Glastonbury: The green successes we never heard about

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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.

kylieGlastonbury 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.

‘Overwhelmingly positive’

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.”

Exodus day

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.

‘Roaring success’

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.”

Bennett at the village

Kylie Barton writes about social issues, sustainability and welfare, and also ran in the previous election as a local Green Party candidate.

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  • Katie Joyce

    I think the communities were a fantastic idea! Not only did they look pretty and make Pennard much more spacious and easy to navigate through, but also the volunteers were extremely positive, engaging and helpful. Special mention to Jerry who lit the fire and made us brews on our walk back to camp in the early hours after our late night out. We also had conversations about Glastonburys gone by and voiced our own ideas on how we would improve Glastonbury which is already my favourite place in the world. Excellent work guys, looking forward to seeing more of the same next year x

  • Rob Bryan

    This year was my first Glastonbury ever and the Young Greens on Pennard Hill made the experience so much more enjoyable! I loved chilling out in the Green Tree Village. Friendly people, campfire, Tea / Coffee! whats not to love 🙂

  • Floss b – h

    Commenting in these sections is not something i normally do in the land of mediaville but i have just gotta big these lot up. I have been going to Glastonbury festival for nearly 30 years and have only ever camped back stage areas due to work and contacts. This year i was a worker again and my niece who is now 16 had managed to get tickets with three of her friends. Most of them had not been before so knew nothing about the camping lark other than to get there early. I sneakily had there tent on site and waited until the 8am moment before attempting to put it up. I went straight to pennard hill because it was so close to where i was camped and i thought if they ever need help i am close by. I could feel their vulnerability being four 16 year old girls, as i roamed around looking for a good spot. I saw little set ups of tents with acid house flags and such in the middle and i thought, what if they are right next to a bunch of smashed up older men etc. So the protector in me wanted to make it as smooth a ride as possible for them. I then saw a bunch of sprightly, smiling folk doing facepaints on each other inside a circle of willow. I thought ooo i could put them near these lot. As i dropped the tent on the floor suddenly several of them appeared offering to help put the tent up. The next thing i knew i was being offerred orange slices on a tray like they were ferrero rocher. They were blowing bubbles, doing team building fun in a circle, in the blistering early morning sun. The feeling gave me a deep warmth inside and they told me that the girls could come and get tea or coffee or elderflower any time they wanted and they could come and sit around the fire in this little village green encampment. The whole experience was pure joy. I felt embraced by these open hearted creatures and from walking around fearing and awfulising dodgy scenarios i ended up walking away feeling my big beating heart. A massive THANK YOU! The girls loved it!

  • Salt magazine

    Floss, Rob and Katie, thank you for your comments and for sharing your experiences with us! Great work from the Young Greens, these personal accounts show how much the initiative improved people’s experiences.