Save Yourselves

Some Easy Ways to Stamp Out Your Festival Carbon Footprint

Look after the planet and have a mostly guilt-free comedown.
glastonbury stone circle
Photo: Jake Lewis

Festivals, I'm sad to say, are as bad for the environment as they are for your insides. Consider your average music-based weekender: it's essentially a temporary town that thousands of people have travelled vast distances to attend, to swill imported drinks out of plastic glasses while a 24-hour barrage of light and noise keeps their dopamine levels topped up.

Hard not to be a buzzkill here, but the nature of this composition makes festivals inherently bad for the environment – worse, still, when you realise that UK events alone create over 23,500 tons of waste per year while burning over 4.9 million litres of fuel.


Fortunately, change is afoot within the industry. The Association of Independent Festivals' "Drastic on Plastic" initiative has seen over 65 independent UK festivals commit to eradicating single-use plastics by 2021, while events including Reading & Leeds and All Points East have pledged to reduce their diesel consumption by 50 percent as part of "Festival Vision: 2025".

But how can you – the eco-conscious festival attendee whose cupboard is heaving with 70 Bags for Life you've bought and then forgotten to use – reduce your own festival carbon footprint this summer? I called some experts to find out.

nyc downlow 2019

Photo: Bekky Lonsdale


On average, audience travel comprises 80 percent of UK festival's carbon emissions. According to "The Show Must Go On", a 2015 report into the industry's environmental impact, over 78,155 tons of CO2e are created via punters loading a crate of Dark Fruits into their boot and jabbing an unknown rural address into Google Maps.

"Travel is the big one," says Chris Johnson, co-founder of Shambala Festival. Shambala has been at the vanguard of UK festival sustainability for years and, among their many successes, saw a quarter of their audience travel to the festival using shared transport in 2018.

A return car journey from Manchester to Glastonbury for two people creates approximately 94.5kg of carbon, while a train emits 46.3kg and a direct coach just 29.3kg. For context: according to You Sustain, 94.5kg would power an LCD TV continuously for 23.5 days. The solution? You can make inroads into your car's footprint by using carshare services like GoCarShare, or arrive virtually carbon neutral by using Red Fox Cycling, which this year will run pelotons to 15 festivals including Boomtown, Latitude and Bluedot.


If you're traveling abroad to a festival, it's likely you'll be flying. The emissions for this are high: two people taking a return flight from Gatwick to Croatia's Split creates 979.3Kg: enough to power an average house for 27.5 days. You can balance this – or any journey – with a small donation to Energy Revolution: they work on providing environmental solutions to travel emissions within the music industry, and will put those guilty green pounds to excellent use.

single use plastic glastonbury

Photo: Jake Lewis


"The festival industry is responsible for literally millions of single-use plastics every year," says Chris Johnson. The 15,000 capacity Shambala banned single-use plastics in 2014; before that, approximately 100,000 pint glasses were used each year. Although we're seeing industry-wide moves to bring down or eliminate single-use plastic, it's still relatively early days: get ahead by bringing a reusable cup for the bar and that Chilly's bottle your mum bought you for water.

Plastic comes in many forms, all of which contributes to an average of 2.8kg waste per person, per day at UK music festivals.

"We need to stop thinking about festivals as a throwaway experience," says Livvy Drake, sustainability and behaviour change consultant, and founder of Green Livvy. By this, she means everything from that impulse-buy pink Primark visor to the glitter you're slapping all over your face. Livvy isn't preaching total plastic abstinence, but suggests cruising charity shops for your "fun" festival outfits and returning the items when you're done (cleaned, of course).


Regarding glitter: non-biodegradable stuff takes literally hundreds of years to decompose and is going to be banned from 65 UK festivals by 2021. If you truly feel your festival experience is going to be enhanced by a sparkly butterfly painted on your cheek, get biodegradable.

tents glastonbury blow up bed

Photo: Jake Lewis


A recent campaign by the Association of Independent Festivals highlighted the fact that 250,000 tents are abandoned each year at UK festivals. The average tent averages 3.5kg in weight and is made mostly of plastic: equivalent to 8,750 straws or 250 pint cups. Much of the campaign's focus was on highlighting the environmental cost of companies like Argos and Tesco selling budget festival camping gear; 2015 research by Comp-a-Tent suggests as many as 36 percent of abandoned tents at UK festivals were bought from these two stores.

"They're made with plastic, nylon and have a high carbon footprint in the production," says Livvy Drake. "If you're taking them to only four festivals, your carbon footprint and your waste footprint is going to be significantly higher."

If you can't face the thought of lugging your canvas home on the train, book a pre-pitched, up-cycled tent from Camplight for the price – more or less – of a set from Argos. They'll clean and re-use it once once you've head off to negotiate your comedown in peace. Failing that, hire one off any of the sites that just popped up when I googled "hire tent UK".

glastonbury festival food

Photo: Chris Bethell


There is one type of food it's acceptable to take to a festival: cereal bars and variations thereof. Leave the hummus in the train station M&S: it'll end up in a bag of rotting, landfill-destined trash, next to five bananas, an open bottle of Yop and condoms, discarded after never fulfilling their dreadful, fourth-day-at-a-festival destiny.

You'll know that vegetarian or vegan is better for the planet by now, with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation stating that a fifth of global man-made carbon emissions are produced by the meat industry. If you’re serious about sustainable eating, seek out the stalls shouting about where their food comes from.

"Take a look at the menu boards and check the providence of their food," says Chris Johnson, whose Shambala is now fully meat and fish free, "and make an informed choice."


Bad news for the environmental enthusiast hoping to spend the weekend using chemicals to escape the crushing ennui of life beyond the festival gates.

"The massive elephant in the room is drugs," says Livvy Drake. "The destruction of the rainforest from cocaine production is unbelievable. It's polluting, they bleach it all and they just chuck all these chemicals into the waterways." Cannabis and MDMA aren’t much better, with the latter's byproducts dumped in streets, parks and forests near the drug's production epicentre in Brabant.

It's good news for the trippy lads among you, though, according to Drake: "In terms of the environmental impact, mushrooms are probably the best. They’re natural and picked from the ground."

Thanks to Sustainable Travel International for their assistance is compiling this article