While it’s a European problem, in the Netherlands in particular 20% to 25% of the tents and camping gear are left behind after a festival. In general, this type of campsite waste is poorly recyclable due to the use of various materials. The low cost of the materials versus the high costs of labour make manual sorting virtually impossible. It is very difficult and perhaps impossible to make a positive business case out of this. The large amount of ‘household waste’ brought from home and discarded on festival grounds is also poorly recyclable and difficult to manage.
The ideal solution has yet to be found. As long as visitors can buy cheap and low quality tents, sometimes purposefully advertised as ‘festival tents’, it is difficult to find an incentive for visitors to take their things home with them. Using a deposit seems a logical choice, but that entails some practical challenges.
While the perfect solution has yet to be found, there are still some appropriate measures that can be taken. As the campsite is part of the festival, a similar strategy as elsewhere can be applied here, with a few campsite specific additions:
- Distribute garbage bags (possibly two sorts for waste separation)
- Mobilise teams to make visitors conscious of the impact of their waste with a friendly conversation
- Look critically at the campsite regulations
- Encourage visitors to bring less stuff
- Set up a ‘clean zone’ where visitors conform to a number of rules, such as: keep your camping spot clean and take your tent home with you
- Offer tents or other reusable accommodations
- Give discarded items a second life, but don’t communicate this to festivalgoers
It is a given that a clean environment stays that way longer, and this is also applicable to festival campsites. Visitors are often prepared to do their part, provided it does not take too much effort. Therefore, hand out garbage bags to visitors at the entrance, or even better, while they are setting up their tents. And explain the importance of using the garbage bags. Solar Weekend, for example, puts the cleanest camp in the spotlight every year and rewards these visitors with tickets for the following edition. In addition, deploy teams to make the visitor aware of the impact of their litter. Read more about this in the Camping Guardians case.
Set up a ‘Clean Zone’, where visitors conform to a number of rules to ensure that the zone remains clean and that tents and other camping equipment return home. Read more about this in the ‘Greener Grass’ case.
Reducing waste can be done through the adoption of strict campsite regulations: What are visitors allowed to bring, and what aren't they? Think for instance about banning party tents. The challenge with this is enforcement: How are you going to rigorously monitor this? It also works to motivate visitors in a positive way to bring fewer things with them, for instance through – one time only and upon the presentation of their ticket – offering a tray of beer at supermarket prices, or by renting out equipment at the campsite through a recycle store.
Reuse & Recycle
Offer visitors the possibility of renting a tent or other accommodation. There are various providers, in a large variety of price brackets. Most accommodations are reusable and are used again at other events. A cardboard tent (KarTent) can sometimes be re-used as it can be converted into a waste bin (KarBin) or other cardboard items, but even if the KarTent is damaged, it still is recyclable: you can ensure that this actually happens by collecting and processing paper and cardboard separately.
Despite the fact that it is difficult to give a new life to the discarded camping materials, there are institutions and good causes – such as charity shops – which can do something with these things. Give these parties the opportunity to salvage what can be used after the festival. Please note: do not communicate this to visitors, to prevent them from thinking that it is okay to leave things behind.