| Sustainability

The Impact Of Leftover Festival Waste: How Can We Reduce It?

Over recent years, the UK festival trend has become one of increasing popularity, with millions attending the annually hosted events. The enjoyment unfortunately comes at a price, with many of those attending unaware of the impact leftover festival waste is having on mother nature.

In 2020, a not-for-profit organisation, named Powerful-Thinking, highlighted just how much our leftover waste is impacting the environment. Their report ‘The Show Must Go On’, was based on 279 UK summer festivals and estimates of 3.17 million people attending UK music festivals every year creating 25,800 tonnes of waste annually. The report further estimates that over three-quarters of that waste ends up at landfill, highlighting a clear need for action.

The Impact

The nation’s most popular festival, Glastonbury recently highlighted just how much waste the event and its attendees have been producing. The festival hosts just over 200,000 people, with many of the festival-goers leaving behind mountains of waste, it estimates to produce more than 2,000 tonnes of waste each year.

When it comes to cleaning up the mess, unfortunately not all waste collected from festivals can be recycled, as we found out in a recent Show Must Go On report. One form of waste that is posing the biggest challenge to festivals is abandoned tents. Tents are made up of multiple materials; nylon, metal, and plastics, so recycling them is near impossible. If tents are abandoned by the majority of those 3.17 million festival attendees, you can see why the amount of waste ending up in landfill is so high.

The Positive Impact

It isn’t all doom and gloom, with many festivals out there becoming more eco-conscious and putting a lot of focus into their sustainability efforts.

in 2019, Glastonbury banned the sale of plastic bottles to tackle the single-use plastics crises we face. Another positive turnaround from Glastonbury in 2019 recorded an impressive new record, with 99.3% of all tents at the festival taken home. If the UK’s largest festival in terms of attendance can achieve this, others can as well.

However, unfortunately, the festival leading the fight against waste isn’t held in the UK, instead, it is held in Norway. The Norwegian festival, Oya, is one of the greenest events to attend. Food and drink are served in plastic-free packaging that is 100% compostable, with drinks all served in reusable cups. Along with serving responsibly, the festival sort all waste in 15 different sections, with over 60% of the waste generated reused in new products. Can the UK learn from this great festival? With plastic waste now being such a hot topic from the DEFRA Strategy release, it definitely can.


Many have recognised the need for change when it comes to handling festival waste management, with solutions being suggested on how to combat it. Hopefully, some of the below solutions can turn the UK’s most loved festivals into eco-friendly and low waste-producing events like Oya.  

Tent tax

Now the abandoned tent issue has been brought to light, many are spreading awareness through large campaigns to tackle the issue. The campaign #TakeYourTentHome looks to spread this awareness, by communicating that tents aren’t just for festivals and should be reused.

To put a stop to abandoned tents, a simple tent tax has also been proposed. This idea means those attending would have to pay a £25.00 deposit for camping spots, only getting it back if their tent is taken home at the end of the event. It is a shame that the incentive of money needs to be used, but it could force a positive change.

Reusable Cups

Much like Oya, festivals could reduce their waste by serving drinks in reusable cups. Glastonbury is encouraging this scheme by using reusable bottles, however, reusable cups are yet to be introduced. In an ideal world, reusable cups would be designed entirely of recycled and recyclable material. However, collection and disassembly must be painless, and we need to communicate the importance of changing behaviour to combat wastefulness.

EPR could be the next introduction to impact this, because if an informed designer is responsible for dealing with a product’s journey and its waste, the entire incentive structure for circular design changes. Design for disassembly and reuse becomes paramount.

A significant deposit for said reusable item could also be a great option. If it’s made up front with a declaration that all proceeds will be shared with a nominated charity, this would incentivise those in attendance. Or, you inform the festival goer that they should bring their own reusables as all SUP’s are banned.

Plastic Free Packaging

Like Oya, festivals could remove plastic-free packaging from all products sold at the festival. Removing plastic from packaging will generate a massive impact in terms of waste reduction, but that is just the first step. To be sure packaging is sustainable, it could also be made 100% compostable.


Yes, it is disappointing to see so much waste being left behind at festivals, but does it all have to be sent to landfill? A business in Liverpool, Million Stars Sustainable Events, manufacture their products using materials from left behind festival waste. Can other businesses use innovation as a tool to fight festival waste and use in their manufacturing process? It could have a positive for both their production costs and for the reduction of festival waste.

Donation and Aftercare

Most festival waste is produced by those attending, so can those in attendance do more to reduce it? Enjoying the event shouldn’t come at a price to the planet, so more action could be taken by those attending. There are already many out there spreading awareness and fighting the battle, with 5% of UK festivals now signed up to an environmental certification scheme, as well as thousands of great clean-up volunteers helping every year. Another option for festivals and those in attendance to consider is donating. Can items in leftover festival waste be donated? It is certainly another option to consider and could provide useful products to those in need.

To summarise…

With many not-for-profit organisations like Powerful Thinking spreading awareness on Festival waste, more are aware of the challenges the UK face. For UK festivals to develop into a more sustainable and responsible event, the country needs to work together to implement a sustainable change. As proven by Oya, it can be done, so all UK festivals are being encouraged to sign up to an environmental certification scheme. This may reduce the overall 23,500 tonnes of waste but ultimately, the real change can only be made by those attending.

If you are interested in finding out more about difficult waste streams and possible ways of handling them, please contact Reconomy on 01952 292 000 or at enquiries@reconomy.com