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Biffa waste collection truck Radio One Festival

What Happens To Waste After a Festival or Summer Event?

Posted in Services
On 30 May 2019
By Jessica Keynes

On average, music festivals generate 23,500 tonnes of waste, including plastic bottles, food containers, food waste, clothing and abandoned tents.

In a recent Twitter poll, 28% of people asked admitted to leaving a tent or other camping equipment behind after a festival or other event. We also asked Twitter users how much waste left behind after a music festival they thought would be reused or recycled. 28% of people believed more than 40% of items left after a festival would be recycled, while half thought that that the recycling rate was between 0 and 20%.

Twitter festival statistic tent

Twitter poll recycling rates

According to Powerful Thinking's report, "The Show Must Go On" 1/3 of waste is recycled, which is 13% lower than the current average for England and 18% lower than the 2020 targeted recycling rate set out by the Government’s new Resource and Waste Strategy. Low recycling rates, cross-contamination and the use of throw away items often made from composite or unrecyclable materials commonly associated with festivals result in the majority of the waste having to be disposed of at landfill.

Read Biffa’s Top Tips For Effective Festival Waste Management

"The Show Must Go On" also reports that each festival goer throws away 2.8kg of waste each day they attend, more than double the average person's daily waste production. 29 million people attended a live music event in 2017 and with food, drink and amenities readily available there is little reason for visitors to leave the festival's venue. This results in a large amount of waste in one area which needs large scale clean ups.

Biffa at BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend

In 2017 Biffa collected 60 tonnes of rubbish following BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend, the equivalent of five London Routemasters. It took 160 large bin containers, 300 wheelie bins and 22 skips to collect the waste generated as well as waste collection vehicles working around the clock and in the days following the event to remove all of the rubbish. Although the focal point of these events are usually the headline performers or celebrity appearances, the aftermath is often an afterthought for many of its attendees.

Biffa waste collection truck Radio One Festival
Disposing of rubbish in a general waste bin is seen as convenient and straightforward, but it means that waste cannot be recycled due to cross-contamination. When food waste, paper, plastic, and other refuse waste is put together in one container, it makes the materials harder to separate and decreases its value, making it uneconomical to recycle. Utilising specified waste containers can significantly increase a material’s ability to be recycled such as food waste collected in separate food containers can be transported to an AD plant and used to create renewable electricity.

It's essential to stay hydrated during a summer festival and on-the-go plastic drinks bottles offers a simple solutions as they are readily available to purchase, easy to carry and throw away. If they were disposed of in a separate or mixed recycling bin rather than a general waste bin, they can be cleaned and broken down into plastic flakes which can then be use to make useful new items such as clothes and furniture by producers. Biffa is in the process of building a PET recycling facility in Durham with the capabilities of recycling up to one billion plastic bottles each year.

100% landfill diversion is possible at events

It's not just music festivals that produce significant waste, food and beverage festivals are commonplace during British summers. With smaller crowds and with waste types being mainly food and recyclable materials such as plastic, glass and paper, it's clearer for organisers to provide and manage ample separate recycling bins which are easily understood by visitors. Last year, Biffa was the waste management operators for a large scale food and drinks festival in Derby which achieved 100% landfill diversion. Food waste was sent to our anaerobic digestion facilities, glass and mixed recycling were separated, cleaned and baled at Biffa's MRFs before being transported for recycling. The festival also had designated vegware stations for the deposit of peelings and other matter sent to local composting facilities.

Discover more about Biffa’s event waste management.