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Posted by Madeline on 20/05/14

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Festival Organisers – Plan a Zero Waste Festival


Zero WasteThe majority of events currently recycle only 15% of their waste (from WRAP’s Zero Waste Events resource).

To ensure your event does better than 15%, check out these waste management tips for planning a zero waste festival.

And why go zero waste?

As well as the environmental reasons, such reduced resource-use and greenhouse gas emissions, there are several economic incentives:

Guide Contents:
1. Sustainable Festivals
2. Festival Traders
2.1 Reducing Food Waste
2.2 Recycling Packaging
3. Festival Organisers 

1. Waste disposal costs are lower for recyclables and food waste than general waste
2. Sponsors are likely to be attracted to sustainable, low waste festivals


Step 1. Identifying Your Waste Streams

Festival Waste Streams

From WRAP’s Zero Waste Events Guide | Wrap.org.uk

* Think about the types of waste that will be generated at your festival:

– Food and liquid waste
– Food packaging – cardboard, drink cans, tins, plastic bottles and containers, glass
– Camp site waste – everything from tents and sleeping bags, to chairs and even fridges
– Staging and dressing waste

* Next, apply the waste hierarchy to start planning ways you can reduce, re-use and recycle:

1. Prevent waste – the waste hierarchy tells us the first priority is avoiding waste in the first place.

2. Re-use – enable products to be re-used, refilled and repaired.

Waste Hierarchy

From LOCOG’s London 2012 Zero Waste Games Vision

3. Recycle and compost – this is about turning waste into new, useful products. E.g. recycle your paper, plastic and metal waste, compost your food waste.

4. Incinerate waste that can’t be recycled or composted – the energy created by incinerating waste can be used to generate electricity for example.

5. Landfill – send waste here as a last resort.


* If you’re choosing a waste contractor, check what services they offer and how they align with your plans. Collections to consider include: mixed recycling (recyclables are sorted later at a mixed recycling facility, MRF); food waste; liquid waste; oil waste.

Case Study: London 2012 Olympics 

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) applied the waste hierarchy at the London 2012 Olympics. The Games was the biggest zero waste event in history:

Re-use: Athletic equipment was donated to UK athletics; portable basketball floor went to Great Britain Basketball, tennis balls went to Battersea Dogs Home; and timber from staging was salvaged.
Recycling & Composting: Food and drink packaging was recyclable or compostable – and was clearly labelled to help consumers know which bins to use.
Energy Recovery: Items unable to be re-used, recycled or composted were sent to energy recovery, including contaminated plastics, shrink wrap (back of house), crisp packets, individual milk jugs, napkins, sugar, salt and pepper sachets, etc.



Step 2. Set Targets

* Decide what waste success looks like at your festival, e.g. composted food waste, reduced plastic use.

* Set realistic, measurable targets.

* Work with your waste contractor to ensure the data you want is recorded e.g. amount recycled, composted and sent to waste-to-energy facilities.

Case Study: London 2012 Olympics

To ensure the 2012 Olympics achieved zero waste, LOCOG created a “Zero Waste Games Vision” stating:

– The amount of waste produced will be minimised.
– No waste arising within ‘closed venues’ (sites managed by LOCOG where access is restricted) during the operational period will be sent directly to landfill.
– All waste within ‘closed venues’ will be treated as a potential resource –  and closed-loop solutions (that is, ’real‘ recycling solutions, rather than downcycling) will be sought where practicable.
At least 70% of operational waste will be reused, recycled or composted.
– Reasonable endeavours will be taken to reuse or recycle at least 90% of the material arising from the installation and decommissioning of our venues.



Step 3. Preventing Waste & Encouraging Re-Use

To have the most impact, think about the biggest causes of waste e.g. plastic bottles and cups, food waste.

* Provide free water taps to encourage festival-goers to re-use bottles.

* Speak to charities such as FareShare about redistributing surplus food.

Case Study 1: Food Redistribution at Shambala, Bestival and Camp Bestival

Last summer FareShare’s Festival Food Recycling Service saved over 2,000kg of surplus food from waste at UK festivals. They also took their restaurant, The Surplus Supper Club, to Shambala, Bestival and Camp Bestival. 

FareShare is a UK charity, working to relieve food poverty. They redistribute surplus, ‘fit for purpose’ food from the food and drink industry to organisations working with disadvantaged people.

Case Study 2: Reusable Bottles at Shambala and Glastonbury

Shambala’s Bring a Bottle initiative bans the sale of disposable drinks bottles onsite and encourages festival goers to bring a reusable bottle. Meanwhile, Glastonbury have teamed up with WaterAid and Raw Foundation to produce a stainless steel bottle.

Case Study 3: Deposit Schemes at Reading and Leeds

Reading and Leeds festivals charge a 20p deposit on bottles of water – festival-goers get the 20p back when they return their bottle to refund points. Similarly, the festivals charge 10p on cups at bars. 



Step 4. Recycling & Composting

* Find out from your waste contractor what can be recycled and then provide suppliers and contractors with a list of materials you don’t want on site. For example, you’re likely to find that some plastics, such as polystyrene and  polypropylene (PP), cannot be recycled.

* Consider offering incentives to encourage festival-goers to recycle.

Case Study: Recycling Incentives at BoomTown, Isle of Wight, Leeds & Reading destivals

BoomTown Festival in Winchester charge an extra £10 EcoBond on every ticket. Festival-goers receive an EcoBond bag when they arrive. By filling this with waste and/or recycling and taking it to the EcoBond Depot, they get their £10 bond back.

In partnership with Every Can Counts, festival-goers at the Isle of Wight festival could enter a football competition by retuning their empty cans – the top scorer was awarded a pair of tickets to following year’s festival.

Reading and Leeds festivals offer a free Pepsi Max to any festivals-goers who take a bag of cans or plastic bottles to their Recycle Exchanges.


* Ask your waste contractor if they recycle waste oil. Provide sealed drums for food traders to empty waste oil – this can then be recycled into bio-diesel.

* Speak to your waste contractor about recycling food waste.

Compostable Cutlery

London Bio Packaging’s Compostable Cutlery – Made from Bio-Plastic & Wood

* If you’re recycling food waste, ask food traders to use compostable plates, cups and spoons. Compostable packaging can be thrown away with food waste for recycling – resulting in less food waste being thrown into general rubbish bins

– You might want to specify in contracts that only compostable packaging is allowed.
– You could also follow the lead of some festivals and have your own on-site packaging supplier, allowing you to be certain that all packaging is fully compostable.

(i) By recycling food waste, you divert it away from landfill.

Reducing how much food waste you send to landfill is a very effective way of reducing your festival’s carbon footprint (in landfill, food waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas, as it breaks down.

Food waste can be recycled by sending it to an industrial composting facility (where it’s turned into compost for use on soil to help grow plants and food) or an anaerobic digestion facility (where it is turned into bio-fertiliser, again for use on soil, and also energy e.g. generating electricity or transport fuel).


To avoid landfilling food waste, consider compostable food packaging. Here’s why:

Consider a half eaten burger on a recyclable plastic plate. Some festival-goers might put the leftover burger in the composting bin and the plate in the recycling bin. But not everyone would. Some would throw it all in recycling – meaning food waste contaminates the recycling bin. Some would throw it all in composting – but the plastic plate can’t be composted. And some would throw it all in the general rubbish bin – so nothing gets recycled.

A compostable plate does away with this problem – it can be thrown away with the burger, straight into the composting bin.

(And in that example the plate was widely recyclable. but as mentioned above, several plastics are not commonly recycled).

For a compostable plate, check out our bagasse and palm leaf plates. (Bagasse is made from the material leftover when sugar syrup is extracted from sugar cane; instead of letting the material go to waste, it can be pulped and moulded into packaging!).


(i) To be sure packaging is 100% compostable, ask your supplier if it has been independently certified as compostable – for example, to the European compostability standard known as EN 13432.



Step 5. Using Bins To Increase Recycling & Composting

If thousands are attending your festival, it’s important to get your bin strategy right to maximise recycling rates and avoid contamination.

Signage:Recycling Bin Signage

* Label bins clearly:

– Use pictures and diagrams to overcome language barriers
– Be consistent across front of house and back of house bins
– Add messages to tackle the key causes of contamination E.g. ‘No food’ stickers on bins for recyclables

* Use coloured bin liners to match your bins to ensure full bin bags are transferred to the correct bin areas. And for recycling and composting bins, using tinted (semi-transparent) coloured bags means any incorrect items are spotted without opening the bags up.

Food Waste Bin Signage

From WRAP’s Resource Library | Partners.wrap.org.uk

Bin Locations:

* Place bins in likely hotspots e.g.„

– Near food stands
– Entrances (ensure staff know what to do with the contents of plastic and glass bottles if liquids and glass are not allowed on site)
– Exits and car parls
– Toilet blocks, mobile phone recharging points etc


* Provide training to all staff, suppliers, contractors and volunteers on what goes in which bin.

* Have staff and volunteers positioned at bins.

– Rubbish pick-up tools are useful for retrieving incorrectly placed waste
– Be aware that once a bin becomes contaminated, it can quickly end up filled with incorrect items as people ignore signage and just look at what’s in the bin

Case Study: London 2012 Olympics
Recycing, Composting & General Waste BinsTo reduce contamination, a colour-coded three-bin system was used with matching bin liners:
1. Green = Co-mingled dry recycling
2. Orange = Food waste and compostable packaging waste
3. Black = All other waste (non-recyclables)
As the official food and drinks packaging supplier, we ensured all Food Packaging Labellingpackaging was colour-coded to match the bins and bin liners.
Download this PDF or watch our video to find our more about our role in the 2012 Olympic Games.



During the festival: keep communicating your waste management scheme to staff and volunteers. Monitor bin contamination and check suppliers are using the correct materials.

And afterwards: analyse your waste data; the amount recycled, composted and diverted from landfill. Review what worked and what didn’t – and share what you’ve learnt with others.

Good luck with planning your zero waste festival!

If you have any questions about our packaging or experience at London 2012, don’t hesitate to get in touch – call us on +44 (0) 20 7471 3700 or drop us an email!



Further Resources:


 Blog cover image courtesy of flickr user Mark Crossfield

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