Glastonbury was amazing.
I possibly should have expected that, being the most legendary music festival in the world and all. I don’t know why, but in the lead up to it I wasn’t super excited (actually I do know why, I was too distracted being anxious about it being rainy). But of course, it was amazing (and so was the weather!).
Why am I writing about this on my sustainability blog though? (Apart from the fact that I have a special talent for linking everything to sustainability.)
I was quite stunned by just how much environmental activism was embedded through the whole festival. Again, this also shouldn’t have come as a surprise given Glastonbury’s long history of supporting causes such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
I am used to music festivals that are sponsored by alcohol brands, or even car companies. Glastonbury flips this on its head entirely by supporting three charities – Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid. At the larger stages, rather than being bombarded with advertising on the big screens during the breaks between sets (to the extent that I kept having this song stuck in my head despite the fact that The 1975 weren’t at the festival – I tried to find a link to the campaign video that it was part of but can’t find it).
I wasn’t the only one experiencing my first Glastonbury this year. Given that Extinction Rebellion wasn’t even a thing the last time Glastonbury was held (in 2017), I was amazed by how strong their presence was this year. I didn’t go to Glastonbury with much of a plan of what I wanted to do, the only definite thing on the agenda (apart from seeing the Cure) was taking part in the Extinction Rebellion procession.
I have been thinking a lot about bubbles recently, and Glastonbury was probably the biggest bubble of like-minded people I have been part of. It was such a fuzzy feeling to be waiting in front of the Park Stage and then suddenly, as we were being welcomed to the procession, hundreds of people stood up around us to take part as well. It is nice to have a reminder every once in a while that there are lots of other people that also care about not completely messing everything up.
The feeling was further reinforced as we set off on the procession. I spied some litter a few metres ahead of me, and was going to pick it up, but someone else did so before I even got to it!
It isn’t just literal rock stars that come to Glastonbury, there are also the rock stars of the sustainability scene. I was a bit sad to have missed David Attenborough, but I managed to catch Caroline Lucas, who I have decided is my favourite politician! (Not something I ever thought I would say!)
She spoke in a debate on “how to save our planet” with an extremely eloquent 16-year-old school striker, one of the Fracking Nanas and a couple of others. It wasn’t so much of a debate as everyone was furiously agreeing with each other, in support of urgent and inclusive action to address the climate and ecological crises. We were far from the only ones interested in the topic – the Left Field Stage was absolutely packed for the session.
Our zero waste festival essentials were very useful. Thanks to our handy dandy container, we were able to make it through the festival with just a few pieces of paper waste to our names (a burrito in a container is a bit of a disaster, so we took the hit on that one). Most people were perfectly happy to pop food straight in the container. My favourite encounter was the sushi place. At first they were a little baffled by the request, then came the lightbulb moment –
Sushi serving person: “Oooh, are you zero waste?”
Me: *being awkwardly bashful*: “Ummm, I dunno, I guess so?”
Sushi serving person: “Wow, that’s so amazing, well done etc etc” (or something along those lines)
It was really good sushi too! I was pretty surprised that we seemed to be almost the only people with our own container (particularly given the bubble situation I mentioned above). I did however have a very proud moment when we were buying food with some friends and they pulled out their container as well!
2019 was the first year that Glastonbury banned single-use plastic drink bottles, given it was a warm one I hate to think of how many plastic disposable bottles would have been sold otherwise. Instead, the WaterAid refill booths were some of the most popular spots on site. And everyone seems very excited about it – multiple artists gave a shout-out to Glastonbury for taking this step during their sets.
However the enthusiasm for less waste wasn’t entirely universal throughout the festival, we walked by one campsite that was literally covered in disposable wipes. I was also rather distressed to see the mountains of mixed up rubbish surrounding bins at the end of each night (which I feel a bit better about after finding out that all waste is hand-sorted for recycling). Then there are the tensions that I feel every time I enjoy fireworks and confetti. I know from work I’ve done in Sustainable Event Management that fireworks are pretty bad for the environment, but they are so pretty!
Of course, we didn’t (just) come to Glastonbury to get involved with climate activism and eat delicious, low waste food. We also saw some incredible music!
Bonus reading – more sustainable festival tips!
There are some obvious things, like bring your reusable bottle (and other zero waste festival essentials!) and don’t leave your tent behind. But here is some more unsolicited advice if you are hoping for a sustainable festival experience:
- We caught the bus (yet another thing I was anxious about before the festival) and it was so convenient! Glastonbury puts the bus tickets on sale before the general tickets to encourage the uptake of this option, but I would choose it again regardless. The bus left Cardiff at 5.45am on the Wednesday, which made for an early start but meant we had the entire day to explore the site and avoided festival traffic. Departing Glastonbury was another 5am bus, but we just didn’t bother going to bed – instead we danced at the Silent Disco until about 3am then packed up our site and joined the zombie-like procession up to the bus stop. We were back in Cardiff by 7.30am, again, so easy!
- Ditch the wet wipes. Even those super expensive biodegradable wipes are problematic when put in the loos and they are still an unnecessary single use item. I used a hand-knitted cotton cloth instead (but any old flannel would do), which doubled nicely as a cooling neck cloth when the temperatures reached 30 degrees.
- I hate to be a party pooper, but glitter and sequins are made of plastic so most likely going to end up as plastic pollution at some point. Every time I saw a sequin or one of those face jewel things on the ground, it made me sad becasue (a) someone is now missing their shiny thing and (b) they are very little so harder to pick up in the clean up effort. Also I really, really wish biodegradable glitter was the answer, but I haven’t heard of any yet that are truly biodegradable (so sad, because I love shiny things!).
- More party pooping…and I’m less apologetic about this one. Drugs are hardly going to come from a nice, transparent supply chain where everyone is paid a living wage. The President of Colombia put the spotlight again on the environmental damage caused by cocaine during a visit to London recently.
- Festival snacks! Buying every meal can get expensive so we brought along a big cloth bag of museli and some homemade festival snacks. I cooked and baked some dried chickpeas and beans in seasoning. Mixed with dried fruit and nuts (also bought in bulk), they made a very satisfying mid-morning and afternoon snack.