On paper, festivals sound like a nightmare. Why would you voluntarily camp in a muddy field without showering for the best part of a week? However, with the risk of sounding as earnest as someone at the Glastonbury Stone Circle at sunrise, I think there’s nothing better than escaping the real world, covering yourself in (eco) glitter and seeing a year’s worth of live music across five days. Ever since I went to Reading after picking up my GCSE results, festivals have been an annual part of my summer, and 2019 will be my third Glastonbury.
I would like to say I’ve got the festival packing down but this year is a little different. Following attempts to make my food shopping and beauty routine plastic-free, Refinery29 challenged me to try a plastic-free festival. It’s a timely topic, with the plastic crisis now unavoidable (there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 if we continue our current consumption), festivals are having to step up their environmental game. From basics like tents and wellies to fancy dress and food and drink, the temporary nature of outdoor festivals can have a huge impact. Convenience is king and throwaway culture is the norm. According to Powerful Thinking, 23,500 tonnes of waste are produced annually at UK music festivals.
A festival the size of Glastonbury (200,000 people descend on the 900-acre site) produces huge amounts of waste and at the 2017 festival, visitors got through 1.3m plastic bottles. Change is afoot and Glastonbury, which has always promoted environmental causes and has a longstanding relationship with Greenpeace, banned plastic bottles ahead of the 2019 festival as part of its 'leave no trace' initiative. Similarly, food vendors can now only use compostable or reusable plates and cutlery, and disposable single-serving sachets and plastic straws have been banned. Other festivals – including Bestival, Latitude and Download – have made similar plastic-free pledges.
This makes my challenge much easier but it still wasn’t a walk in the park. Here’s how I got on...
One week to go
From my previous festivals I already have a tent, sleeping bag, blow-up mattress and wellies. While these are all plastic, most of these I’ve had for the last decade and have been well used. If I were going to a festival as a one-off I’d probably borrow camping stuff from a friend to avoid waste and save money. Festival clothes: ditto. I didn’t buy anything new this year and dug out my array of sequin tops, playsuits and jazzy leggings I’ve worn previously.
I already have a reusable water bottle but also get a portable cutlery set, reusable tumblers and some metal straws. While the cutlery at Glastonbury is compostable, I figured it's better to avoid if possible. I contemplate taking Tupperware to use at street food stalls but realise there’s only so much I can cart around all day.
Food and drink
For alcohol I take cans of cider, beer, pre-mixed G&T, tonic water and decant a glass bottle of gin into a reusable bottle (it’s five nights of drinking and I’m trying to avoid spending an absolute fortune while I’m there).
Food-wise, I tend to just take snacks to festivals and buy meals when I’m there (there’s a limit to what you can carry). This would normally be packets of cereal bars or crisps but with all of these packaged in plastic I have to think outside the box. I make a trip to the zero waste counter in Planet Organic armed with a few pots of Tupperware from home and fill them up with dried fruit and nuts. The three pots come to £6 in total – just a little more expensive than usual. I also pick up loose apples and tangerines when I’m buying my alcohol at the supermarket.
This is one of the trickiest areas but change is certainly coming – check out plasticfreebeauty.org for inspo. The pre-Glastonbury advice warns against all wipes (even biodegradable) and suggests a flannel and water but I think it’s highly unlikely I will manage that when I get back to the tent in the early hours of the morning. I pack biodegradable wipes from Lancer and Simple instead.
Glass is banned at Glastonbury for health and safety reasons so finding options for SPF, dry shampoo, deodorant and hand sanitiser is hard. I take sustainable-friendly options from REN and Rahua for SPF and dry shampoo respectively and end up taking half-empty plastic containers of both deodorant and hand sanitiser (I figure it’s my best bet to use them up). I’m spoilt for choice with plastic-free glitter. Try Ecoglitterfun, Eco Stardust or Disco dust – I take a mix of all three.
We have a smooth and speedy trip by coach to Glastonbury where I start on my pre-packed snacks. After setting up camp early evening, we grab some food before watching the opening fireworks. I’ve packed my cutlery but buy a halloumi wrap so they’re pretty redundant. A theme for the coming weekend as I remember that the majority of festival food is eaten with your hands and on-the-go. With all the food stalls using recyclable materials it makes avoiding plastic pretty easy.
Today is the first proper day of the festival so I pack my tote bag with everything I need for the day (including my water bottle, cutlery and cans). Glastonbury tripled the number of water refill stations for 2019 in line with its ban on plastic bottles but with the rising temperatures the queues were long. I ended up waiting about 40 minutes at the campsite tap but it was great to see everyone getting involved with using reusable bottles – a noticeable difference from when I went two years ago. I queue a couple more times throughout the day for water and eat a mix of my snacks and food bought from stalls around the festival.
With temperatures reaching the high 20s there’s no chance of sleeping in. I’d forgotten about the nightmare combo of sweat, dirt and glitter and I’m getting through the wipes quickly. Showers at Glastonbury aren’t really an option (they even turned them off this year to save water) and with the aforementioned queues you can’t really wash at the tap. When the government wipe ban comes in they’ll need to up their washing facilities. My dry shampoo isn’t cutting it at this point and I end up borrowing from a friend (cheating incident number one).
Food-wise on Friday, it was snacks in the morning followed by a falafel wrap and then a burrito. It's back to the tents before Stormzy and Shangri-la for glitter and more drinks in the tote bag. I don’t bother with the tumblers or straws. Turns out you don’t really need them when you’re drinking out of cans or a reusable bottle.
Get about three hours' sleep before the sun turns the tent into a furnace. The hangover is bad and the last thing I want to eat is fruit or nuts. Steal some snacks from a friend (cheating number two) to build up the energy to walk somewhere for more shade and a nap.
Demolish a cheese toastie before watching Maggie Rogers and then Lizzo. Pick up some more drinks from the tent before The Killers come on but end up buying more later at Arcadia. Luckily they’re all in recyclable cardboard.
We’ve never been more grateful for clouds and sleep in until a record 10am. After a slow start we make it to the Pyramid Stage for Kylie with a pizza en route (another meal minus cutlery). David Attenborough makes an exciting surprise appearance and praises Glastonbury for its plastic-free efforts. The environment has felt like a big theme all weekend and the four-day hangover makes me feel a bit emotional. I’ve still got alcohol left at the campsite to finish off tonight – a festival first and proof preparation really is the key.
I’m travelling to Cornwall to spend a few days with my family so set off at 7.30am in an attempt to avoid the queues. I fill up my water bottle before I go but end up stuck in a queue for three hours and need food and water when I get to the station. The station options aren’t plastic-free and I end up buying a bottle of water and a sandwich for the journey. Proof that sometimes it’s impossible to commit to being plastic-free.
What I learned
Packing completely plastic-free was quite tricky. Until there are more widely available plastic-free products (especially for things like snacks, deodorant or sun cream), it makes it difficult to completely avoid. However, once at the site, Glastonbury’s plastic-free policy meant it was pretty plain sailing (minus a few long queues).
In fact, it highlighted the huge impact it can make when organisations do their bit. Over the festival period, Glastonbury becomes the size of a small city similar to Oxford and if it can go plastic-free, why can’t more businesses?