Litter, Glitter and Waste – The Environmental Cost of Festivals

environmental cost festivals

Today’s guest post comes from Rachel White, who’s going to talk about the environmental cost of festivals and what we can do about it. Enjoy!


There were 4 million festival attendees in 2017, which isn’t surprising considering the hundreds of festivals going on across the UK. The number of festival-goers is rising, with new independent festivals born every year. However, with growing numbers of festival-goers comes an increase in the number of resources being used. It only takes a glance over your shoulder as you leave the festival on Monday morning to see the environmental chaos that ensues. The abundance of plastic cups and the sea of abandoned tents and broken camping chairs are a sad sight to behold. Summer is right around the corner, so we’re going to take a look at what initiatives are in place to keep festivals green and sustainable and how we can all do more to help our planet.


Although plastic microbeads were banned in the UK last year, most glitter still contains microplastics. This means that whilst festival attendees are dousing themselves with the sparkly stuff, tiny pieces of plastic are falling onto the fields. As most plastic is not biodegradable, these plastic fragments contaminate the ground, potentially harming animals once normal business resumes.

Plastic is currently a hot environmental topic and global concern. Anti-plastic advocates such as David Attenborough have shocked millions of people into changing their ideologies when it comes to plastic waste. With our oceans teeming with plastic residue, people are waking up to the effect plastic is having on our wildlife. However, little awareness is raised about the profound effect glitter has on our oceans and rivers. After all, glitter is a microplastic. The size of microplastics (classified as less than 5mm), can make them attractive for marine animals to consume. The University of Plymouth is conducting an ongoing study about marine litter. They found that plastic was present in one-third of UK-caught fish. Another sobering statistic is from research conducted by the Scottish Association for Marine Science. It suggests that 48% of sampled animals off the Western Isles had plastic inside their bodies. Of course, this isn’t all due to microplastics. However, glitter finds its way into our rivers and oceans through sewage systems and is contributing to marine litter.

What can be done?

If you’re a seasoned festival-goer, you might have heard about eco-glitter. Eco-glitter typically uses 90% biodegradable cellulose film. Instead of the glitter taking hundreds of years to break down, it will be broken down by the sewage system. This means that little waste, if any, will end up in our oceans. If you can’t resist a bit of sparkle whilst enjoying your favourite bands this summer, use eco-glitter to minimalise your waste.


Possibly one of the biggest environmental issues at festivals is litter. Powerful Thinking estimates that the total amount of waste produced at UK festivals is 23,500 tonnes. Shockingly, only a third of this is recycled, meaning that the rest of the waste, roughly 15,666 tonnes, will go to landfill. The main culprit for litter at festivals is single-use plastic cups and water bottles. In recent years, festivals have become eco-conscious about single-use plastic cups and implemented reusable cup systems. Festival organisers are making positive steps towards reducing plastic waste. However, there is more that can be done to reduce litter.  

Event Organiser Solutions

Frank Water has provided 11 UK festivals with free, refillable water since 2005. Through Frank Tanks (mobile water refilling stations) and their marquee stalls, they have saved the equivalent of 100,000 disposable water bottles. Whilst accommodating some of the biggest UK festivals (Shambala, Bestival), Frank Water also donates 100% of its profits to international projects in India and Nepal. This organisation is worth supporting, so if you see a Frank Tank passing you by on the campsite, be sure to pay them a visit. Also, from first-hand experience, a chilled, refreshing cup of water in the morning works wonders on the aftereffects of the previous night’s festivities!

A campaign worth a mention is Love Your Tent. This initiative is prominent on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. It promotes fun ways of being mindful about abandoning tents and equipment. In 2005, it introduced a Pop It In Challenge. This challenged festival-goers to pack away their pop-up tents in the fastest time and share it on social media. More recently, Respect and Love Your Tent campsites have been springing up at festivals. This initiative was trialled at the Isle of Wright festival, and due to high demand, it is being introduced at other festivals. These campsites promote respectful behaviour towards festival neighbours and reward them with luxuries. As long as attendees stick to the ‘tent commandments’ within the campsite, they can reap rewards such as hot showers, flushing toilets, and organic cafes selling fair trade food and drinks. It is definitely worth reducing your waste and being respectful in exchange for those creature comforts you may miss after a few days in the fields.

Glastonbury is leading the way in reducing plastic waste. The biggest greenfield festival in the world has multiple initiatives to make the festival a greener experience. Since 2004, Glasto has required its food and drink vendors to provide paper and wood packaging. Alongside this, it has banned single-use plastic bottles and condiment sauce sachets. Furthermore, it has an onsite recycling facility for tonnes of paper, card, and cans. The eco-compost toilets on site generate 500 tonnes of compost every year and they fuel the ‘Pee Power’ project (run by Bristol University). The ‘Pee Power’ project creates electricity from urine on site. The founder of Glastonbury festival, Michael Eaton, has got his innovative thinking cap on when it comes to resourceful, green alternatives. This is having a snowball effect on smaller festivals, especially with the rise of compost toilets.

What Can You Do?

Even though festival organisers are bringing in green initiatives, here are a few suggestions of things you can do to reduce litter at festivals this summer:

  • Leave no trace – bring only what you need.

  • Take a reusable drinks container – preferably BPA-free plastic or aluminium.

  • Take reusable cutlery and plates/bowls.

  • Take camping equipment home with you – most of the camping equipment and tents left at festivals go to landfill.

  • Separate litter into recyclable and general waste


As previously mentioned, 23,500 tonnes of waste is produced every year at UK festivals. This equates to 2.8kg per person and a percentage of this waste is food. It’s not unusual to get overexcited doing the ‘festival shop’, filling your trolley to the brim with cereal bars, multipack crisps, and biscuits. The issue lies with the amount of plastic that food companies use for snack food. Most things are individually wrapped in multipacks and use non-recyclable plastic. Alongside the plastic issue regarding food, there is also the issue of wasting food itself.

Eighth Plate collaborates with festival businesses and attendees alike to combat food wastage. Businesses that have signed up for Eighth Plate can have their surplus food collected. This will then be donated to food banks and charities, and food waste is collected too. It raises awareness about food waste and has food bins at some festivals where people can donate their leftover food.  

What Can You Do?

It only takes a few steps to be more mindful about how much food we take to festivals and how we can reduce waste. Here are a few ideas:

  • If you’ve packed too much food, think about your festival neighbour and offer them some snacks and nibbles. Free food is always appreciated.
  • As a sidenote, try to plan meals. Make sure that if you like to indulge in festival food stalls, you bring less campsite food.


The last 10 years have seen a rise in social consciousness about living a greener life. Businesses and the public are looking for eco-alternatives and laws are being passed to protect our planet. Even though festivals are becoming greener every year, they still have a long way to go to reconcile the sheer numbers of attendees with sticking to sustainable ideologies. However, the responsibility shouldn’t solely lie at festival organisers’ feet. We all have a responsibility to clean up after ourselves, use reusable products, and realise that our actions have consequences. All it takes is a little forward planning and common sense to make sure we leave a festival in the same shape as when we arrived.

About the author

Rachel White is a freelance writer with a passion for the environment and climate change. Meditation is a necessity in her life and she is not a stranger to the yoga mat either.

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hi Bethany! Do you know if there’s any data on fuel used to set up festivals. I imagine the amount of materials being transported for the stages and general infrastructure being hauled in probably uses up a fair bit of fuel. I imagine big bands have a lot of gear that they bring in from overseas?! Also the amount of cars driving to festivals must be huge. I think Glastonbury does put on an option of providing coaches but are these mega festivals really remotely environmentally friendly?

    1. Hi Viv, I’ve no idea about the data – this was a guest post, so I’m not the author. But I’m sure there must be a lot of fuel used, not to mention jet fuel from the artists flying in from the other side of the world. Unfortunately there’s an impact associated with almost anything we do these days 🙁

  2. This was an excellent post! I’ve never thought about the sustainable issues of festivals before. And I’ve heard about eco-friendly glitter but wasn’t sure if it was just greenwashing haha. So that’s super interesting learning how it works.

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