Be responsible during festival season

This month festival season kicks off across the UK and abroad. Over the coming months, hundreds of thousands of music fans will descend onto temporary campsites and pitch themselves up for a long weekend of musical highlights.

A lot of them will take with them a cheap, pop up tent, and once the festival is over, many of them will also head home a lot lighter. “Leaving your tent is not a donation – if you are going to a festival take it home or drop it off at a donation point”, says Matt Wedge, Director and Trustee of Festival Waste Reclamation and Distribution (FWRD) – a charity set up to reduce the amount of perfectly usable items that get sent to landfill every year from festivals in the UK.

Over the last couple of years, he says a message has somehow got through to festival goers that it’s ok to abandon your tent because someone from a charity will salvage it and pass it onto someone in need: a refugee camp, the Scouts Association or a local activity centre.

We have never said that. If you want your tent to be donated – pack it up and take it to a charity shop yourself. Leaving tents is not a good thing to do. We have never been able to collect every tent – the majority will go to landfill.

Last summer, he and his volunteers collected around 3,000 tents and the same number of sleeping bags leftover at festivals. Their biggest benefactor is Help Refugees. He thinks they have saved the charity around £20,000 over the years thanks to their donations.

FWRD started in 2015, when a small group of seasoned festival goers-turned-festival litter pickers decided something had to be done about the mountains of perfectly fine leftover equipment and gear at every festival they worked at.

Matt says it’s a reality that festival goers will buy cheap tents for single use, admitting they can’t expect everyone to pay for expensive tents and reuse them year after year. But he doesn’t understand why they have to abandon them: “It’s a lot of unnecessary work for volunteers because people can’t be bothered to put their tent down. Help Refugees often set up very visible donation points in festival campsites so that people see it.

According to Powerful Thinking, UK festivals produce 23,500 tonnes of rubbish each year, two-thirds of which is sent to landfill.

Work is being done to try and rectify the issue. Festival Vision 2025, is a Pledge which more than 70 UK events, including Reading and Leeds, V Festival, and Download have signed up to. As part of this promise, festivals are looking at meeting set goals when it comes to recycling rates, sourcing sustainable food, and encouraging festival-goers to share lifts or arrive using public transport.

More recently Matt and his team have started working with crafters to give a new lease of life to what’s leftover and unsalvageable. “A lot of artists want waste tent fabric. There’s a big network of groups who want items like this to do crafting with children. They are all about using things which would go to waste – stuff that’s hard to pass on anywhere else.” The only issue holding them back is storage. “Hopefully we will be able to store more in the future and be able to hand it out to more groups.” 

What is left over is very dependent on the festival, but most of the time we are only able to deal with about half of it. Some of the smaller, newer festivals are much better at encouraging sustainability. Shambala for example, Latitude and Green Man: they tend to attract a more mature, family crowd.

Despite all the publicity sustainability and single use plastic is getting at the moment, he says it’s surprising they’re not really seeing an improvement in reality: “Not in the last few years. People seem to be waking up to the problem of plastic, but sometimes people don’t associate tents with plastic. There’s this misconception that you can leave your stuff because it will get collected and taken to a charity. And people use this as an excuse. We never tell people to leave their tents and no festival encourages it either.

A couple of future ideas he and the charity are working on include a rental scheme at festivals. Instead of bringing brand new throwaway kit to each festival, you would instead rent it out for the weekend and only get your deposit back once it was returned in a good state. They also want to try to educate people whilst they’re at festivals about sustainability and waste through recycling games.

There is a lot of potential at festivals, they are filled with the right crowd of people, ready to talk. Festivals could be doing a lot of good in the World but they are marred by this sustainability issue.