Plastic pioneer – Greenbelt festival

We’re now well in the throes of festival season, so we thought it was time to sing the praises of some of the brilliant festivals we work with that are pushing tirelessly to reduce single-use plastic at their events.

Traditionally, festivals have been guilty of leaving behind a huge plastic footprint, going for convenient options that work well on-site. But times are changing, and one of the festivals leading the way is Greenbelt festival. Not only do they work with RAW Bottles to ensure that single-use plastic water bottles are nowhere to be found, they also push for innovation to solve some of the trickier problems.

We caught up with Greenbelt’s Event Director, Mary Corfield, to hear about the festival’s quest to be single-use plastic free by 2020 and why it’s such an important issue to them…

In a nutshell, tell us about your festival

Greenbelt makes space for artistry, activism and belief. It’s been doing that in festival form since 1974. In a world on fire, it’s somewhere to believe in.

Why is the plastic issue so important to you?

We know that everything we do impacts the lives of others, and we want those impacts to be positive ones. The world’s resources are finite and precious, and plastics not only cause worldwide pollution but are made from the very fossil fuels we need to stop using to prevent Climate Collapse.

Greenbelt is on a mission to remove all single-use plastics from our festival by 2020 and to show the events industry that change really is possible.

What are you doing to tackle plastic pollution and what problems and successes have you had along the way?

New for 2019, we have plastic-free wristbands which we’re really excited about. Lots of people don’t realise that conventional ‘fabric’ wristbands have plastic woven through them. But they do – and millions and millions of them are made and then thrown away across the UK each year. It is a hidden single-use plastic that needs to end. Our wristbands are made of bamboo, with a metal fastener.

Conventionally food and drink are the biggest sources of single-use plastic at events and we’re very happy that is not the case at Greenbelt festival. All our caterers use compostable packaging, which means that when festivalgoers have finished their noodles or their cup of coffee, they can put the whole thing – plate/bowl/cup/cutlery and all, into our food waste bins to be turned into compost at a local facility.

The main problem we’ve experienced with this is the compostable packaging looking so good that people assume it is plastic and put it in the wrong bin! We’ve solved this with great signage and our team of volunteer Bin Fairies, who are always on hand to guide people to use the correct bins and who look great in their upcycled outfits.

We don’t sell any drinks in plastic bottles, nor do we use any behind the scenes. We have lots of free water points around site where people can refill, and fizzy drinks are available in cans. We have beautiful metal RAW water bottles available for those who need to buy one, and our crew and artists are provided with them for free. We know that festivals are great places to inspire change and using a refillable bottle all weekend means people go home and start using them in their everyday life too.

Our bars have long run a cup deposit scheme, so are also free of single-use plastic. Festivalgoers pay £2 for a pint cup, which they can keep all weekend or swap for a clean one at any time. When they finally return it, they get their money back. Making this switch was simple and easy and has saved huge numbers of single-use pint cups from being created.

Swapping out plastics in how we build and run the festival site has been more complicated, but we’re persisting. Plastic tapes for marking out campsites etc has been switched for rope and this year we’re trialling some hazard tape made from plant fibres for those few moments when you need to highlight an area as a no-go zone. Cable ties and gaffer tape remain industry standards, but we are persisting in searching for alternatives and trialling new products as they are developed, including a cloth-based tape.

What would you say to convince others to take action on plastic?

Plastics are in our oceans, our soil, even the water we drink. The only way to solve the plastics crisis is to massively reduce our use of it. Be bold and make some changes – you’ll be surprised by just how much support you get from your customers.

What do you think your industry should be doing to make a difference collectively?

We need to work together more and share the solutions we find so that we can all move away from plastics together. Suppliers always respond to demand, if we’re all asking for plastic free options innovators will create them.

Can you tell us about some other inspiring plastic pioneers or projects that you admire, and why?

I really admire the Two Farmers crisp company. While the major crisp manufacturers were busy saying it would take years to develop plastic free crisp packets, Mark & Sean just went ahead and did it, because they knew it was the right thing to do. They are a great example to the food industry, and we should be talking about them much more.

How can people find out more about your plastic-free quest?

By going to the Greenbelt festival website – where you can also find out more about the fabulous people performing and speaking at this year’s festival, including in our dedicated environmental venue. The festival is at Boughton House, Northamptonshire, from 23rd-26th August.

Read all our Plastic Pioneer interviews here – we’d love to hear your suggestions for people or organisation to feature in future. Contact us with any suggestions.