Meredith Music Festival and Golden Plains are two annual events held on the same site in rural, in semi-cleared bushland, 90km West of Melbourne, in Victoria, Australia in December and March. The venue is a spectacular, permanent site, set up specifically for both events, owned and managed by the festival producers. It has been purpose-built and continually-refined using 18 years of collective know-how to provide a premium experience for performer and patron alike.

The festivals both run over two days, with most patrons camping. Meredith has an audience of 10 000 and Golden Plains 8 000. There are many sustainable initiatives at the festivals such as onsite composting of waste, energy efficient lighting and retrofitting underway, and onsite solar powered kitchen with rain water capture for staff. The focus of this case study however is:

  • Permanent composting toilets
  • Harvested water sustainable shower blocks

The Problem

Toilets and showers have long been the bane of the festivalgoer’s generally happy existence. In order to address this and the many operational issues associated with water-based toilets and showers, Meredith management decided to build their own onsite permanent infrastructure that is far superior to standard hire-in options. This has worked to improve the comfort and overall experience for festival-goers and makes the festival itself easier, cheaper (in the long run) and more enjoyable to operate for management and staff.

Also of consideration is the fact that the Meredith site is in an agricultural and farming area of regional/rural Victoria that gets very little rain. The region, like many others in Victoria, is feeling the effects of the ongoing drought and is on stage four water restrictions. Water is a very valuable and diminishing commodity that people in the area rely on to support their livelihoods. It is therefore vital for the festival to play its role in the community and utilise resources in a manner that is befitting the values of the community. It could create tensions within other members of the community who might resent resources being used for such activities at the cost of their farms and livestock. However, as the festival has implemented best practice examples of water use, there can be no reason for the festival to get anything but support from the community.

Pre-production Planning

Greg Peele, the festival’s co-director and site manager, essentially did the planning and design of the toilets and showers. Greg is a builder and self-described frustrated ‘want to be’ architect. He conceived and designed the units and called on the extensive festival crew to come onsite at various times of year to work on the projects and build them. Prior to the build, relevant authorities were contacted such as the local

Golden Plains Shire for planning and regulatory approval. Given the long history of the festival, excellent management record and support for local organisations, the Shire is generally receptive and willing to work with the event on projects of this nature

The showers are completely private, sheltered, eco-friendly installations, and provide steaming hot water (or cold if it’s hot) from low-flow yet good pressure shower heads.

Toilets

The composting toilets are a permanent version of the mobile solution for events developed by Natural Event (www.naturalevent.com.au). The major difference between these composting toilets and those at other events using the same system is that they are permanent site infrastructure. Generally Natural Event 

flat packs the toilet infrastructure and transports it to the next event, but leaving the full bins of waste to compost onsite. Although the toilet infrastructure is permanent, the waste is still captured in the same bins as the mobile version and composted by worms and mixed with food waste from the event. Once this has processed for a year, the end product can be used as compost on the festival land. The wheelie bins which capture the waste sit under the toilet platform, only need to be changed over once over the course of the two day event. Once the first wheelie bin is full, it is moved to another area onsite where the liquid is drained and the remaining solid waste material is left for composting.

There are currently two hundred and eighteen private, waterless, odourless composting beauties at the festival plus over one hundred meters of composting urinals built permanently around the campsite and Amphitheatre.

Results: The water is totally self-sufficient and the system uses 100% less water compared to previously used portable water-consuming toilets that were hired and transported to the site prior to each event. The water previously had to be harvested onsite, used in the toilets and then taken by trucks off-site to a depot for processing. Now, the festival organisers save huge amounts of water that can be then used and re-used onsite through showers and grey water systems, not to mention the reductions in transport emissions as the waste does not have to be transported off site.

Set up is also easier. The event doesn’t have trucks coming to and from the event, reducing congestion and traffic management onsite during the event.

The cost of the toilets was recouped in around four years. Initially when management considered building the toilets, they thought the payback would be around 10 years. However, more analysis of costs beyond just the toilet hire which looked at waste disposal, labour to clean and manage the toilets, trucks, management of installations and delivery, plumbers and electricians created a payback on the investment in the toilets of around four years.

In addition to the business case, the composting toilets receive a very favourable response from punters, create a compost product that be used on the festival land and they are a lot easier to manage and clean.

Showers

There are two shower blocks on the event site with each block containing 16 showers. All of the water for the showers is harvested onsite and the grey-water from their use is reused onsite. They use instantaneous gas hot water heaters, with one water heater heating four showers. The showers are relatively self-sufficient and are coin operated with punters paying a dollar a minute for a shower. There are attendants onsite who distribute tokens to punters and ensure they used in an orderly manner and give out biodegradable soaps and shampoos which help the waste water re-enter the earth with a minimum of fuss.

Results: Water from the roof of the shower blocks is captured in 22 000 litre water tanks next to each block throughout the year. Water from the tanks is also used for the taps for punters to wash their hands. The building of the showers and the harvesting of the rainwater has enable approximate savings of 50% as that water is reused.

Initial figures put the payback on the showers at around 12 years. However, given how well the showers have been received, people are more inclined to take a shower as they are a lot more inviting than portable units.

Tips and Hints for New Players

Greg Peele encourages people to ‘get in and do it’. Once you’ve started and are in there getting the job done and making progress, things aren’t as hard as they may have seemed from the outset. Do research and study as much as you can before you act. There’s help out there when you need it, look around and ask others.

Look at the overall cost of what you want to do, it might seem expensive, but when you look at all of the 

expenses that constitutes an event, it makes good business sense to plan and build for the long-term and be sustainable with your resources.

Information for this case study provided by Greg Peele (Meredith Music Festival Director), and Liam O’Keefe (Creative Environment Enterprises (CCE). CEE are Sustainability Consultants to the Meredith crew.

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www.mmf.com.au | www.goldenplains.com.au