This November, we’re running Bunbury’s first zero waste music festival. If you want to make an event 10x more complicated to organise, make it zero waste. But hey, if you want to make it 1000x better for the planet, make it zero waste.
Why are we doing it? A while ago I was at an outdoor music gig. I was watching the headline band, who were singing songs about the earth and how we need to do better to protect it. They’re an incredible band and the crowd was up dancing, singing and having the best time.
I had this surreal moment where I stepped back from the music for a sec and realised that all those people were dancing on top of a literal carpet of plastic and rubbish. Plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, Chicken Treat boxes… all discarded by patrons throughout the day. It would have been laughable if it wasn’t so sad - this perfect metaphor for people blissfully ignoring what’s going on right underneath their feet.
But if you’re going to run an event where you’re selling the crowd swags of single use plastics and giving them inadequate bins to dispose of their rubbish correctly, what do you expect? This is why I knew our festivals had to be zero waste. And it’s why we’ve kept fighting to make it happen.
If you’re a promotor or musician and want to give it a crack, here’s some of the things we’ve learnt (so far) along the way:
GET YOUR LOCAL COUNCIL ON SIDE IMMEDIATELY. IF NOT SOONER.
In general local councils are not set-up to deal with weird and wacky new events. Event policies have likely been in place for years, and are applied as a blanket rule to each new event that comes along.
My biggest mistake was getting frustrated that these rules were literally preventing us being able to go zero waste. I was getting angry and upset as I felt that we were trying to do a good thing and just kept hitting roadblocks. However, as soon as I changed my attitude to ‘let’s work together to find a solution’… solutions were forthcoming. People were helpful. So yeah. Learn from my mistakes.
EXPECT THE BEST OF YOUR PUNTERS
I’ve been told more than once by well-meaning people that there’s no point in having multiple bins (for paper, compost, aluminium etc.) as we can’t expect people to actually put the right stuff in the right bins. ‘People don’t care, they’ll just chuck everything in the rubbish bin’.
My concrete and unwavering response to that is ‘I completely disagree’. I believe in people more than that. I believe most people genuinely want to do the right thing, but it’s up to us as promotors to make it as easy as possible for them. We’ll also have volunteers on site to help people out if they do get confused… Hopefully in the future multiple sorted bins will be a requirement at all festivals, not just an option at zero waste ones.
PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN
We’ve had a hard-line approach to anyone wanting to get involved in the festival - vendors cannot be creating non-compostable, non-recyclable waste for patrons. At all. This has been confronting for a lot of food vendors, and I totally get it. When you’re selling in bulk at multiple events over a weekend, how do you avoid those convenient plastic containers/cutlery/cups? But even though we have been faced with a bit (although honestly not a lot!) of resistance, I always put my foot down. Find a solution, or don’t be involved. And let me tell you right now, anything that’s ‘commercially compostable’ is not a solution. Those ‘bio’ cups are getting chucked in the bin 100% of the time.
It’s actually been awesome to challenge people in this way. We had a conversation with our (amazing) coffee vendor, who has agreed to work with us in using only real coffee cups and real teaspoons. We’re also encouraging punters to bring their own keep cups along. I believe people will appreciate the environmental benefits and the home-style feel more than the convenience of a single use cup. Expect the best of your punters. See point above.
IT’S GONNA BE HARD
I think the biggest challenge has been finding solutions for things that we’d never even considered. Where do you get your ice from? We can’t buy it in the plastic bags as you normally would. How do you make sure you’ve got enough free water available for punters? (Side note - the only water trailer that’s available in the South West wouldn’t let us use it as we’re not a not-for-profit, charity or a sports team, even though the trailer isn’t being used on the day of our event. Another example of policies that need to change to support and encourage people to start running waste free events).
What do you do with wine & cider bottles, when they can’t be taken back by the producer for OH&S reasons and we know it’s difficult for glass to get recycled properly? What non-alcoholic beverages can you serve to avoid creating more cans & bottles? Where does our (minimal) recycling go, and what happens to it? The happy myth that recycling is the solution to all our waste problems has been blown wide open in 2018. As Mythbusters would say, myth busted.
So that’s where we are at, a few days out from our very first zero waste festival. About to undertake a bit of a social experiment, to see how people deal with new situations and adapt to things being a little less convenient but a lot more rad.
I for one believe they’ll embrace it. I’ll let you know.
Get your tickets for the festival below: