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Lessons From the Past and Present: A Clean and Green Festival Reigns Supreme in 2024

posted April 23, 2024
Lessons From the Past and Present: A Clean and Green Festival Reigns Supreme in 2024

Major festivals in the United States — such as Coachella, Stagecoach, and Desert Trip generate around 100 tons of solid waste each festival day. While the placement of trash cans and recycling bins are a great start in encouraging a clean venue, the sanitation and hygiene of a large event extends well beyond simple waste disposal solutions. For outdoor festivals, a clean venue is imperative to a hygienic and enjoyable event, with events of both the past and present providing insight into how today's festivals can provide a clean and enjoyable experience for all in attendance.

 Failed festivals highlight today's improvements

 Music festivals of the past that have showcased the value of hygienic practices — Woodstock '99 serves as just one classic example. The festival aimed to mimic the original 1969 Woodstock festival, however, it was overtaken by a number of challenges that included the environmental conditions, overpriced food and water, violence, and poor sanitation. In addition to an insufficient number of toilets and trash cans, sanitation workers that failed to appear only added to the challenges that left the festival with a less than desirable memory that highlights the necessity of a hygienic venue. 

The Erie Canal Soda Pop festival in Indiana 1972 was touted to be "bigger than Woodstock," with a lineup that included Black Sabbath and the Eagles. However, the event was moved to Bull Island after the mayor of Evansville banned the festival at the last minute. With 200,000 people in attendance (more than quadruple of what was expected, according to The Guardian) and rain that turned the grounds into mud, the event was left in disarray. Artist cancellations, sold out food, and a "completely flooded" sanitation system only added to the mess. 

Today's festivals have consistently underlined the value of a clean venue, with many implementing green initiatives that aim to create an event that is better for the environment as well as everyone in attendance. The Glastonbury festival in the UK has long upheld values aimed at protecting the environment, with the sale of plastic bottles banned in 2019. Only compostable or reusable plates, cutlery, and drinking straws are permitted, The Independent notes. Burning Man is another example, and has become well-known for their "Leave No Trace" ethos. The majority of participants help clean up camps and common areas. According to the Reno Gazette Journal, Burning Man officials then publish a detailed map showing what camps left behind. Furthermore, it's noted that Bureau of Land Management officials spot-check the entire city. 

Valuable elements of a clean venue

While many have implemented high standards of cleanliness, it's imperative to realize that there are several elements at play for a successful and hygienic event. Proper sanitation facilities for the number of people expected in attendance is crucial in order to maintain a hygienic environment at an outdoor festival. This includes a sufficient number of toilets, trash cans, recycling bins, and handwashing stations. Only 26% of people will wash their hands just once a day (if at all) during a three to four-day festival, according to one poll. 22% admitted to not washing their hands at all, with one in ten having the opinion of: "It's a festival, I don't need to." By strategically implementing handwashing stations throughout the venue, festival goers will have convenient access to hand hygiene.


Apart from hygienic facilities, unpredictable challenges are a major aspect of any outdoor festivals. Rain has historically been a major factor for outdoor events, and can result in less than favorable conditions in regard to cleanliness. The 2023 Burning Man event, for instance, experienced multiple rainstorms that complicated cleanup — and it's not the only festival to experience a similar situation, with the three-day festival Music Midtown in 2023 at Piedmont Park in Atlanta also facing cleanup challenges after significant rainfall. According to Atlanta News First, areas of the park where crowds gathered to watch concerts would need "some special care" due to the mud. The Piedmont Park Conservancy noted in a statement that initial assessments indicated that the impact on the park "is consistent with anticipated mud based on the amount of rainfall," and would be restored in the weeks to come.


A large commercial building can make a major difference for 2024 festivals planning for inclement weather. An indoor stadium or gymnasium, for example, is already equipped with facilities that are sufficient for the building's capacity. Upholding cleanliness within an indoor venue becomes even more imperative, from the maintenance of floors to the restrooms to maintaining the cleanliness of the windows. In regard to the windows, it's imperative to take into account that the weather plays a major role in effective cleaning. During the spring, inconsistent weather patterns (including frequent rain and fluctuating temperatures) as well as pollen buildup can present a challenge in obtaining a streak-free shine. A regular cleaning schedule that takes place during cooler parts of the day is just one consideration to the successful maintenance of streak-free windows during the spring season. 


Post-event cleanups are crucial for success


Post-event cleanup guarantees a spotless venue for the owners and the environment while securing a good reputation for the festival for years to come. As such, proper planning is a vital aspect of post-event cleanup, with volunteers (or an otherwise dedicated cleanup crew) proving crucial in the management of large endeavors. The aftermath of the 2023 Glastonbury Festival in the UK serves as one example of the impact of a proper clean. Each year, hundreds of volunteers participate in a post-festival cleanup drive of Worthy Farm in order to leave the grounds clean. According to The Independent, volunteers said they separate the waste as much as possible so that it can be composted and recycled, an effort that works to uphold the eco-friendly values of the festival.


Challenges within the cleanup process is an expectation for many, especially when weather is a factor. In regard to the 2023 Burning Man event, cleanup was made far more challenging due to the ankle-deep mud as a result of the rain. "After exodus, the Burning Man team has three weeks where they grid out the entire event area and pick up all items and trash," explained spokesperson Rita Henderson said in a statement. "In addition, they clean along the side of the county highways leading to and from the event." Allotting the proper time to clean up is just one way in which particularly large events can manage a thorough clean, and serves as a significant consideration for festivals planned during unpredictable seasons.


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