Music festivals are fast gaining a reputation for being places of reckless abandonment — abandonment of camping equipment and garbage, that is. Jessica Dale meets the people trailblazing a greener way to fest.
Imagine you're out camping with your mates, sitting in your somewhat comfortable folding chair, cooking on the fire, beers in hand. The time comes to pack up and head home. There are no rubbish bins around so your mate just decides to leave their garbage scattered around the campsite. Would you A: Call your mate out for littering and causing harm to the native surroundings? Or B: Just ignore it and head on home?
We're going to bank that nine out of ten of you would fall into category A. So then, what happens to the one that chooses B? You may think "well, how much harm can one person really do?" While the impact of one person isn't all that serious, the impact of that person one thousand times over is; and that's exactly what happened at this year's Lost Paradise festival in the NSW Glenworth Valley.
One person who's working to improve situations like that left behind at Lost Paradise is Tim Hollo, founder of Green Music Australia.
"Green Music Australia has been around for a few years now and what we're trying to do is two things really; one is obviously, quite directly, work with the music industry at all sorts of levels to help reduce the environmental impact of the industry," explains Hollo. "So that's things like waste streams, energy use, shifting to renewable energy, transport, looking at greener options for transport to and from gigs and festivals, that kind of thing. But at the same time, what's really central to what we're trying to achieve is to be really conscious of who we are as musicians and what our role actually is."
"As musicians, we're in this incredibly privileged position of being pretty damn influential in our society. So really, what we're trying to do is not just reduce our own environmental impact because, to be frank, we're not the coal industry," he laughs.
"We're not the aluminium industry, we're not a massive, massive polluter but by taking the lead ourselves we can have a huge influence in the way other people think about environmental behaviour. But that's really, more deeply, what we're trying to achieve. So take a look, our main campaign is working on single-use plastics. Trying to get single-use plastic water bottles, primarily, and cups out of the music scene. What we're really trying to do there is reduce that huge waste stream, number one, because it's hugely problematic. But then number two is to kind of bring that idea into people's faces, in the context of music gigs and festivals. By saying this disposable culture is not cool, we're doing our bit to try to get rid of it."
"I think what's really interesting is that what we notice when we see the positive but most of us don't actually notice when we see the opposite. But it's nonetheless hugely influential. If you go to see a musician that you love and you see them between songs, lean down, pick up a plastic water bottle and drain it and toss it aside, that really sends a powerful message that that's an OK thing to do or a cool thing to do. And the same goes at festivals, you know, if you're walking around a festival late in the evening and there's a sea of rubbish everywhere, you might feel a little bit annoyed by it, or if you're somebody like me you might get pretty pissed off by it, but most people wander through it and it just feels like what it is and that's part of the exciting memory, in fact, of the festival. And that idea that rubbish is around gets normalised. It becomes what's OK, and that then leads to a whole lot of bigger issues… People have started to leave tents behind, and rubbish behind and things, and I think there's a very direct link there."
Hollo puts this shift in attitude down to two main factors; young people now have more money than previous generations, and manufacturing is pumping out more product than ever before.
"Equipment itself has become a lot cheaper: you can buy $20 tents and that didn't used to be a thing. So while that's a great thing in terms of access, it's really problematic that if they're so cheap, they become disposable. That's one of the factors, that's not really something we address," he says.
"We need to work around it in different ways. One factor I do believe is that there's more disposable income around. We're wealthier than we used to be and that brings with it a certain amount of disposable tendencies, I guess, and always has. It's been slowly progressing but when I was first starting to go to festivals, most of us didn't have the kind of cash that we could splash around like that; that you could just spend some money on a tent and then just throw it away. [They] weren't as cheap but we also just didn't have that cash.
"But then a really important part of it is that this disposable culture has just kind of gotten into so many layers. Plastic water bottles, plastic straws everywhere, and in our general lives, but really very, very much at festivals too. This idea that you turn up with your credit card and you can just get everything there and then just throw it away there, that didn't used to be the case. And I think we as musicians and as a music industry, actually have an incredibly important role to play there in turning that culture around…"
While musicians do play a huge role in this change, it is, of course, festival organisers themselves that need to own up to the issue and impart change where they can. A great example of what can be done can be found just over the Queensland border at Woodfordia, home of the annual Woodford Folk Festival.
"I think it's got to do with what our Festival Director, Bill Hauritz has said to me… His desire is that 'after the festival, our planet is a little better off, rather than worse off,'" explains Woodfordia's Environmental Projects Officer Sandra Tuszynska. "I think it starts with the people that are the organisers."
Woodford differs from a lot of other music festivals, in that so much of their ethos and identity is wrapped up in the environment in which the festival is held. Because of this, caring for the land has always been a huge part of the way the event runs.
"In 2003, a decision was made to not take waste off-site and thus not contribute to landfill, so we started creating an environment with composting facilities for stall holders, so that we could take the bulk of it and process it on-site. That cuts down transport emissions and costs as well," says Tuszynska of just one of the festival's many ecological initiatives. "This is what Bill says: 'It's our duty to protect the land. Not even to protect it, but to use it responsibly.'"