Festival Camping Shouldn't Be a Throwaway Experience

By Elizabeth Glazner

The Bonnaroo Music + Arts Festival will present 150 performances over four days at a 700-acre farm in rural Tennessee beginning Thursday. In its 15th year, the event is one of many major corporate-owned and profitable grand-scale productions descended from Woodstock, the fabled 1969 music and arts festival that devolved into brilliant but utter chaos because way too many fans jammed its 600-acre pastural site, which then got soaked with unexpected rain. 

Beer cans, glass bottles, rotting food, makeshift latrines, clothing, drug paraphernalia, cookware, chairs, sleeping bags, and even camping tents were all left behind by Woodstock's 400,000 attendees. According to anthropologist/blogger Corey McQuinn in a post "Free Love is a Battlefield: The Archaeology of Woodstock 1969," the festival's promoters flew over the once-bucolic cow pasture after the event and saw a giant peace sign made from the immense pile of trash.

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Bonnaroo 2016 will draw far fewer fans — about 90,000 — and, thanks to an organized sustainability plan, will prevent the creation of untold tons of mostly disposable plastic waste that would mostly go to landfills. Their plan includes Refill Revolution, the reusable beer and beverage cup discount program co-sponsored by Steelys Drinkware and Plastic Pollution Coalition launched in 2014 (it discounts refills if you use a reusable cup, which you can buy on site).

Bonnaroo also has a comprehensive plan to accommodate every kind of camping from single tents to family tents to deluxe glamping setups to cabanas and RVs. Last year, organizers diverted 8.25 tons of tarps, tents and other usable goods from going to landfills.

To try to corner the evolving tent-camping festival-goer market, The Glad Company, makers of all things disposable plastic, experimented with a single-use tent at SXSW that doubles as a giant trash bag. The idea was to have an easy set-up plastic tent that you just invert and fill with all your garbage, tie off and toss when you're done. A promotional video for the product — which was never commercially produced — called it "a zero-waste camping experience." But aside the obvious question about exactly how much humidity would build up inside the patented Force-Flex tent walls, a big reinforced plastic bag full of your mixed and therefore virtually unrecyclable materials, including more plastic, is hardly zero waste. 

In the same marketing space you'll find other ideas, including this one made of cardboard, and these, made of various synthetics (plastics), also designed for a one-night (or maybe two or three-night) stand. 

Meanwhile, Daisy and Ozric of the sustainable fashion accessories brand What Daisy Did are teaming up with some of the U.K.'s biggest event organizers "to combine event sustainability with functional fashion to try to help combat the disposable mentality that so many demonstrate during events." The brand's main focus is to tackle waste created by inefficient supply chains, utilizing materials such as factory-wasted leather and tents left at festivals.

They collected 80 tents from Reading Festival last year to create 300 drawstring bags which will be sold on the merchandise stands at this year's Reading, Leeds and Latitude festivals. In 2014, Reading Festival saw 596 tons of waste go to landfill, with camping equipment such as tents making up a big portion of it. 

"There is a huge misconception that tents left at festivals are collected by charities," according to the duo. "Whilst this is true, they only have the resources to take a small fraction of the tens of thousands that are left." What Daisy Did hopes the sale of their bags made of recycled, abandoned tents will educate people of the damaging effects festival waste is having on the planet. Each bag will have a label engaging users in the issues surrounding abandoned tents.

Tents used to be made well, looked after well and last a lifetime, according to Daisy and Ozric. However, "prices and quality of tents have plummeted to the point where charities aren't so willing to collect any of them as most of them are damaged... It's a sad fact that the world is getting more and more disposable (and) you can now find tents that are actually marketed as 'one use' or disposable!"

What Daisy Did plans to make ponchos and yoga mats from tents, tote bags from camping chairs and wallets from broken wellies. "We could even make festival bunting and flags."

Above photos courtesy of What Daisy Did