Every 31st of December, we bring in a new year with wine and joyous cries, music festivals and skinny dips, friends and family, and a collective sigh of relief and reflection. I’ve spent my last two New Year’s celebrations working at a music festival, Northern Bass, liaising with artists back stage to make sure they are fed and entertained. Music festivals are a place I thrive in. There’s something freeing about being in a crowded space of like-minded people who are all there just to have a good time. Yet, through my green tinted glasses, I have formed a love-hate relationship with festivals. The mindless waste and damage to the environment makes the love and friendships formed less beautiful; more bitter sweet.
This year, Northern Bass surprised me with their mammoth efforts towards a more sustainable festival footprint. Here’s how they’re committing to reducing their environmental impact:
To lead and enforce all eco initiatives, green volunteers (they had super cool titles that I can’t recall now, so I’ll call them “greenies”) were enlisted to prowl the festival space 24/7. This involved manning the rubbish bin stations to guide attendees around what goes where. They also picked up litter and instigated friendly banter around irresponsible waste habits. The “greenies” were generally acting as a ‘green presence’ amongst the crowds. Just like the police who stand by to reduce the chances of people doing dumb shit, the “greenies” stood by to reduce the chances of people doing environmentally dumb shit.
Northern Bass planted several water fountains around the festival site for water bottle refilling. Their setups were unlike other festivals. There was no waiting in queues or struggling to access the fountains because of the mud pit that accumulates underneath. The facility was built with a solid platform to stand on, which allowed water to drain through whilst your feet stayed dry. Due to the number of fountains, I never had to queue. The efforts to make these stations so sturdy and efficient made me feel proud filling up my drink bottle, rather than an eco-dweeb. This was the first festival I have been to where I could stop, look around, and count the reusable drink bottles on more than two hands.
Of course, festival goers do not attend Northern Bass for a sober New Years bash. This involves vessels; lots of them. Plastic disposable cups usually are a festival’s go-to, but not at Northern Bass! When you first buy a drink here, you are charged an extra $3 for your reusable plastic cup, with an awesome piece of artwork plastered on the side to make them extra classy. If you bring your cup back, you can refill it for the cost of just a drink. Return your cup at the end of the festival and get your $3 back. Genius! This meant there were no cups littered on the ground as the more entrepreneurial and less drunk attendees collected them to cash in. The waste sent to landfill was reduced dramatically.
Pimping the tents
A surprising, but hugely wasteful problem at festivals, is the tent situation. For years, festival attendees have been known to pitch cheap, poor quality tents which they are happy to leave behind at the end of all the fun. Sounds ludicrous I know, but have you seen how cheap tents can be these days? To reduce this wasteful tent one-night-stand, the “greenies” drew artwork on the side of people’s tents (with permission) to make them one-of-a-kind homes that the owners would want to erect again. Northern Bass looked at wasteful issues in an alternative way. They went to the heart of the problem, rather than battling against the masses to get rid of it.
Eco-friendly stall holders
My husband, Tim, bought a snow cone one afternoon and politely congratulated the stall holder on using eco-friendly packaging. The stall holder thanked him, but said she wouldn’t have been allowed in if she hadn’t! In this moment, Northern Bass won my heart all over again. All stall holders were encouraged to conduct environmentally friendly practices, including exclusively using eco-packing on site.
It may seem as though Northern Bass is the bees knees of music festivals when it comes to sustainability practices, but it still has a long way to go. Much to my bewilderment (and after a heated conversation with a “greenie”) the majority of the ‘eco-friendly’ packaging went straight to landfill. These utensils were only commercially compostable, and Northern Bass didn’t have a system set up for managing this type of waste. In addition, the convenience store sold drinks in plastic bottles, and this left the festival grounds looking like a dumping ground.
Regardless of the downfalls, the improvements and efforts towards a sustainable festival were ground breaking. If all they did was put waste reduction on the minds of their 10,000 attendees, they’ve already won in my eyes. I can’t wait to see what happens next year.