Event and festival waste – what happens to it?

Glastonbury Festival

If you are organising an event, whether that be a multi-day music festival; a carnival; concert; corporate day or sports event such as a running race, you’ll need to consider what happens to the waste.  Having hundreds or thousands of people at an event or festival creates a surprising amount of waste.  As an organiser, you need to make sure that you have it covered.

According to research, 23,500 tonnes of waste is produced by music festivals each year.  Add to this waste from other events like sports events and one-off concerts, and the amount of waste is staggering (source).

Festival waste conjures up images of abandoned tents, piles of beer cans and food containers.  This waste has to go somewhere, but what happens to it and how do event organisers make sure as much of it as possible is recycled?

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Many events and festivals are aiming to reduce waste by providing reusable plastic or metal glasses; or asking food traders to only use compostable or recyclable disposables.

Take the most well-known and largest musical festival, Glastonbury, for example – the last time it was held in 2019, their aim was to reduce single use plastics on site.  No single use plastics such as soft drinks bottles, plastic cups or cutlery were allowed to be sold on the festival site. Customers had the option of purchasing a reusable metal cup which were accepted at all of the festival bars; food traders were only permitted to use recyclable or compostable cutlery and other disposables; and reusable water bottles were for sale coupled with numerous drinking water filling points.

But even all these recyclable items still need disposing of; alongside all the other waste – drinks cans, food, food containers, left over items.  So what happens to waste collected at an event or festival?

Festival waste
Flame UK litter pickers in a stadium

We separate waste so you don’t have to

Several options are available for recycling and waste collection – but often, you won’t see separate recycling or general waste bins.  This is because even if separate bins are provided people still mix the waste, putting recycling into general waste and vice versa.  When the bins are collected, contaminated recycling bins cause a problem at the processing site meaning the whole waste load often has to be rejected.

Instead we provide general bins, and the waste separation is carried out off-site once the bins have been collected.  Once the waste has been collected, it is taken to a processing plant where it’s separated into items that can be recycled.  Initially it is separated by machine, with recyclable materials being removed for processing.  After that, the waste is sifted by hand to make sure that everything that can be recycled is taken out.

It may seem counter-intuitive not to have recycling bins, but it makes waste collection easier, and often leads to more items being recycled than if festival-goers were relied on to separate their waste.

Which bins are best ?

Branded bins at an event

We can advise you on the type of bins needed, size, locations and when to have them delivered.   Different types of bins are available to suit your site, location, and number of people.   Flame UK can even provide bins with your event branding to ensure that everything is in keeping with your brand. 

Food and compostable waste

Most food waste at events or festivals is actually produced by on-site traders. It is estimated that 400 tonnes of food waste from festivals ends up in landfill each year (source).

Some charities such as 8th plate are encouraging traders to pass leftover food that would otherwise be thrown away to be redistributed to charities, homeless shelters and families in need in the local area. This could be an option for you if you have a number of traders and a local charity that can arrange for collection.

Other food waste from traders can be collected and composted, along with compostable tableware and cutlery.  Many music festivals are now stipulating that traders only use compostable plates, cutlery and cups.

Litter picking

Of course, no matter how many bins are provided, there are always individuals who will just throw their waste on the ground.  Litter clearing is of paramount importance to event organisers – you need to make sure that when you leave, the site or venue is in the same – or better – condition that it was before your event.  This is especially important if your site is in the countryside – in fields or on farmland where livestock, watercourses and wildlife may be affected by litter. Not to mention if you need to use the site or venue again for a regular event or festival.

Litter pickers are an essential service for events and festivals.  On first glance it can appear that all the litter has been cleared, but it takes litter pickers with an eye for detail to make sure that everything has been collected – think ring pulls and cigarette butts. 

Our litter pickers are experienced and make sure your site is absolutely spotless, picking up even the tiniest pieces of litter.  We cover sports events; stadium events; music and food festivals; and smaller events such as weddings and corporate days.  Each venue is treated with the same respect, making sure we leave you with a clean and tidy site. 

If you’re organising a street event such as a carnival or running race we can even follow you round with litter pickers and a street cleaner, making sure everything is cleared up on the route. 

So how many litter pickers do you need? As a rule of thumb we’d say one litter picker per 1000 people for a day event; but bear in mind that a minimum of two people are needed for health and safety reasons. We can advise you on the number of pickers needed and for how long.  We also advise you to allow adequate time after the event for our litter pickers to do a final sweep and make sure the site is clean after all the guests have left – we can estimate this depending on the type of site and how many people you’re expecting.

What else?

Don’t forget your facilities – portable toilets!  There are loads of toilet and bathroom options available.  Whether you decide on standard portable toilets, a more luxury portable toilet block or a shower and toilet combo, we can advise you on how many you’ll need to make things comfortable for your guests and source them for you.   This includes cleaning and taking away at the end of an event.

Contact us

Our knowledgeable team can help with any of your event needs – contact the team today to discuss how we can support you.

We can improve your waste management and cut your costs.

Book a site survey today!

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