The Future's Bright: Scottish Festivals on Sustainability

Following on from Glastonbury's ban on single-use plastics, we speak to some of Scotland's leading festivals to find out what they're doing to be more sustainable going forward

Feature by Tallah Brash | 11 Apr 2019
  • Museum of the Moon at Kelburn Garden Party 2018

When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up may be the title of Snow Patrol’s 2001 debut album, but it’s also the sad truth for many festival organisers the world over. In 2007, following the death of a cow that had ingested a metal tent-peg on Glastonbury’s Worthy Farm, their Love the Farm, Leave No Trace campaign was born.

While incredibly sad, the problem is much bigger than the death of a cow. Three million people attend music festivals in the UK each year, generating an obscene 23,500 tonnes of waste  – 68% of that ends up in landfill. Each year an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste also ends up in our oceans, and with the UK’s commitment to be plastic free by 2042 this year’s Leave No Trace campaign extends further to a ban on single-use plastics.

As well as this ban, 200,000 stainless steel pint cups will be in circulation across the festival this summer. Manchester’s Parklife festival have also announced a green pledge for 2019, and further afield France’s Garorock festival have a cardboard tent option called Kartent while Finland’s Flow Festival, as one of the world’s first carbon neutral festivals, recycles and reuses all waste produced during the festival, uses green energy and promotes sustainable meals.

We reached out to a few of Scotland’s leading festivals – Eden Festival, Knockengorroch, Kelburn Garden Party, Doune the Rabbit Hole, TRNSMT and Electric Fields – to find out what they're doing to help combat waste and be more sustainable for a brighter future. It’s important to point out now that all of these festivals are already incredibly eco-conscious, with some building stages from surrounding sustainably sourced materials, reusing signage year on year, and some already working with environmental charities or using renewable energies where possible.

“T in the Park was the first and biggest carbon neutral festival in the world and this is a goal we have in mind for TRNSMT,” is a strong opening statement we receive from a DF spokesperson, so it seems Scottish festivals have been leading the charge for some time now. There’s still a lot to be done, however. “We are looking at the viability of a deposit scheme for cups in 2020," they continue. "Last year, we banned single use plastic straws at TRNSMT and Summer Sessions and we are working towards a ban on single-use plastic altogether.”

Meanwhile, Electric Fields have signed up to the Association of Independent Festivals’ Drastic on Plastic campaign, meaning they are committed to banning single-use plastics by 2021, and Doune the Rabbit Hole Festival Director Jamie Murray tells us they are "aiming to be single-use plastics free by 2020." Knockengorroch are using cups made out of sustainable plant fibres on their bars, introducing stainless steel containers for refilling at water stations and supplying all of their artists’ water in biodegradable packaging. "This year we'll be suggesting biodegradable utensil options for festival caterers," Knockengorroch Producer Katch Holmes adds, "with a view to no single-use plastics on site in 2020."

Eileen Wilson Kerr, one half of the General Management team behind Kelburn Garden Party says they’ve been “really inspired by the work Shambala Festival have done, and are planning in the upcoming years to put in place even more policies that make KGP greener without impacting the ticket price for our guests as we feel that encouragement and change of culture can achieve wonders.” They have an aim for all food vendors to eventually use compostable plates, cutlery and meal boxes; they’re also working towards being a no straw zone and are considering a reusable cup deposit scheme for the future. Eden Festival are also banning the use of plastic bottles backstage and, like Knockengorroch, are introducing refillable stainless steel water bottles this year.

“We have also banned the use of glitter unless it's eco glitter,” Co-Director of Eden Festival, Meredith Langley-Vine tells us. The miniscule particles that make up this alluring reflective dust are easy to not take too seriously when it comes to packing your overnight festival bag, but most are made from plastic, and microplastics in particular have huge knock-on environmental consequences.

With this in mind, each year Knockengorroch features a certain aspect of the natural landscape as a theme and last year it was the river. “As part of this we educated about the terrible impact that plastic glitter has when ingested by river and sea creatures,” Holmes tells us. “We did a glitter amnesty and offered free biodegradable glitter in return for people handing in their plastic glitter.”

Another major issue facing music festivals is the harmful CO2 emissions they create. “The average carbon footprint of a UK music festival is 80% audience travel, 13% energy and 7% waste,” Langley-Vine explains, “so although it’s great to be talking about plastics and what we can do to reduce the impacts of waste left over after the event this shouldn't be the focus of our attention.”

With that in mind, every festival we speak to is making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint, either by encouraging car shares, putting on festival-dedicated buses, promoting the use of public transport, and providing free shuttle buses from train stations and bus stops to and from their festival sites. However you decide to travel to a festival this summer, consider offsetting your carbon footprint with a donation to Energy Revolution – “Last year we raised money for Energy Revolution which invests in renewable energy,” Electric Fields’ Managing Director Nick Roberts tells us, “with over £700 being raised from our audience.”

The final piece of the puzzle is to be found on the campsite. “Waste left over by campers is a HUGE issue and it only seems to be getting worse,” Langley-Vine says. When The Skinny went to Electric Fields last year we were astonished at the apocalyptic state of the campsite when we left after a wonderful weekend at the festival. After posting an Instagram story about it we were surprised to discover that Roberts was involved in the clear up: “I think I’d be right in saying that the vast majority of organisers of small festivals end up picking up rubbish at the end of the show,” he tells us.

“Cheap tents are the single worst thing for people leaving behind and there’s an incorrect assumption that these can largely be left to go to those in need," he continues. "It’s right that there are excellent organisations doing this, such as Massive Outpouring of Love, but they can only take tents of a certain quality that would actually be useful for those in refugee camps… Supermarkets that sell cheap tents need to be educated that they are selling single use plastics en masse, and it isn’t okay. Having said that, it is very noticeable in our family campsite that next to no rubbish or equipment is left, which at least means that most kids are getting the right idea early on.

“Education is the key," concludes Roberts. "We don’t want people coming to a festival feeling like they’re going to get a lecture… As a festival we can do a lot of things to reduce our footprint, but the 5000 or so people attending need to be on board with that as well for it to have a proper effect.”