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Cans and glass and rock 'n' roll

Music festivals can share many qualities with landfill sites, especially in Britain, where the unpredictable summer weather can turn fields into a river of mud. Unfortunately, the comparisons with landfill do not always end here. Festivals produce a large amount of disposable waste, and with so many people in varying states of sobriety, it is hardly surprising that a lot of the rubbish does not find its way to the bin.

Burgeoning waste can turn many people off the idea of a concert, so it is in the organisers interests to deal with the problem efficiently. According to Guilfest music festival director Tony Scott, the need for speed overrides any opportunity to sort waste for recycling. At a festival you have got to get litter up as quickly as possible, and you dont get time to sort it out.

Guilfest takes place every year in Stoke Park, Guildford. It attracts an older demographic than most rock concerts, and it is for this reason that litter at Guilfest is collected and binned as soon as possible. Contractors Chambers Waste then sort what they can at an off-site materials recycling facility (MRF). The MRF is commissioned for paper, cardboard and metal and, according to Chambers chairman and managing director Peter Chambers, the MRF recycles only 10 tonnes of rubbish from the festival. Its not a lot especially as the MRF is designed to take 100,000 tonnes.

Rapid waste management is clearly a priority in any strategy for events such as festivals, but recycling initiatives are also important. Since 2002, concert organiser Mean Fiddler, which runs the Reading and Leeds festivals, has been encouraging music fans to recycle with a powerful incentive beer. Every two sacks of rubbish brought to one of the campsites recycling points can be exchanged for a can of beer, courtesy of the festivals sponsor Carling. The rubbish collected is then sorted onsite to be collected for recycling, with aluminium and tin cans, paper and cardboard going to the nearest MRF. Glass is not allowed onsite, so the only glass recycled is that confiscated by security staff. Mean Fiddler managing director Melvin Benn says the beer-for-waste practice really does work, and the amount of rubbish voluntarily collected gets better year on year.

Benn says the most important issue is addressing catering and retail waste: Food traders and the bar separate their waste so that cardboards and cans are recycled. We do provide some incentive for them to do this by providing bronze, silver and gold awards for retailers at the festivals.

The idea of tackling the waste at its earliest stages was taken one step further at Glastonbury this year. Festival organisers were challenged to match Mendip District councils recycling rate of 16% or else the festival would not be granted its licence for next year.

The festival becomes home to more than 150,000 people over five days and all previous activities had focused on dry recyclables. According to Andy Wilcott, events manager for Network Recycling, which coordinated waste management at the festival, it was decided that the recycling rates for dry recyclables could not be increased enough to produce a significant result. The obvious approach was to introduce more organics and compostables into the waste stream, so it was decided that disposables sold by retailers would have to come from one single supplier, whose products would be compostable.

More than 150 tonnes of waste was recycled and although the final figures for waste have not yet been announced, Wilcott predicts the rate to be around 17.5%. All of this dry and compostable waste was collected effectively thanks to colour-coded recycle bins that were placed all over the Glastonbury campsite. Benn, who is also Glastonburys operations manager, says: We were impressed with the way festival-goers took time and care in deciding which bins to put their waste into.

Litter pickers were also recruited to collect waste and were rewarded at the end of their shifts by Budweiser refunding the cost of th

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