In this guest blog Chris Mastricci, co-founder of F.W.R.D. (Festival Waste Reclamation and Distribution) and EcoWarriorz, talks through the realities of the challenges that festivals face in terms of engaging festival-goers in campsite clean-up schemes, sharing his experiences of what works – and what doesn’t.
Chris takes a detailed look at how Boomtown have tackled the problem over the years, including their support for campsite waste engagement teams, and the mindset of action (over empty messaging), which leads to the necessary willingness to get really practical when it comes to campsite clean ups.
Chris Mastricci describes himself as a “runaway litter picker that refused to put usable humanitarian aid into a skip”. In response to hesitation from festivals to allow large scale reclamation efforts he co-founded F.W.R.D. (Festival Waste Reclamation and Distribution) to help divert as much ‘waste’ from events towards those who are most in need, such as homeless people and refugees. He founded Eco Warriorz to focus on increasing audience engagement with waste management in campsites during events, aiming to counter the unhelpful misconception that ‘it all goes to charity’. Chris has been awarded Fellowships with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, The School for Social Entrepreneurs and The Royal Society of Arts for his work.
“We have recently seen the pinnacle of a sustainable festival summer, in 2020, when we all learned that the only truly sustainable event is one that doesn’t happen. This doesn’t mean festivals shouldn’t go ahead as we need the sense of community they bring now more than ever and realistically events are going to happen anyway. But it should serve as motivation to do everything possible to stop festivals being a force of destruction in terms of environmental impacts.
What we are seeking to clear up is the confusion between ‘care-free’ and ‘careless’, the former being an image of skipping through a meadow and the latter being someone defecating in their abandoned tent. Unfortunately the latter picture is often what we are left dealing with.
Pledges and media messaging are not enough, otherwise we would already be proficiently leaving no trace, taking our tents home, loving farms and would have built back better. The gap between a festival production’s expectation and the reality of campsite waste must be mediated with action. As much as pre-event social posts with infographics on waste and eco-tips may enable you to say that ‘you’ve tried’, it is tantamount to inaction, as in my experience such campaigns have little effect during the event. As I write this I’m listening to a dog barking at the wind in an attempt to stop it blowing and it doesn’t feel too far-fetched an analogy.
My dedication to festival sustainability, aside from spending a lot of time in skips sorting bags of rubbish for recyclables, has been through F.W.R.D and Eco Warriorz.
F.W.R.D. has diverted tons of usable equipment previously destined for landfill or an incinerator and helped numerous charities continue the amazing work they do providing humanitarian aid to those in need, both in this country and abroad. F.W.R.D. is entirely volunteer run and as such is limited in its growth. Despite providing a clear alternative to putting things in the bin, festival organisers have, so far, been unwilling to donate or pay for the service we provide, instead relying on the good-will of volunteers to man the project.. This must change if we are to take the Waste Hierarchy seriously; actually reusing as much as possible and moving towards a circular economy.
Eco Warriorz is another volunteer-powered campsite engagement initiative that reduces campsite waste through incentives to encourage the positive behavioural change desperately needed at camping events. Campers are educated on initiatives running at the festival and rewarded for participating with medals, tent stencils and prizes donated by events or third parties. The plan is that by Monday campers should feel involved and empowered enough to take their possessions home with them. That said, understanding the disparity between expectation and reality, Eco Warriorz are on hand on Monday until campsites close to offer that last bit of incentivising or a helping hand, essentially replacing the destructive group anonymity with celebrated individuals taking positive action.
Case Study – Boomtown
As covered in the ‘Show Must Go On’ report (ed.2, 2020) Boomtown has taken steps to reduce its environmental impacts and has seen significant improvements. While I’m no expert on the transport or power side of emissions I have been involved in campsite initiatives and the biggest difference between Boomtown and other events is that they have made real steps to address the gap between expectation of festival-goer behaviour and the reality. The expectation being that people care enough to take their belongings home, and the reality is, by Monday morning, they don’t.
So how is this gap being bridged? Their messaging has been backed up by actions on the ground, stepping away from slogans and driving home the immediate need for individuals to act. As a production team, Boomtown supported waste reduction initiatives, encouraged organisations to try new things and worked to resolve issues instead of giving up when there are problems.
Having personally been involved in post-event reclamation at Boomtown since 2014 and campsite engagement since 2016, I can attest to the fact that the festival has supported the upscaling of these efforts in every way possible, bar helping finance it. This has included allowing multiple days to collect items post-event, allowing reclamation teams to stay on site in between salvage days, communicating with security and putting us in contact with litter contractors so that we can systematically work ahead of them. I must say that these haven’t all happened concurrently yet, and they need to, in order to make the most of limited time and resources available on the ground. The scaling up of campsite engagement teams during the festival from 25 to 160 volunteers, allowed us to reach every corner of every campsite during the weekend.
The results were visible and, more importantly, replicable. Thanks to clean campsite messaging Boomtown saw a 50% reduction in tents and equipment left behind across their main campsites between 2018 and 2019 and their first-ever Zero Waste Camp saw a huge 90% reduction in tents left compared to 2018. On top of that the event reported that 43% of waste was recycled and reused through clean up initiatives.
As far as working to resolve kinks in these new processes their ecobond scheme is a prime example. It hasn’t been without its logistical issues over the years but they’ve persisted with it and because of this willingness to resolve instead of stopping the scheme, I wholly believe that they will be the first festival to successfully implement a tent deposit scheme.
And what of the future?
Festivals need to immediately prioritise reducing the environmental impact of their events. Without it being at the top of the agenda no substantial change can come about. This includes using every possible tool available: from engaging artists in promoting better environmental practice to choosing waste contractors based on the high standards of work they do rather than financial savings.
The main tool that will be pivotal in festivals cleaning up their campsites is positive accountability. Further to previously mentioned initiatives the successful Love Your Tent campsite also demonstrates this by offering a higher standard of living at festivals in exchange for it being respected by its users. This genuinely works as it is based on real psychology and fosters the positive behavioural change that’s so desperately needed.
The main logistical block for sustainability at events is cost: Festivals have been unable or unwilling to spend money on a perceived non-essential expense. The other block is the dreaded, ‘that’s just not how it’s done’ mentality, something I’ve been met with for years, but there are options now so that excuse is void! If you can’t afford to run your event with serious steps to reduce its impact then you shouldn’t be putting it on at all. The planet cannot afford this needless destruction all in the name of ‘fun’.
If a good time generates more emissions than regular life, then the word ‘good’ is being used in error. I would back legislation that saw events heavily taxed on every Kg of waste and emissions generated per head over the day to day norm. Make it too expensive for events not to take drastic action and see how quickly production companies suddenly find money to invest in solutions! I also strongly recommend that any festival still using a bulldozer to clean its campsites in 2022 should have its license revoked and exist no more. I am happy to help work out the details of implementation, having spent many hours ‘in the skip of it’ and solving problems on the ground, I am well placed and motivated to see real change. I’m also keen to discuss all topics covered and more besides so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Find out more about F.W.R.D www.fwrdtogether.co.uk
Find out more about Eco Warriorz – https://www.ecowarriorz.org.uk/
Vision:2025 provides content that represents a variety of views, experiences and opinions, with the aim of inspiring dialogue and sharing information that leads to better environmental practises. This content is provided by an independent third party, and any opinions expressed are not necessarily the opinions or stance of Vision:2025 or any of its members.
This guest blog originally appeared in our December 2021 Vision: 2025 newsletter. Sign up to receive monthly event sustainability news, case studies and guest blogs direct to your inbox using the form below.