Summer has, nominally, arrived and with it comes festival season. The ongoing climate catastrophe is on many people’s minds when it comes to planning summer holidays—flying long distances is inherently unsustainable and stay-cations are increasingly encouraged. But how sustainable is the festival economy?
Tent cities emerge from remote British fields; mounds of rubbish and recycling are left over at the end of a hectic, debauched weekend. Diesel generators are often used to provide electricity; drinking water has to be transported to the festival site. Temporary toilets tend to be used instead of traditional plumbing, which often utilise chemicals and require complicated transportation and disposal methods. It’s estimated that the U.K. festival industry produces around 23,500 tonnes of waste annually, which equates to 2.8 kg per person per day. The total carbon emissions, excluding travel, for the industry comes to an estimated 19,778 tonnes.
Glastonbury, the largest and most famous of the British festivals, descends on Somerset this weekend, with around 135 thousand ticket-holders on top of several thousand staff and volunteers. In many ways, Glastonbury is setting a prime example of how to be sustainable. Since 2004, all food and drink has been sold in wood and paper packaging—they have now also banned single-use plastics.
This year Glastonbury is also prioritising clean energy, as stated on the festival’s website, “In 2010 Worthy Farm installed 1,500 square meters of solar panels on the roof of the cattle shed. The 1,316 roof-mounted solar panels makes this one of the largest privately owned solar photovoltaic systems in the country.” An entire area of the site, The Green Fields, which includes the 1,000-capacity Croissant Neuf stage, is run purely on solar and wind power. This year, single-use plastic drinks bottles will be unavailable at the festival. They also have over 1,200 “eco-friendly compost toilets” which yield “over 500 tonnes of horticultural compost every year.”
But the organisers can only do so much. Festival-goers are encouraged, for instance, to use biodegradable glitter, as conventional glitter is a micro-plastic pollutant, but there are no active restrictions. They are, politely, asked to use the toilets provided and dispose of cigarette butts responsibly, in an effort to reduce water pollution and land contamination—of course, these standards are difficult to enforce throughout the duration of the festival across the 900 acres site.
While people are encouraged to travel to Glastonbury by coach in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and traffic on the rural roads, the website does also note how to arrive by air. They include a link to Winding Lake (previously Fly Glastonbury), an enterprise that provides guests with chartered helicopter flights and hotel accommodation.
And what of the festival wardrobe? The rise of fast fashion is environmentally disastrous—cheap outfits bought in haste and worn once, twice, then discarded. Vintage clothing and charity shops should be encouraged, too, but festivals like Bestival, who encourage fancy dress and themed outfits, complicated matters.
Love Your Tent is an international campaign that encourages people to invest in high-quality tents and to reuse them year after year, instead of buying cheap ones and abandoning them at the end of a weekend. This is in no way enforced, though. And this typifies the problem with making festivals more sustainable: it requires investment, effort and compromise, both on the part of the festival and the consumers. Festivals are meant to be a time to let loose, to leave the outside world behind. People don’t want to be thinking about politics or about climate catastrophe—at the end of a heavy weekend, they just want to go home.
Disposable products make life easier while effective recycling schemes take effort and thought. A truly sustainable festival requires a lot of work, the sheer scale of Glastonbury actually helps the festival in implementing the policies outlined above while smaller, newer festivals aren’t able to do the same. As with many issues of sustainability, it comes down to cost—and raising costs affects accessibility. True sustainability means changing minds and changing habits, not merely implementing policy. Large scale change is needed within the industry and many festivals are committed to green policies in the next decade. The truth is, festivals can be green—as green as you want them to be.
“Don’t waste cucumber skin and seeds—turn them into a cooling summer drink”.
“How to make the most of ripe tomatoes”.
“Is it safe to eat mouldy jam? Theresa May thinks so”.
These are just some of the titles of the many food waste articles that have recently been flooding the media (with some interesting articles, and others less so). In the U.K., brands and people have all been pledging to reduce their food waste. Even the Victoria and Albert Museum has an exhibition about food and our relationship to it called FOOD: Bigger than the Plate.
So why all the fuss? Because not only is food waste morally unethical, but also our food consumption habits must undergo huge transformations in order to stop the planet from crumbling down or burning up. To lift the mood on that heavy but urgent topic, I wanted to have a more careful look at what’s happening around food waste, who are the people actually changing the game, and what’s next technology-wise.
The first step toward a world where food waste is not an issue is changing our attitude and approach to it. This concept is not recent (during wartime wasting food was out of the question), but today, the urgency surrounding that matter is added on top. We’re not going to transform the problem of the huge quantity of food wasted only by drinking beer made from surplus bread or by learning how to properly peel off the trickiest aliments. But what these ideas are about is exactly what needs to become common thinking: approaching food with a different mentality and being aware of how much food we waste for no justifiable reason at all.
In London, the Brixton Pound Cafe is doing just that and more. This pay-what-you-can surplus food cafe is a radical space with radical ideas where anyone can enjoy veggie and vegan food. Screen Shot talked to environmentalist and the cafe’s chef Sean Roy Parker about food waste and why making surplus food look sexy is the way to go. “The issue is that food waste is shrouded in secrecy because supermarkets’ habits are criminal, why would they want you to know how much food they throw away every day?” Parker notes, adding that “By turning surplus food into affordable meals, we are solving two problems simultaneously: reducing food waste and tackling income inequality. The bonus is that the food is fantastically healthy and tasty”. This attitude is one that local communities should adopt concerning food waste, because every little helps (even Tesco’s ‘reduced’ items).
But what about the rest of the U.K.? The rest of the world? Too Good To Go is an app operating in twelve countries, with its main goal being to save some food—food that is ‘too good to go’. The app allows you to see what food you can pick up in your vicinity before it gets thrown away at the end of the day from restaurants and food shops. This way, you can support your local businesses while contributing to a better environment. Simultaneously, the businesses get to reduce their waste and get potential new customers to try out their food. Still feeling sceptical? Too Good To Go’s website states that since 2016, the company saved over 746,760 meals in the U.K. alone.
Talking to Screen Shot about Too Good To Go’s early days, marketing manager Anoushka Grover said, “When we first started, the concept of food waste wasn’t really understood. Once you show people the consequences of their actions, everyone is a lot quicker to take a stand and make a change. Conscious consumerism has been on the rise for a number of years, but we’ve definitely seen it snowballing over the last few years”. So what’s next for Too Good To Go? “We have set some goals for 2020 which include inspiring 50 million people to take action against food waste, partnering with 75,000 food businesses, impacting legislation in 5 countries and supporting 500 schools in educating about food waste, ultimately saving 100 million meals from landfill”, Anoushka told us.
The last element that could make a big change in this food waste cycle is technology. We frequently use it to solve other problems, so why not try implementing it here as well? IKEA is attempting to cut food waste in its kitchens (think about all those meatballs) with an AI bin designed to recognise and monitor what gets thrown away. This ‘intelligent’ bin was made by U.K. technology startup Winnow Vision and uses a camera and smart scales to keep track of what types of food end up in the rubbish bin. Winnow estimates that it has saved almost $30 million worth of food so far.
Awareness of food waste is definitely there and on the rise, but the global response it has received so far is inadequate considering the size of the problem. We need to understand that food waste is not only happening on our tables, it’s also happening with farms and food companies, meaning that all the resources that went into making your food go to waste as well.
There is currently a lack of data and research that are needed in order to accurately estimate the full social, economic, and environmental benefits of food waste reduction. That said, let us be mindful of the bigger picture and make a change—whether it’s by scraping off mould on your jam like Theresa, contributing to the Brixton Pound Cafe, or using apps like Too Good To Go.
This article is a result of our Screen Shot workshop held at the V&A on Friday 28 June during the FOOD: Bigger than the Plate exhibition. In this participatory installation and therapy session, participants gave us the ingredients for the perfect food waste article.