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The environmental impact of music festivals and what we can do to help


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According to, 456,000,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions were released in 2017. Julie’s Bicycle found that 540,000 tonnes were caused by the music industry, with 75% of that being through live music.

Y Not Festival by Andy Hughes

While this seems like a small fraction of the bigger picture; there is a growing number of festivals popping up around the UK, attempting to match the ever-increasing demand for live music. But what is it exactly about music festivals that contributes so greatly to climate change and what can we do about it?


The bad boy of environmental damage is waste. Be that a lack of and incorrect recycling, or simply dropping a crisps packet on the side of the road.

At music festivals these daily responsibilities are forgotten. Not only do people seem to think they can litter their used packagings and beer cans all over the site, but they leave tents, clothes, bedding and camping chairs, which all ends up as landfill.

Audiences seem to forget that it isn’t just frowned upon, fly tipping and dropping litter is illegal. At festivals there just isn't strong enough enforcement to ensure this doesn’t happen and frankly, who wants to be monitored for their waste and behaviour like kids in a playground?

Of course, it isn’t solely the audience’s fault; food vendors and bars often serve their food and drink in disposable plastic and paper cups which increases the amount of waste left across the festival site.

But it's not all doom and gloom. More and more festivals are improving their waste disposal practices. Y Not in Derbyshire has launched a new campaign, Keep The Peaks Green. They have banned single-use plastic from their traders and are bringing back the 10p cup scheme (every cup you collect and return, you get 10p). This incentive has been seen amongst other festivals; Tramlines in Sheffield last year did something similar, and there were an incredible amount of kids running around collecting paper cups to return them.

Most festivals, including Y Not 2019 and Boomtown, implement a ‘litter bond’; a £10 addition to your ticket price which is refundable if you hand in a full bin bag at the end of your time on site. It’s another incentive from organisers to try and keep their festivals green.

The aftermath of Rock N Heim Festival in Germany


Out of that 540,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions, Julie’s Bicycle found that 241,000 tonnes are from audience travel; 5,000 tonnes from tour buses and 13,000 from equipment trucking. That’s a whopping 46% of the total UK music industry emissions.

Most festivals offer coach services across the UK to their sites which aids the reduction of these emissions, but the artist travel is less likely to reduce unless the artists themselves choose alternative methods.

The festival market was worth 2.3bn in 2016 and is predicted to increase by 2.2bn by 2020, which proves that there is a rising demand for music festivals. From the same report by Festickets, it was found that travelling to Portugal and Spain were the most popular festival destinations of 2016; and we can only expect this trend to grow. This popular festival trend causes a greater problem to the environment if it’s on the rise.

On the other hand, from a survey conducted via Statistica, 46% of people stated that they go to festivals abroad because it means they can also have a holiday. This could be a positive movement as it could result in more people travelling abroad just once a year to combine the two activities, and not travelling multiple times for holidays and festivals separately. 


Unsurprisingly, festivals use a lot of energy over the course of 3-5 days.

Obviously, as a camper, you aren’t using as much energy as you would at home or as the festival organisers are. Traders and bars, however, require huge amounts of energy to run all through the day and night. Not to mention the late night and campsite DJ sets that run until the early hours - there is a lot of energy being used around the clock at festivals.

From an infographic by Timeout, Download Festival has 150 speakers on the main stage alone. Imagine that across the 200 festivals that happen each year in the UK - not only is that a ridiculous amount of energy being put into just one stage, but naturally, a large number of noise pollution being emitted as well.

The services available at festivals that are there to make your time as normal as possible, such as hair straightening facilities, showers, phone charging docks etc. are all features of festivals that aren’t essential to the weekend but we, as consumers, created a demand for it and now it’s what we expect.

Y Not Festival by Carolina Faruolo

So, what can we do?

  • Take part in the green festival schemes, e.g. litter bonds, cup returns.
  • Take your tent home. Another great thing from Y Not’s campaign is their new campsite plan that will pitch a tent and take it down for you.
  • Travel via public transport or coaches.
  • If you're travelling abroad for a festival – turn it into a holiday!
  • You don’t need to shower, you don’t need to charge your phone, you don’t need to straighten your hair. Revel in the wildness of limited living for a few days.
  • Take your own reusable pots and cutlery and cups, maybe traders might start offering a discount for those who do...

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