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Is your Glastonbury experience killing the planet?

Glastonbury 2019 has opened its gates and 200,000 wellie-decked revellers are currently descending on Somerset with their tents, cooler boxes and patterned shirts. But how many of them realise the massive collective environmental impact they will have at this iconic festival?

Climate change has been in the news more than ever this year, and Glastonbury has the environment on its mind: they’ve banned the sale of plastic bottles and back-stage plastic, and given prominence to their ‘Reuse. Reduce. Respect.’ slogan online. But whilst festival organisers can ban plastic bottles, they can’t prevent attendees bringing in the masses of Single Use Plastic (SUP) which will be finding their way onto our countryside this weekend.

Reuse. Reduce. Respect.

Glastonbury’s 2019 slogan

The world produces 150 million tons of plastic each year; that’s the equivalent of roughly 30 million African elephants, but it’s hanging around a whole lot longer than they do. And whilst recycling is getting more efficient and people are doing more of it, we don’t do it consistently enough – 75% of the plastic the UK uses is sent to landfill. 

Clearly we’re in a plastic pickle, so for the duration of Glastonbury we’ll be highlighting the worst SUPs that you’ll spot in the mud, and the alternatives you could be choosing to reduce your plastic footprint.

First off, a surprise contender…

1. Cigarette butts

It may come as a surprise, but 95% of cigarette butts that litter our streets and the fields of Glastonbury are made of plastic. The white filter in standard cigarettes is made from a synthetic fiber, cellulose acetate, that also forms the basis of photographic film and eyeglass frames. Cigarette butts are the most widespread litter in the world, with an estimated 4.5 billion evading bins yearly. Though ashtrays and cigarette bins are also widespread, and littered butts an eyesore, they are probably the only plastic we, as a society, consider acceptable to chuck away wherever we are.  

What’s the alternative?

Obviously, the best alternative to cigarette butts is no cigarettes in the first place. But whilst our government totts up tax revenue from the sale of a deadly product bought disproportionately by the poorest in society, that’s probably not a viable option anytime soon. 

E-cigarettes have a two-fold benefit: being better for the smoker and not producing as significant amounts of plastic waste. For smokers that don’t want to vape, the largest manufacturer of filter tips, Swan, has produced a biodegradable filter made from paper. 

So, if you’re going to be smoking this weekend, please put your butts in a bin rather than on the ground. And Glastonbury: how about only selling biodegradable filters and eco-friendly cigarettes next year?

2. Tents

Over 250,000 tents get left behind at British festivals every year, and most of them are made from plastic, equating to 8,750 straws or 250 pint cups each. For those that optimistically think their discarded tent goes to charity: think again. Whilst Glastonbury and others give as many to charity as possible, the amount of time it takes to collect them is restricted and the majority are sent to landfill. Exacerbating a damaging trend, retailers like TESCO and Argos have in recent years jumped on the opportunity to sell cheap, poor quality ‘festival’ tents, leading the Association of Independent Festivals to argue for tents to be classified as an SUP.

What’s the alternative?

The market for recyclable cardboard tents is growing, and Boomtown led the way in 2018 with a Cardboard Village. These tents stay waterproof for enough time to ensure a dry festival experience. Boomtown then turns these tents into cardboard boxes, giving them a new lease of life.

The other alternative is pretty simple: take your tent home. It’s a pretty strong indictment of our consumer culture that we can buy a substantial item and then dump it in a field without a care days later. An extra thirty minutes of time packing up isn’t beyond any of those left standing on Monday morning, but clearing thousands of tents is beyond the capabilities of cleaners dealing with the aftermath.

3. Plastic bottles

Ah, plastic bottles, one of the most convenient things humans ever made. Globally, we buy a million a minute. But here’s some facts for you: it takes 3x as much water to produce a plastic bottle as you could fill it with, and they take 400-1000 years to degrade.

What’s the alternative?

It’s easy to reduce our consumption of bottles, simply by bringing a reusable bottle around with us each day. Sales of carry bottles like Chilly’s have mushroomed in the last couple of years, proving that people can be bothered to refill and wash their water-holders.

Shambala festival launched a campaign to reduce waste back in 2013, and have since noted that 96% of attendees now bring reusable bottles with them.

Glastonbury has followed suit, and will not sell plastic bottles this year. Instead, water taps and WaterAid kiosks will be prevalent around the site.

Looking to the future, Edinburgh-based Choose Water has made a biodegradable, plastic-free bottle that only takes a few months to decompose. It’s currently in a trial period having received £50,000 in crowdfunding. The chemistry graduate who created it is aiming to refine his product based on customer feedback and then build production capacity to the millions by the end of 2019.

Glastonbury kicks off in earnest today, Friday 28th June, and to celebrate, here are two SUPs that you won’t be seeing on site:

4. Plastic straws

Though straws only make up 0.025% of the plastic flowing into our oceans each year, the UK goes through 8.5 billion a year, they aren’t recyclable, and inflict serious injury or death on wildlife. Happily, Glastonbury has banned plastic straws from the festival, so unless you’ve decided to bring your own (srsly?), you can enjoy this weekend confident that no unlucky bird is going to choke on your vodka and Red Bull slurper afterwards.

5. Plastic food packaging

Along with straws, all food service disposables provided on site this year must be made from paper, card, wood, or leaves according to official Glastonbury policy. This covers cutlery, cup lids, food trays, and sauce sachets. No plastic-wrapped coconut for you this weekend!

CONCLUSION

Glastonbury is evidently making a concerted effort to reduce its trash footprint. Thanks to the rise in demand for SUP alternatives, it and other festivals can effectively replace some of the worst offenders within their grounds. The onus is on attendees to ensure they don’t bring their own unnecessary plastic, and take whatever they do bring home or put in the bin. Until tents are treated as long-term investments and cigarette butts biodegrade, it’s a given that your Glastonbury experience is going to have a negative impact on the environment.

There’s hope! Individual consumers, particularly the wealthier among us, can reduce impact by making the sustainable choice whenever possible, signalling to industry that we don’t want more plastic. Small consumer changes have the power to bring about big market and political shifts. There’s never been a more pivotal time to accelerate the move away from SUPs.

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Kate Savin

Kate joins Shape History after studying History at Manchester University and then working for an MP in Parliament. She focuses on video production, working with clients on campaigns and supporting with concept creation, script-writing, pre-production and production. Kate is driven by the desire to fix glaring injustices or organisational failures in society, and is particularly interested in environmental, mental health and women’s rights issues.

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