Reducing the environmental impact of festivalgoers

Every year millions of festivalgoers across the globe gather to enjoy live music. But once the party is over, they often leave a large ecological footprint behind. Seeking a greener way forward, researchers at The University of Manchester helped Glastonbury Festival reduce waste via education and behavioural change initiatives.

Pre-pandemic, it was estimated that 23,500 tonnes of waste were produced annually at UK music festivals. Conscious of the vast scale of waste being produced on their site biannually, Glastonbury Festival sought out ways to become more eco-friendly.

Tackling waste left by festivalgoers

One of Glastonbury’s biggest problems is tackling the residual waste left on campsites by festival attendees. It has a major impact on the local environment; leads to spiralling labour costs for local farmers needing to restore the land for livestock; and, in previous years, has required more than one thousand volunteers to help with the clean-up.  

When festival organisers initially looked to address the issue, they quickly realised there was a problem; they didn’t understand why thousands of festivalgoers were leaving everything from tents to blow-up mattresses behind.

Understanding the root cause of the problem

To understand what was driving this behaviour, Dr Miriam Firth, Senior Lecturer in the School of Environment, Education and Development, led a team of researchers to conduct on-site interviews and exit surveys with Glastonbury festivalgoers. The team also took photographs of the site throughout the festival weekend to understand where waste was accumulating and how. 

Results from the three year longitudinal study, collated with research partner Dr Fiona Jordan from the University of the West of England, showed an urgent need to better educate festivalgoers on their tent disposal, waste and community behaviour while on site.

Attendees appeared to know they shouldn’t leave waste and actively spoke out about environmental issues, however their behaviour and actions did not reflect this. Findings highlighted that the root cause of the problem were the costs associated with attending the festival. Having paid hundreds of pounds to attend, festivalgoers didn’t feel it was their job to clean up or act in a socially responsible manner.

Transforming the behaviour of Glastonbury attendees 

The team’s recommendations enabled Glastonbury to implement a series of initiatives to create positive behaviour change among festivalgoers and further reduce the waste left on-site. These initiatives included:

  • introducing a new upgraded camping ticket which includes tents, food and waste removal as part of the service;
  • updates to their ‘love the farm, leave no trace’ pledge (which festivalgoers are asked to sign up to after purchasing a Glastonbury ticket);
  • improvements to the camping communities, designed to encourage festivalgoers to value and take care of their space.

Since this research, festival managers working with the researchers at Manchester have created Zap Concepts, an international consultancy specialising in energy and sustainability at live events. The teams continue to work together to develop improved sustainable event practices and support attendee pro-environmental behaviour.