Prepare for surprises

My single, biggest event surprise was to find out that some people didn’t know that ‘foam’ was made from plastic!

That one misunderstanding meant thousands upon thousands of polystyrene foam (styrofoam!) containers all went to landfill.

That mistake happened at one of my recent events, a good twenty years into my sustainable event management career …. never assume anything was the big takeaway from that experience!

I had to go home and have a lay down to recover.

You really do need to know your waste – before you can work out how to avoid it!

To a more positive story…

It was at the Cultural Stomp Festival in Newcastle many years ago that I undertook my most satisfying waste audit at an event. Armed with rubber gloves and a tarp, along with friends from the local community garden who would take the compostable waste, we started ​auditing the contents of 10 bins.

A few hours and many little piles of rubbish later, we were blown away to discover the effort we had put into messaging had lead to an almost perfect separation of materials.

I didn’t manage to capture that on camera, but here are some zero waste heroes doing a similar job at the Newtown Festival in Sydney, Australia. 

At Peats Ridge Festival, where I was the sustainability manager, we also experienced a very the high level of great materials segregation by festival-goers. Coupled with a big focus on waste avoidance, meant that we sent as little as 200 grams of waste to landfill per person.

To the right is an awesome system that was set up to compost onsite.
Read more on composting resources.

After these joyous events, I moved to ​work on some of the largest ​festivals in the world.

I can remember feeling sick to my stomach when I realised the amount of landfill waste that was going to result from these beasts.

I knew this industry had to change. We just had to do it.

To move the model from these smaller festivals that had tuned-in and committed staff, volunteers and visitors… to these big commercial events… meant we were going to have to seriously redesign systems and attitudes to event production and materials consumption… and that was just the production staff… we still had the hundreds of thousands of festival attendees coming armed with throw-away everything to deal with!

More than a decade later there is still so much to do, but the brilliant thing is that the world is waking up.

The single-use plastic focus of 2017/18 has meant a significant pivot in the attitudes towards waste by the event sector, as well as by cities, venues, and the supply chain.

Above is a photo of a comparison on the same campsite between 2018 and 2019 at Glastonbury Festival. 

Very happy to hear that festivals like @GlastoFest and @BoomtownFair have seen a major decrease in 2019 of single-use tents left abandoned at the festivals.Click to Tweet

Below is a similar scene from Boomtown in the UK, and they have experienced similar, with festival-goers really tuning into the tents being single use plastic! Read their case study.

Event after event are committing to no single use plastics. It’s a great start and focusing in on that one material is not only symbolic, but effective. In the UK this issue was taken on by a group of enthusiastic event sustainability professionals, ending up with a campaign taken on by many festival members of the AIF – read more.

But sadly, we still have events like the one pictured above – which is from October 2019 in Europe. We just cannot continue like this – so many wasted resources. 

But this leaves us with an amazing opportunity!

These truly are exciting times and we hope in this course to arm you with the tools you need to make quick and effective change at your events.