I love attending music festivals. The energy, the vibes, the fresh new dose of talent and great food- what’s not to like. Lately, however, I’ve become wary of large scale events. They leave us with great memories and photos, but what do we leave behind? A huge profit for the organizers, yes, but also an enormous amount of trash. This year, I attended the happiest music festival in India, the Bacardi NH7 Weekender to find out how their waste is being managed. Yep, I’m all about that waste, that waste, no trouble!
Before we get into the details, I want you to just take a moment and try to imagine the different verticals that create a festival and the different types of waste these might be generating. Right from venue setup to marketing and publicity to ticketing to food and beverage to shopping to toilets- the trash generated by 40,000 people in one place over just 3 days is a LOT.
Meet Divya, the founder of Skrap, an organization that has been working to make Bacardi NH7 Weekender a zero waste festival in Pune for the past 3 years. Skrap provides waste management solutions to offices and events across India, including some prominent ones like the YouTube Fan Fest, Mahindra Blues, and the SBI Greenathon.
Divya, together with her team of volunteers and members of SWaCH worked with the organizing team of Bacardi NH7 Weekender to ensure that it generated the least waste possible. How did they make that happen? Let’s find out.
The planning and execution between Skrap and NH7 for making the festival as sustainable as possible begins months in advance. Over the years, the steps have been intensified and improved upon after studying the response from the attendees and rectifying past mistakes.
Apart from the beloved fabric wristband, the only thing given to attendees at the box office was a small leaflet with the map of the venue and important information, along with a bar of 5-Star chocolate. Most people had their tickets on email, which reduced the paper waste on physical tickets. The wristband IS the entry ticket for all the 3 days, which is extremely practical.
2. Hydration Stations-
These were my personal favorite! There were hydration stations all over the venue, where you could refill your water bottles (which I did) or reuse the cup you used for a beverage to get a drink of water. These were a huge hit!
According to Skrap, hundreds of kgs of plastic waste was reduced through the festival’s cup reuse policy and hydration stations. Yay for the environment!
Unfortunately, there were vendors selling plastic water bottles right outside the venue, which a lot of people purchased and carried into the venue. Those of you who are attending next year, just carry your own water bottle and refill it, it’s free (and filtered, yes.)
3. Food Stalls-
EVERY SINGLE food stall at the venue was instructed to use only compostable or paper cutlery, plates for serving food. This is a significant change because there are multiple food courts across the venue. Also, people eat and drink a LOT at NH7, because why not? The legendary tin “I was there” mugs are one of the biggest takeaways from the festival because they’re multipurpose! (I used one of my old ones as a stationary holder for a long time, they’re practically indestructible). The cup/ glass reuse discount was a neat one, I thought. Who doesn’t like cheap(er) drinks?
4. Segregation of Garbage-
Quick question- do you segregate your garbage at home? Even if you do, does it all eventually end up together? Not at NH7. There were color-coded wastebins sprawled across the ground, with distinct markings of “Food Waste”, where one discarded food scraps and plates and spoons, and “Recyclables”, which were for bottles, cups, mugs, and other paper waste. I saw people taking a moment to read the signs and then discarding the waste in the right bin and striking conversations with the volunteers who were there to encourage them and answer any questions they may have.
At the backend, there was intensive segregation going on throughout the duration of the festival, with the glass, metal, compostable plates, plastic, paper, tin, cardboard and food waste being packed into separate bags and weighed.
So, what’s the final count and where did the waste go?
During this year’s Pune edition of the NH7 Weekender, 11 tonnes of waste was generated. That’s 11000 KGS of waste generated over a period of one week, including dismantling waste such as wood scraps. Of this, over 9.6 tonnes was recycled, composted, donated or reused.
Waste such as thin plastics and flex banners (which are everywhere) were sent to poly fuel plants to be processed into poly fuel or donated for reuse as roofing material.
The recyclable waste (such as glass, cardboard, paper, plastic, etc) was forwarded to local recycling units to be made into new products. Glass bottles (which are 100% recyclable) comprised around 20% of the total waste generated.
Food waste was composted on-site / to local composting facilities. Excess leftovers from food stalls (amounting to about 220 kgs of food) were collected and shared with laborers and underprivileged communities each day.
Items having further utility are sent to local NGOs for reuse. Only non-recyclable materials or mixed waste (less than 14%) was sent to the landfills.
Less than 14%. That’s music to my ears. What excuse does any large scale event have any more? There is clearly a better option, all they have to do is accept that their fun and profit is screwing the environment and adopt a better, sustainable way to run their show. Organizations like Skrap have proven that, not just with NH7 but with many prominent events across the globe. This also goes to show that there are corporates and event managers who want to do things differently, and that gives me hope. There is scope for improvement, and we’re finally noticing it.
New events will keep coming up, that is a given, but if we decide right from the conception and ideation stage that reducing its negative impact on the environment is a priority, we may just have a shot at setting the norm for the rest of the industry.
Yes, it is more effort, but you know what? The Earth shouldn’t be paying the cost for our entertainment. The rivers and the soil and the air shouldn’t have to bear the consequences of our profit-making ventures. The bar is set high, and this is the new standard. You better keep up.