Being part of the pack-down crew at Peats Ridge music festival has a lot more work involved then one would imagine. A lot more than I had imagined.

The idea behind this New Years festival is to be sustainable while providing art, music, and workshops. As they’re website states, “a major part of the Peats Ridge experience is finding out how to live more sustainably, and therefore reduce our impact on the beautiful Glenworth Valley, and the planet as a whole.”

One way in which this is achieved is by composting all the food waste – minus meat – in massive built up compost bins created by yours truly. During the day we separated the paper material like cups, plates, and cutlery from the food waste that were all deposited into the compost bins. The paper material is then shredded (including waste boxes laying around the festival) and is used as a brown layer between the compost. It’s a great way to ensure that a mix of green and browns is evenly distributed to the compost. It’s also an amazing way to divert such a large quantity of food waste that is left around after 5000 people eat at a festival. Go team compost!

Calgary Folk Festival takes the approach of providing plastic plates that require a $5 deposit for use. Each vendor is required to use the plates which are obtained at a kiosk. Ironically, each year youth end up making a killing by walking around the beer gardens offering to “remove” plates from the drunken patrons. Combining both options seems like a more optimal and sustainable approach as you are not creating more demand for paper products. Thus further reducing teh festivals ecological imprint.

“Can you guys come over to the festival vendors bin to help out?” – why not I thought. When we arrived at this massive garbage bin provided for the food vendors it was filled with food. Around the base of the bin there was mounds and mounds of corn. Apparently, a vendor was not as successful as they had figured they would be to hungry festival goers. Instead they determined it was more economical to throw away the corn, 5 KG of pinto beans, a box of ginger, boxes of uncooked Turkish bread, and 4 x 20 KG bags of potatoes.

Did they expect that vendors at the festival would act in such disconnected fashion to the festival? I sat there stunned. Then Chris, my old friend from a permaculture school, and I proceeded to place the corn into milk crates and give it out to the workers around the festival. Liberate the corn one cob at a time!

It’s a difficult balance for a festival to really maintain a balance between being sustainable and also attracting big numbers – cause after all they are a business and want to make money. So how to strike a balance between being sustainable, ethical, educate, and still hip.

There were a few ideas floating around our campsite (sorry if I didn’t give you the props properly – let me know and I’ll change the article)

  • Handing out pamphlets to festival attendees about steps to be sustainable
  • Let people know what will be supplied – like fresh water, food, … to cut down on bottles of water being purchased
  • Seasonal food – Only allow vendors to sell and bring in seasonal fruit / hook them up with growers in the area that could potentially supply them with food.
  • Ethics of the matter – Ensuring that Fair-trade coffee & tea is being supplied to festival goers would help the social justice side of their sustainability mandate. Controlling the type of coffee / tea being supplied to festival goers would make their festival
  • Educate the masses – There was a permaculture tent that put on workshops about various issues. But I struggled sometimes as people wanted real ideas – wanted to brainstorm together – and I felt the workshop hosts were poorly judging the groups. So providing workshops on sharing ideas – let the people educate the people.

And I admit that creating, maintaining, and running a festival of this size must be daunting. But a part of me feels as though rather than increasing their level of sustainability this year it was the same – if not appearing less. Perhaps that was just the vibe of the festival peeps attending.

I believe that festivals like this have a shining opportunity to educate businesses and attendies on concepts around sustainability. Someone mentioned handing out a pamplet to attendies that come to educate them about not polluting waterways, taking their rubbish, and tips and facts about other things they waste.