Waste Management: Specify which vendors will manage their waste and which will require wheelie bins provided by the festival.
  • Waste Streams and Ratios: Identify the various waste streams expected at the festival, such as food waste, paper, cardboard, glass, aluminium, plastic, general waste, and sanitary waste. Detail the anticipated ratios for each stream.
  • Bin Requirements: Determine the size, type, and number of commercial wheelie bins needed throughout the festival grounds. Consider factors like allocated bin colours and prominent labelling to enhance recycling efforts.
  • Bin Placement and Collection Schedule: Find optimal locations for wheelie bins across the site, including backstage areas and vendor zones. Establish a schedule for bin emptying and waste removal from the site.
  • Logistics and Contingency Plans: Specify when wheelie bins should be delivered to the site and removed post-event. Designate storage areas for waste on-site, and discuss using larger waste containers to consolidate waste from smaller bins. Develop a contingency plan to address unforeseen challenges.

By collaborating closely with your festival waste management company and providing detailed guidance through a comprehensive plan, you can optimise waste management processes, minimise environmental impact, and ensure a seamless festival experience.

5. Establish an On-Site Waste Management Team

Despite best intentions, littering is inevitable at festivals, so proactive planning is crucial.

Establish an in-house waste management team dedicated to maintaining cleanliness throughout the event. This team will either be part of your waste management company or work alongside them to maintain bins and promptly pick up litter, ensuring proper disposal. Bin maintenance will enhance the site’s aesthetics and prevent litter (and smelly rubbish) from spreading.

To staff this team, consider recruiting volunteers willing to contribute their time in exchange for a complimentary ticket to the event. Organise volunteers into shifts to ensure continuous coverage throughout the festival’s duration. These dedicated individuals will play a vital role in preserving the cleanliness and sustainability of the festival grounds, creating a more enjoyable experience for attendees.

6. Strategise for Post-Event Waste Management

Even with the most comprehensive festival waste management plan, post-event cleanup remains a crucial and unavoidable aspect of running a festival.

Prepare your dedicated on-site waste management team to efficiently sort, remove, and process the waste left behind once the festival ends.

Camping areas often bear the brunt of post-event litter, with discarded tents being a significant concern. According to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), an alarming 250,000 tents are abandoned at UK music festivals annually. Implement initiatives to redirect abandoned tents to those needing shelter, promoting sustainability and social responsibility.

When addressing surplus food from catering vendors, explore opportunities to redirect it to local charities or food banks. This minimises waste and supports communities in need, fostering a positive impact beyond the festival grounds.

By strategically planning for post-event waste management, you can mitigate environmental impact, promote social responsibility, and leave a lasting positive impression on ticketholders and the surrounding community.

Get in touch with Coastal Recycling

For a waste management solution tailored to your event’s needs, get in touch with Coastal Recycling. Renowned for our exceptional event waste management services, we’ve worked with many local festivals including the Devon County Show, the Honiton Show and Woofstock to offer comprehensive support ensuring their festival runs smoothly.

Local music festivals alone attract 6.5 million people.