Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! The best ways to do a music festival ethically

There’s always more us music fans can do to reduce a festival's environmental impact...

Festivals are a bit of an odd one, aren’t they? What exactly, dear reader, is so enticing about staying in a well-worn tent amongst a field of thousands of strangers? Is the thought of exclusively eating soggy cereal bars to avoid extortionate catering prices really that appealing? And what about the unpredictable weather? The diabolical sound levels? The warm ciders?

Such hardships must warrant a reward, surely. If, at the expense of your own self-hygiene (and sanity), you decide to stealthily immerse yourself in all the sticky crowds and questionable conditions, you may be able to catch a few bands with a few mates, which doesn’t sound all that bad.

One way to make these general festival gripes more tolerable, though, is to consider ditching a disposable festival lifestyle. Many of us festival-goers could make a more of an effort to alleviate the collective environmental impact of our festival seasons with a few simple hacks, and in doing so, reduce our carbon footprint. And don’t fret, we at NME have some suggestions on how to get through your muddy weekenders a little bit more ethically. You (and the planet) will feel all the better for it.

Getting there


Well, before we get into it, let’s think about how the hell you’re gonna get there first. Unless your chosen festival is in the middle of bloody nowhere (though, this may be more likely than not), there will probably be an option to use public transport to get to the site. According to a 2015 report from Powerful Thinking, emissions from travelling to a festival make up 80% of the entire festivals carbon footprint. With this statistic in mind, scour the FAQ page of your festival’s website to find the nearest train station to the site, or consider using a direct coach service. Companies such as BigGreenCoach and National Express offer coach and festival ticket packages, with services running from the UK’s biggest cities.

However, if you’d rather stay behind your own wheel, you could lower your own fuel emissions by taking all of your friends in the same car. Still got spare seats? Perhaps you should consider car sharing. Many festivals have their own event pages and groups on Facebook where you may be able to find and connect with other festival goers looking to hitch a ride from your area to the site.


Say no to single-use

Earlier this year, the Association of Independent Festivals reported that 250,000 tents are left abandoned in festival fields over the summer each year, contributing to the UK’s rising levels of plastic waste. When looking at your festival budget, it may be more than tempting to cut costs by picking up the cheapest tent your local branch of Argos has to offer – trust us, we’ve been there too.

When planning the logistics of your festival, consider speaking to family and friends to see if they have any working camping gear that you could borrow. Not only will this save you a few pennies to put towards drinks, it means that you can minimise waste by sharing items with others.

If you can’t find a loved one with a usable tent to boot, Kartent offers a reusable tent made solely from thick cardboard, or The Tent Lab’s range of eco-friendly tents are waterproof and reusable, sans the PVC and chemicals that you would find in the lining of a cheap tent.


Camplight and Tangerine Fields also have pre-pitched tents for hire at the majority of major and independent UK festivals. Their rent-a-tent scheme ensures that after you leave, the tent will be re-sold and re-used in the future. Even better, you won’t have the ultimate burden of putting up a tent upon arrival, and putting it down while incapacitated by that Monday hangover. Hoorah!

Camp sustainably

Most of us have to rely on rather shoddy portable chargers to get through the weekend while remaining online, unless you’re one of the few that can afford glamping, and, in turn, access to electricity for the entirety of the festival. We’re not jealous or anything. Be it camping or glamping, there are solutions. Solar powered chargers act as a sustainable source of power when electricity is out of sight. UV rays can provide charge even when its slightly overcast, which, obviously, that’s probably the most sunshine you’ll get at a British festival. The Rrelon Solar Bank is perfect if you are on a budget, and it will fit snuggly in your pocket, too.

Keeping up with festival fashion needn’t be a problem either. Second-hand shopping apps including Depop and Vinted offer sustainable alternatives to fast fashion retailers, but make sure to purchase multi-purpose items (e.g sportswear) as they will always remain environmentally sound.

Keep it plastic-free

Earlier this year, the government took decisive action on the war on waste and brought in measures on single use plastic items. By April 2020, plastic drinks stirrers will be banned from sale in England and restrictions upon the availability of plastic straws and cotton buds will be implemented. In line with these proposals, over 60 British festivals, including Boardmasters and Kendal Calling have pledged to ban single-use plastics by 2021, ridding the festival sites of plastic food trays, bottles and so forth. Live Nation, the promoters behind Reading & Leeds and Download have also committed themselves to the cause.

It is Glastonbury, the biggest (and best) festival of them all, that is truly leading the way through the revolution. In February, the festival made the landmark decision to ban the sale of single-use plastic bottles at the festival, instead, water was sold in cans. Such a mighty risk paid off, as post-Glasto reports revealed that over 1 million bottles were saved from being used across the weekend.

Some of the responsibility to eradicate single-use plastics at festivals completely by 2021 will fall down to the festival-goers themselves, though. Pack wisely and stock up on eco-friendly essentials – packing staples such as reusable drinking straws, cutlery and cups. To keep in line with the eco-conscious zeitgeist, you could still indulge in some sparkly festival fun with some guilt-free biodegradable glitter, sold by The Gypsy Shrine and Barry M, amongst others.

Festival-goers wait for water refills at Glastonbury.

Recycle properly

Research from The Waste Place has stated, as of 2018, that “there is an estimated 10,000 tons plus a year of waste generated from festivals, tents, cups, food containers and other associated items”. To strive for a zero-waste event yourself, look for labelled bins to segregate your waste effectively. Keep a cardboard box handy for bottles and plastic containers and dispose of them in one go into the correct bin, which will save hassle when clearing the campsite.

Many festivals run a litter-picking initiative in exchange for money or, in the case of larger affairs (Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds) a free festival ticket. TRSNMT, Glasgow’s inner-city weekender, annually joins forces with DF Concerts to run their cup deposit scheme; festival-goers are encouraged to pick up as many empty cups and bottles as they can, with the collection of 10 bottles equating to £1. Not a fan of the headliner? No problem. Volunteer to spend a few hours litter picking. It may even be more enjoyable than a George Ezra headline slot.

Now, it’s down to you. As the mammoth clean-up following this year’s Glastonbury Festival began, organiser Emily Eavis revealed the festival’s stunning success rate via Instagram., “99.3% of all tents were taken home”, she wrote, and if nigh-on 250,000 attendees can do it, then so can the rest of us. Let’s step it up, team.