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Download festival – a spotlight on the environment.

Download Festival is a huge event with tens of thousands of people on site for a few days each year. There’s inevitably an environmental impact, but the Download team are looking to minimise this wherever possible.

Initiatives such as re-usuable drinking cups introduced last year meant a saving of 500,000 paper cups – a significant drop Other initiatives saw a decrease in the festival’s carbon footprint last year of 96 tonnes, 41% of waste was composted or recycled, plastic straws or cutlery have been banned since 2016, and in the last 2 years, total waste is down by 61%. These initiatives are part of the reason why environmental group Julies Bicycle awarded Download a 4 star creative green result.

Planetmosh spoke to Victoria Chapman, part of the Download team in charge of Sustainability to talk about the sustainability aspects of the festival.

Is there anything being done to reduce car usage?

We do promote lower carbon forms of travel. We have coach travel with Big Green Coach, they have 74 different pickup locations around the country. We also work with an organisation called Liftshare who promote car sharing to the festival, and the first 100 people who sign up with Liftshare to say that they’re car sharing get access to the guest carpark, so it’s a guest parking upgrade, and guest parking is free then as well. We do acknowledge that people do like to travel by car generally – it’s convenient, particularly when you have to being tents, camping equipment etc although we do advise people to bring minimal stuff because we do want them to take it home with them at the end. So this year we’re working with Energy Revolution by adding a pound on top of the price of the car parking pass and that gets donated to energy revolution who invest in renewable energy projects. It’s a way of balancing the carbon emissions associated with travelling by car.
There are also shuttle buses that come from the train station (Derby and Leicester) for people who travel by train.

Are there any plans to widen that to include say, Nottingham as a way to encourage more people to come by bus?

That’s something I can take back to our traffic management team as a recommendation.

Have you looked at using solar power to power some of the stages?

It’s something that our power company has explored for smaller areas, and it may be suitable in some cases, but because of the size of Download festival and the stages, at the moment the diesel generators are our best option to have reliable power, but it’s definitely something we’re looking at as a company.

What about campsite waste?

From previous festivals, it’s been found that campsite waste does make up around 20-30% of the waste for the festival which is why this year we’re introducing the eco-campsite working with Greepeace to really encourage the environmental ethos of the campsite and to try and create a community of people within the already established Download community who do want to leave no trace, take their stuff home and try and tidy up after themselves, so rather than focus on the negative behaviour it’s trying to create a momentum and drive for the positive behaviour, and the intention is that the eco campsite will grow and grow as people say they want to live like that and just because they’re at a festival doesnt mean they stop what they normally do at home. So it’s making it as easy as possible for people to keep the camps clean. That’s my vision for it.

On the website ticketing page, there’s an option to buy eco camping which takes you through to the standard process to buy the ticket but as part of it there’s a link to a registration form. There’s a list of principles we’re asking people to sign up to which is…Keeping your campsite tidy, taking your tent home again, respecting the environment and your fellow campers, and enjoying being in the natural environment in the beautiful part of the Donington estate. So you sign up to those principles and then Greenpeace will get in touch and tell you more about the exact things they have planned in the campsite. The eco campsite is on a new part of the site – it’s on the west side of the site, but linking in to the car sharing, it’s really close to the Guest parking, so if you travel by liftshare and are in the guest parking, it’s quite a short distance to the eco campsite. There are also shuttle buses to the campsite village, or you can walk it.

How long does the cleanup take after the festival?

It normally takes a good three or four days to get most of the waste off the site, but because it’s very different land uses for the site, they come back later on – when the grass starts to grow it might bring some of the smaller items to the surface, so there’s another litter pick that happens later on in the year. It depends on the weather and conditions of that year, so we do whatever the land needs to make sure it’s kept clean.

Presumably you discuss packaging etc with the traders to say what they’re allowed to use?

Yes. We’ve had a ban on the use of single-use plastics for at least two years – so no plastic forks, straws, bags and so on. We only allow wooden or paper products on site, so no plastic straws, minimal straws at all really although we acknowledge some people need straws (something the accessability team highlighted).

We are basically creating an entire town for the weekend, which is an amazing and beautiful thing, and part of why I love working with festivals. It is about everyone coming together to celebrate what we love.

We came in today and everywhere is really green, so the site does recover well, and as I said before, it’s very dependent on the specific conditions of that year, so if it’s been a particularly wet year it might need more help to get the land to recover, whereas if its a dry year it naturally regenerates anyway. Thes festival is closely involved with the environment department of the council to closely monitor what is needed to bring the site back to it’s strength.

The improved drainage put in for the festival a year or two ago must help things all year round.

Yes definitely. They were changes that needed to be made and only enhance what was already here.

The re-usable cups is a change that has had a really big impact because it’s contributed to a reduction in waste. Just measuring things is important too – knowing what our carbon footprint is and even if the festival grows at least we know where we are, and we’re bringing in best practice from other shows.

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.
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