Wednesday, September 15, 2010

like a war zone without the dead people

I went to Reading Festival once, nearly 20 years ago. It has none of the character of Glastonbury, none of the quirks and charm of smaller festivals. What it does have is a vast range of top rock bands playing blisteringly loud to massive beery audiences. For some people that's not enough to entice them but for others, like me in 1991, it's a definition of heaven.

It was overwhelmingly populated by teenagers wearing band T-shirts who enjoyed making campfires out of plastic. As I understand it, that is still the case, and their techniques and targets have evolved and expanded. Stories from a few years ago about lines of burning portaloos are truly the stuff of nightmares.

The festival is now so popular that it's held at two sites, Leeds and Reading, with the same acts on alternating nights. This year I helped with the salvage; teams of volunteers get a couple of days after the festival to pick up any decent tat left by punters.

There were people gathering camping tat like SolAIDarity collecting for the camps of migrants at Calais, others for displaced victims of the Pakistani floods, and scouting groups. Other charity collectors like Everything's Possible were looking for stuff to clean and sell as fundraisers.

The waste seems largely to be a product of the mindset of the punters rather than the infrastructure. During the festival, if you bring in a sack of empty cans and/or plastic bottles for recycling, you get a token for a beer. Yet I saw hundreds of full cans of beer lying around, let alone the uncountable thousands of empties.

There are camping gear drop-off points for people who don't want to take stuff home. Yet I would estimate that at least one tent in four was left behind where it was pitched.

This is a spliced together panorama. Bear in mind this is one corner of one empty field, everyone's gone home. There were acres of this.

Almost all the abandoned tents had stuff inside them. Many had just been walked out of, leaving sleeping bags, rollmats, clothes, cosmetics and food. Possessions were seen as disposable, not just by a few who were irredeemably irresponsible or acutely hungover, but as a culture among festival-goers.

Many of the tents and camping gear were clearly new, bought for the weekend, regarded as being as ephemeral as the beer. That was the good bit.  Finding otherwise decent tents slashed, or burned out, or shat in was much worse.


One thing that caught my eye was the vast number of 'Green Tents'.

The words 'green' and 'eco' are, as we well know, meaningless. Vauxhall's new Ecoflex range of cars are eco, even though they emit over 130g of CO2 per kilometre, more than a third as much again as some normal cars already on the road. 'Recyclable' is used as if this means the virgin materials have less impact, and as if the recycling process has no impact at all.

Leeds Festival big up their partnership with Green Tent Company, telling us that buying their gear will

help us to reduce our carbon footprint, thus SAVING THE PLANET

They really do use capitals.

So go on then, what's green about a plastic tent? The makers explain

Traditionally a tent is made up of many different components such as fibreglass poles, metal eyelets and pegs, polyester material and nylon zips etc… which make them uneconomical to separate for recycling. This results in the vast majority of the tents being sent directly to landfill... until now !

The Green Tent Company are the first company in the world to design and manufacture a stylish competitively priced range of tents that are made solely of one product. That product is... polyester.

As if to equal Leeds Festival's jarring emphasis of nonsense, they really do put a three dotted drumroll before telling us their green material is the same non-degradable oil product all the other tents are made of.

Should any of our tents, camping mats or sleeping bags be left behind after a festival ends they do not have to be sent to landfill, instead they can be sent for recycling

They can be sent for recycling. They do not have to be sent to landfill. But, in the main, they are.

A two person Green Tent is £12.99. A full kit of tent, two rollmats and two sleeping bags is £30. You can order online and pick up at the festival, encouraging the throwaway attitude. Why waste precious beer space with camping gear when for £15 each you can get it disposably at the festival, and do the same next year?

The wastefulness is seriously exacerbated - and any potential generosity one may feel toward the company dissolved - by the manufacturer's shoddy quality of work. Some of the material is not fit for repeated use (there's a reason other tents don't use polyester pegs), the rest of it is scrappy single-skin stuff that is barely showerproof. The makers acknowledge this when they boast

If our tents have been well looked after AND fully dried out before being packed away, they could be used SEVERAL times

My tent - reasonable quality, still going strong, and I assure you really not that well looked after - has been to at least 80 festivals.

Put another way, had I bought Green Tent Company tents instead, I would have sent fifty or so to landfill already, or to recycling if I could find where to do it.

How would the eventual landfilling of my solitary tent compare to the energy use and waste of making and recycling a hundred Green Tents? Let alone, as would be more likely, to landfilling a hundred of them?


Gyrus said...


Anonymous said...

OMG I thought Glastonbury was a mess afterwards but those pics are just fucking disgraceful. I had the misfortune to use one of those tents recently - the worst tent I have ever used,I had to weigh it down with logs to stop it blowing away!

Dunc said...

Jesus motherfucking Christ on a pogo stick! That's horrible. What the fuck is wrong with these people?

I fully expect my tent to outlast me.