New Salt columnist and green activist Kylie Barton takes a look at some of the environmental initiatives that took place at Glastonbury this year, and finds that, despite gross amounts of leftover rubbish, there were some great successes that deserve attention.
Glastonbury is renowned globally for two paradoxical things: environmentalism and trash. The festival is one of the largest in Europe and attracts over 150,000 people every year. With such a large amount of people comes a large volume of waste.
The event has always been rooted in sustainability, environmentalism, and green living. It’s hippy-tastic and is not only a place to see some of the biggest names in music, but it gives attendees an opportunity to learn new skills such as wood carving, upcycling, and permaculture living. This year Glastonbury went a step further to encourage campers in its busiest field, Pennard Hill, to take their trash with them.
Sustainable Villages Project
Glastonbury joined forces with the Young Greens (the youth branch of the Green Party) to pilot a Sustainable Villages Project. The pilot saw 80 Young Greens and 20 permaculturists come together to set up six village greens on Pennard Hill. The small green spaces were developed into community areas in the five days before the arrival of most of the festival-goers. Young Green volunteers foraged for fire wood and other useful materials, built rain and shade structures, formulated communal cooking areas, crafted willow boundaries and paths to and from the villages to the loos and water points, and prettified them with hand painted signs and messages promoting sustainable camping.
The volunteers were trained in permaculture and stewardship so they had the tools to encourage conscious camping. Armed with harrowing facts, for instance it cost Glastonbury £780,000 last year in landfill bills – money which could go to one of the partner charities, Greenpeace, Wateraid, or Oxfam, or even go towards reducing ticket prices, the teams raised awareness of the financial and environmental costs of the post-festival clean up. They made ashtrays out of beer cans and informed people that fag butts cannot be digested by the cows who live on the field for the majority of the year. They weren’t there to preach, but befriend, and raise consciousness – and it worked.
Before the project began, it was feared the ruthlessness of the determined campers would see the project lose three village greens from the outset; but all 6 were retained. As hordes of campers descended, the reception was overwhelmingly positive. The public were happy to see Glastonbury return to the community-centred entity it once was, with communal areas saved to stop campers squeezing themselves in like stupidly willing battery hens. When walking away from the villages, you could see the effect. The immediate ring of tents around the village greens were spotless, the next ring of campsites were pretty good, and so on and so forth. This ripple effect can be seen in the aerial photos (see main article image).
The villages took on different identities to reflect those of the campers surrounding them. Some were musical, some were food focused, others were chill out zones, and others late-night hangouts. All took minimal upkeep once the festival had started, which demonstrated that campers in Britain do actually know how to respect a space, once they have been gently nudged in the right direction by strategically placed eco-aware volunteers masquerading as mere punters. Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, visited the villagers on one rainy afternoon and praised volunteers for creating self-sufficient cooperative communities; something we should strive for in everyday life.
Bennett said: “The Young Greens’ Glastonbury project showed the value of community building in promoting sustainable living. It’s clear that the project had an impact not only on the amount of waste and litter left behind, but on people’s attitudes to the farm, illustrating the importance of empowering and engaging people within local communities to make a positive change to their environment.”
On exodus day, these volunteers offered to help campers pack away any unwanted tents so that charitable organisations could collect them for use by refugees. Sleeping bags that were no longer needed were gathered up for homeless shelters, and any remaining unopened food collected up for food banks. The pilot was holistic and collaborative in its approach to reduce waste, increase recycling and upcycling, and raise awareness of sustainability and environmental issues.
Unfortunately this pilot on one campsite area was just a drop in the pond, and headlines still roared with disgust at the amount of rubbish, and moreover non-rubbish left behind.
The positivity of this innovative pilot was not championed enough by mainstream media, as is always the case.
A solid start
There is lots to be learnt for next time, but this was a solid start. Glastonbury had very few inter-festival initiatives to encourage recycling. Reading has its refunds for beer cups, BoomTown pays for bags of recycling, and other festivals rent tents, chairs and other items seen as disposable when it comes to the long walk back to the car, to minimise what is left. Arcadia, the big mechanical spider people dance under until the wee hours, was offering a free t-shirt for three bags of recycling in the last two days, but this was not well advertised, and thus not fully utilised. In Europe they seem to be a bit further ahead of the curve, with France and Germany experiencing far fewer problems than we see here in the UK.
The project was a roaring success and a sign of camping to come, with each village green being held, well used, well respected, and well… just loved by Glasto-goers. Campsite stewards, site managers, and the Glastonbury sustainability manager were all overwhelmed by the project’s success. Even the man himself, Michael Eavis (founder of Glastonbury) did a couple of friendly drive-bys to check the project’s progress before the public arrived.
The kindness ripple
The Young Greens national coordinator and project lead, Fiona Brookes, said: “We are all elated at the success of this pilot. With the help of an amazing, innovative, dedicated team, we have shown that if we gently nudge the public in the right direction, then they are more than willing to take part.
“Someone said to me it is like the kindness ripple; once you start something so positive, it is infectious and that is what we have achieved here with sustainable camping. This is just the beginning, and we are already planning how to expand next year to work in more campsites at Glasto. And then, who knows, one day this initiative may be an integral part of every UK festival.”
Kylie Barton writes about social issues, sustainability and welfare, and also ran in the previous election as a local Green Party candidate.