Six ways that music festivals can reduce their impact

music festival photo
CC BY-SA 2.0 Eva Rinaldi

Festival season is approaching. Along with the fun, sunshine, good times and suspiciously aromatic waft of herbal cigarettes, there will also be mountains of trash, traffic jams in the middle of nowhere, and a carbon footprint the size of Arcade Fire's tour bus. But fear not. As music festivals have evolved, they've also found many ways to mitigate their impact.

Below are a few of our favorites.

Renewable phone charging
From sound-charged shirts to solar-powered charging stations, it seems much of the hype around greening music festivals seems to revolve around how to recharge your cell phone. We've even air-bed foot pumps being turned into mobile turbines for charging your handheld device.

Now the cynic in me would note that the charging of a cell phone is probably a fraction of a music festival's footprint. But then the optimist would counter that there are few better ways to engage festival goers themselves in the concept of renewable energy than to offer them a tangible benefit like charging their phone.

thunderbox dave composting toilets festivals photo

Composting toilets
Music festivals attract a lot of people. And those people tend to want to pee and poop. (Especially if they've been overindulging.) So concepts like the Thunderbox composting toilet or the P-Tree can be great ways to both reduce problems of polluting local waterways, and even recycling nutrients for future use too.

Raising awareness
Forget trash piles and toilets and energy bills for a second. One of the biggest impacts of any festival is its cultural one. How many lives are changed by the experience of attending, and how? At Bonnaroo back in 2009, organizers decided to use the festival as a platform to discuss the global water crisis, offering people safe, clean tap water as an alternative to bottled water, and teaching them about the dangerous lack of water in many parts of the world.

Coachella Express Train passengers

Green transportation
Music festivals tend to happen in the middle of nowhere—or at least out in the country where folks have room to spread out and there are fewer neighbors to worry about. That means, however, that everyone has to find a way of getting there. And that transportation involves fuel of some kind. At Shambala Festival in England, organizers put on coaches for attendees and subsidize them with the money raised from car parking charges. Coachella decided to step it up a notch themselves in 2008, chartering an entire train for festival goers to arrive in style.

glastonbury solar array photo

Clean, green energy
With many stages to power and lights to keep on, festivals tend to suck a huge amount of power too. At Rothbury music festival they have explored offsetting emissions by donating solar systems, wind turbines and low energy light bulbs to local schools. At Glastonbury Festival, England, there's long been a tradition of seeking alternative forms of power. Most recently, festival founder Michael Eavis installed one of the largest privately owned solar arrays in the country on the roof of his cow shed.

Less trash, better trash
And the of course there's trash, and lots of it from my experience. (I once made the mistake of volunteering as a trash collector at Glastonbury.) Rock-A-Field Festival in Luxembourg has gone all out in the war on trash, moving way beyond basic recycling to offer incentives for reusable containers, and mandating all food be served in biodegradable containers to facilitate composting of food waste. As a result, the 2011 festival saw a 75% reduction in non-recycled/non-reused waste compared to 2006. They also, by the way, banned vendors and sponsors from giving away frivolous promotional items; they purchased 100% green energy; and ensured that 75% of the food and drink being served was from local sources.

Now that's what I'm talking about.

Six ways that music festivals can reduce their impact
From the substantial to the symbolic, music festivals around the world are finding ways to get a little greener.

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