The events industry is in the news a lot at the moment. There is the battle to get the Electric Picnic approved in County Laois. This annual event brings tens of thousands of music fans to Stradbally every autumn. This year the plan was – still is, depending on who you talk to – for 70,000 to gather in the venue for the weekend.

Everyone thinks of the logistics and planning that goes into staging the event. But there is an equally daunting task in cleaning up afterwards. And nobody thinks of that.

At the other end of the spectrum there are tiny events that have been in the news this summer. Over the August bank holiday weekend an event was staged (illegally) in the sand dunes near Long Strand in West Cork. The two kilometer beach near Clonakilty was the site of a well-organised mini festival, which showcased smaller indie bands. The organisers knew what they were doing in terms of the logistics. Rental vans arrived with about 20 tents, two mini marquees, and a full sound rig.

But that’s not what made the headlines. It is the aftermath that was reported.

According to The Examiner: “The sand dunes behind Long Strand were left strewn with clothing, plastic, glass, broken pallets, human *waste and used toilet paper. Wooden pallets were burned, and the area was left strewn with clothing, plastic, glass, metal drinks containers, broken pallets, cooking equipment, and human *waste and used toilet paper.”

Now we know: the events industry produces huge amounts of waste. Mainly due to people not caring about waste disposal.

How can we reduce waste in events?

People camping at festival

A certain amount of waste is inevitable. There is nothing we can do about that. People bring food and drink into festivals. At the bigger festivals they bring camping equipment that they often leave behind. But there are ways of reducing the mess.

Food is an obvious culprit. The bigger festivals have large numbers of catering trucks. A useful first step is to insist all the catering units use biodegradable plates, cutlery and cups. Did you know that a plastic spoon will take 1,000 years to biodegrade? Let’s put that in context; if the Norman invaders in 1169 had brought plastic picnic spoons, those spoons would still be littering the battlegrounds. 

Their swords and helmets would have rusted into oblivion centuries ago, but their plastic spoons would still be there.

Single use plastic cutlery cannot be let into festivals. It is that simple. They can be replaced by biodegradable cutlery. A biodegradable spoon will be history in around six months. Paper plates and burger boxes must replace polystyrene. That’s what the caterers can do.

As for the diners, they need to be presented with the appropriate bins if they are expected to do their part. There must be bins for the plastic bottles, bins for the compostables, bins for the paper. It might involve the event having more bins on site, but it will make the clean-up so much easier.

Sustainability in waste management

Arial shot people at large festival

There are a number of approaches that can make an event – from a parish fair to a multi-day festival – more sustainable. Going plastic free is a good start. Ban the single use cutlery, and the plastic straws. And if you have to issue name tags, either to attendees or staff, you can use card tags rather than plastic lanyards. 

Next to go is the paper. Use your smarts, as in smart phones. Issue tickets electronically. Issue invoices and pay slips the same way. Use emails instead of letters. It all helps.

Then get on top of the catering. Use local (hopefully organic) providers, and encourage them to go biodegradable. Not only is it better for the environment, it also gives a better experience for your attendees. 

Consider using LED lighting. It runs cooler, uses less energy, and is very versatile.

Sustainability also filters down to transport. Pick your venue so that it is accessible by public transport. This cuts down on the carbon footprint – but also means you don’t need to provide as much on-site parking. Going green actually makes your job easier.

Festival waste management

Camping tents

Festivals are waking up to the importance of sustainability and good waste management. Electric Picnic generates tonnes of waste each year, but they make efforts to steer some of it away from landfill. Thousands of tents and sleeping bags are dumped after the weekend, but many of those are taken by homeless charities. 

Laois homeless charity PATH said, in September 2019: “What a fantastic day we had gathering sleeping bags and tents after the Electric Picnic! We were also given a huge donation of food and drinks from the artists’ camp, which will be distributed to local families as well as homeless people in Laois and Dublin.

They collected over a thousand sleeping bags.

An internet survey of 649 attendees at the Glastonbury Festival revealed that 71% felt waste was the biggest environmental impact of festivals. 81% said they would separate their waste if the festival provided the appropriate bins. 

A clear consensus is emerging. Festivals need to get on top of their waste management, and the festival-going public are willing to play their part in that effort. And festivals such as Electric Picnic are already showing their willingness to be part of the circular economy.

Event waste management plan

The event sector is no different from any other sector, aside from being more periodic. A good waste management plan will reduce waste, make the clean-up easier, and will allow waste to be recycled, reused, and composted. Sometimes even donated.

A waste audit might be more difficult for a festival or event than for a business that operates year-round from the same premises. But an analysis can be done of the problems faced. At CEC we love the challenge. We can work out where your problems arise, find a plan to help you reduce your waste, help you become more sustainable.

Our software works as well with the events business as it does with the hospitality industry – where we have scored notable successes. If the Maryborough House Hotel can get to zero waste to landfill in just four months, with our help you can organise an event that will be a beacon for sustainability and good waste management. It’s time to get with the zeitgeist and go green.