Tech by VICE

Meet the Woman Behind the World's First Ever Compostable Tent

The world's first fully compostable tent could play a big part in reducing waste at music festivals.

by Olivia Marks
May 18 2016, 4:46pm

Illustration: Hisham Bharoocha

University College London graduate Amanda Campbell is on a one-woman mission to make music festivals greener

We've all been to music festivals, but few of us hang around long enough to witness the mammoth cleanup operation that swings into action once Monday rolls around. Like making a sharp exit from a house party before the host wakes up and realises the full scale of the damage, it's just better for your soul if you get out of that field and away from the filth as fast as you can–even if that means leaving most of your possessions behind. Right. Right? And, of course, that's part of the reason why the clean up is as colossal as it is. It may or may not come as a surprise (depending on the kind of festival goer that you are), that each year an estimated 13,500 tents are abandoned at Reading Festival. At Glastonbury, that figure is more like 20,000. And although teams of people will gather up and recycle what they can, tonnes of discarded tents still end up in landfill every year.

Although research is ongoing into how to make festivals greener, nobody has successfully tried to tackle the problem of the tent itself. Cheap pop-up tents were a revelation for those of us who only ever needed them for a couple of days every summer, but that rock bottom price also means they're bad news for the environment thanks to our throwaway mentality. As someone who has worked with the waste teams at countless festivals, Amanda Campbell has seen first hand the number of discarded tent poles and plastic that wind up in the dump.

"Everyone thinks 'Oh, Oxfam's here, all those tents will probably go to charity,'" said Amanda. "But one year I stayed really late at a festival and saw them all get crumpled down and go to a land fill. It was thousands and thousands. I thought that it was crazy, and that there has to be an alternative."

There wasn't – until she made one.

It was during her time as an Architectural Studies student at UCL that Amanda started exploring ways of making a tent that was fully recyclable. Amanda initially started working with cardboard, however found the material too heavy to work efficiently. It was only when she started experimenting with bio plastics that she was able to land on a design that was not only lightweight and waterproof, but also fully compostable.

Shortly after, Amanda won UCL's prestigious Bright Ideas Award which gave her the money to patent her idea and the confidence to launch her business: Comp-A Tent–the first fully compostable tent. "It's moving so fast, I can't keep up," she said. "I graduated last year, and have just taken on a business partner who quit his job in Japan to work on this project. It's all been a total rollercoaster of a journey."

All the materials used in the tent are biodegradable–even the glue holding the tent's central (paper) pole together is derived from milk. Amanda estimates that it will take around 120 days for the tent to completely break down. "The idea is that it's as near carbon neutral as possible. Things like transport will affect that and, at the moment, the only places that make bio plastics using renewable energy are very, very expensive. But in a few years time it will be more viable."

Illustration: Hisham Bharoocha

Amanda will roll out the first tents at festivals this summer, giving her the opportunity to see how they work with different waste teams and get feedback from customers. "I love camping", she said. "I know what makes a good camping experience. It won't rival high end tents, but then it's not meant to be reused."

They say not to mix business with pleasure, but when you're trying to get a start up off the ground, you have to really love what it is you're doing. "If you're not passionate about what you're doing, then you should probably get a job with an income because in a business start-up like this you're going to miss out on socialising with friends, and it's really difficult to have a relationship. Without the passion, you'd probably give up." Being able to centre her business around the thing the she loves the most–music festivals–is one of the things that has kept her positive when things have been tough.

"I'm really surprised at myself at how much I've been able to do, but I've also learned what I can't do. There have been highs and lows, but I'm just really enjoying the whole process at the moment." Clearly, Amanda's enjoying it enough that she's thinking about the future, and how she might expand the business.

"I don't want it to end with the festival tents," she said. "I want to create humanitarian shelters and possibly even military tents, as well as looking at other products that are deemed disposable and see if they can be made in a more efficient way." Amanda also hopes that Comp-A-Tent inspires others to take responsibility for the planet. "I really want to prove that anyone can make a difference if they really try–that environmental issues can be tackled by everyone, not just the government."

While cheap pop-up tents are the very things Amanda is rallying against, there is one thing about them she hopes to emulate: their success. "I'm hoping my tent will explode in the way the pop-ups did, especially with support from festivals. That's my dream."