The Sustainability of the Roskilde Festival
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
A few months ago, Simon and I went on a run around the Roskilde Festival grounds. For those of you who don't know, the Roskilde Festival is Northern Europe's largest music festival. Over 130,000 people flock to this site annually, making it the fourth largest 'city' in Denmark during the duration of the festival. Additionally, thousands of people will camp out during the 8 day stretch as it presents an exciting opportunity for friends to gather, enjoy music, and drink *copious* amounts of alcohol. Side note- I went to a few days of the festival and had an absolute blast! However, having a blast at Roskilde comes at the expense of the environment, and that's a fact. While Simon and I were running through the festival grounds, it was impossible not to notice the excessive amounts of garbage present- 1 month after the festival had ended. I was so shocked that I went back to the sight a few days later with my camera and a plan.
One month after the festival, and this is what I saw. Can you imagine what it was like a few days after the festival- or during it?
But why so much trash? There is a very simple answer, and it's the Danish drinking culture. When Danes drink at festivals, all rules are thrown out the window. The very same person who Mari Kondos it up at a recycling center and takes a reusable shopping back with her to a fashion flea market will *proudly* shotgun a beer and throw it carelessly on the grass. Take this scenario, and multiply it by 130,000 times. Then, say, each Roskilde attendee consumes 10+ drinks a day- and that's when you have a true wasteland.
While at the festival, I asked a friend why they throw their cans on the ground. His answer was simple, "Because they get picked up." He then went on to explain that the people who pick up the cans will quite literally travel to Denmark, buy an *expensive* pass to the Roskilde Festival, and spend the week picking up the undamaged cans. According to my friend, the people who pick up cans are not only able to pay off their passes, but they also make a pretty penny in profits- all because of the Danish bottle deposit system-- Read more about this topic in my post, Danish Sustainability. Now with cans and bottles only holding a value of 1-3 kroner, you won't make a fortune on your own waste; however, I can imagine you could do quite well at festivals and other large scale events due to the excessive amount of drinking that occurs.
Sorry guys, here's a bit of a tangent! From that moment on, I noticed the people picking up the cans. Not only at the Roskilde Festival (and I'm sure it happens at all other festivals, too) but at major soccer games, concerts, and even just on the streets! These people do not appear to be from Denmark as they are often speaking languages other than Danish or English, and they seem quite separated from mainstream Danish society (most people ignore them as they look around for profitable waste). It saddens me that these people probably are in great need of the money if they are spending their evenings picking up trash with jumbo bags, and I just think there must be a better way! In my opinion, the bottle deposit system- though implemented with good intentions- has accidentally encouraged Danes to litter at higher rates, and has allowed a level of inequality to occur. Yes, it's true that everyone is in control of their own actions and no one forces certain members of society to pick up waste; however, it's not the doctors and lawyers in society picking up cans for hours on end- it's the more vulnerable members of society. Now, this has been a bit of a digression, but I still think it's an important point to hit on. If anyone has any comments or counterpoints to add, please don't hesitate to share them. I'm interested in learning more about this topic and encourage any feedback on this matter. (: Okay, now back to the Roskilde Festival.
As you can see from the photos, not everything gets picked up at the Roskilde Festival. The amount of waste that comes with this festival- and many festivals in Denmark- is unfortunately quite excessive. Many Danes have a sort of blasé approach to the waste problem, often communicating that "It will get picked up anyway." And though it's true that there are volunteers (who often get free passes for their work) who pick up the trash after the festival, the site really only returns to its original state 4-5 weeks after the the festival finished. During that time, birds and animals are exposed to the waste, the water sources on site are polluted, and the grounds maintain a true wasteland. The aftermath of the Roskilde Festival makes me wonder:
How is the 3rd most sustainable country in the world allowing this to happen?
Fortunately, the Roskilde Festival- and many other Danish festivals- are taking steps towards becoming more sustainable. Their website https://www.roskilde-festival.dk/en/ is very transparent and not only provides statistics on their waste problem, but it also discusses ways they are targeting it. According to the festival's site, the 2018 Roskilde Festival resulted in over 2297 tons of waste- with 2000 of it going through an energy retrieval process. In recent years, the festival has implemented additional sorting sites where they are able to target the four main areas of waste: metal (i.e. beer cans), glass, cardboard, and bio-waste. The festival also urges those sleeping on the grounds to invest in high-quality camping equipment in order to avoid excessive waste; however, one look at the images above and you can see that A) festival goers suck at sorting and investing; B) excessive waste continues to be a massive issue; or C) all of the above. No need to phone a friend. It's C. The answer is C.
Kind of gross, but in addition to the material waste that results from the annual festival, there is a lot of human waste, too. Here's a fun fact you may not want to know: Most festival goers (remember- there are approximately 130,000 of them) use the restroom on the outskirts of the festival by a long line of bushes. Squatting or standing, they do their business entirely out in the open and often without any hand-washing either (yummy). Now remember, most festival-goers practically drink their way through the 8-day festival, which of course results in frequent "restroom" visits. It's not needed for me to go into further detail, but it's clear that proper hygiene and sanitation efforts are lacking. On top of that- just think about the impact this waste has upon the soil and ecology in the area!
So, sorting isn't enough... and the festival produces tons of waste.
What ELSE Is the festival doing to combat this??
On top of sorting, the festival is taking many other strides towards becoming more sustainable. In 2019, festival vendors started serving local food and larger amounts of vegan-friendly options. I experienced this first-hand when I enjoyed a lovely veggie burger and fries with vegan mayo at the festival this past summer (random side note- I will never understand why Danes prefer mayo to ketchup... but its 100% a thing for those Scandinavians!) On top of serving more sustainable food options, vendors introduced reusable cups to the grounds and stopped providing straws for attendees (unless needed due to a disability). The statistics aren't out yet for the 2019 festival, but I look forward to seeing how big of an impact these minor changes made.
One of the largest successes the festival has had in terms of sustainability are the "Clean Out Loud" camps. Basically, the premise of these camps is that you are required to "leave no trace" of your presence there; that includes cleaning up any beer can, cigaret butt, broken camping chairs, etc. each and every night. Let's just take a moment to marvel at the stark contrast of the image below; the left side of the train tracks shows the success of the Clean Out Loud camps from 2018; the right side shows the regular camp sites. Talk about a picture saying a thousand words!
What this picture shows is hope. Hope that the festival can continue to steer in a more sustainable direction. Hope that typical Danish drinking culture isn't the end-all-be-all, and that cultural norms CAN and SHOULD be broken. And, hope that the third most sustainable country in the world will recognize what changes are required for it to truly, undoubtably, and entirely deserve such an impressive and inspiring title- and I hope it does.
If you want to learn more about the sustainability of the Roskilde Festival, I encourage you to watch this video I created on the topic!
Just like the Roskilde Festival, I encourage YOU to make an effort to be more environmentally friendly. Whether this is speaking to your local representatives, rejecting single-use plastic products, or even choosing to sail over flying overseas (eh-hem Greta Thunberg) the time is NOW to make an effort.
Be well. Be aware. Be green. And always live by WWGTD. Translation? What Would Greta Thunberg Do.