Glastonbury leading the way on PCC?

Some say Glastonbury is the best festival on earth, respected for its world class music acts and magical atmosphere. It is also well known as a “green” festival, with roots in the 1970s environmentalist movement and a reputation for ambitious leadership on environmental concerns since then. Today, it has developed into an engineering and infrastructural masterpiece, more aptly described as a pop up city. With a population of 200,000 people it has all the same water, sewerage, waste, data and energy needs as somewhere with centuries of city planning and infrastructure investment (for comparison, Reading has a population of about 220,000 and Swansea 240,000). Having attended Glastonbury 2019 I think this pop up city can teach us a lot about what green cities of the future could look like. 

From my experience at this year’s event, the average festival goer had a PCC of less than 20 litres.There are over 3700 toilets and 700 meters of urinals at Glastonbury, none of them use water. They were either composting loos or long drops into shipping containers that were taken away to be treated following the festival. All the showers were closed this year because of the need to conserve water in the hot weather and there weren’t always taps to wash your hands (they provided hand sanitiser). I learnt a lot. I realised that you don’t need water to brush your teeth and that I could wash with about 8 litres of water in a bucket (including washing my hair). All food was served on compostable paper plates, so there was no washing up to do either. 

I wasn’t washing my clothes or cooking my own food, and there are lots of other ways we use water in normal life beyond just these essentials, but it’s an astonishingly low figure and proof that significantly reducing PCC is possible on a large scale. Even if we were to double or triple that figure to 40 or 60 litres, that is still low compared to the targets we have set as an industry to date. This is also very low considering it is all down to behaviour change and not utilising rainwater harvesting or water reuse. So could green cities of the future have PCCs as low as 40 or 60 litres per day? And should we be looking beyond the target of 100 in the near future? 

Changing people’s behaviour by limiting their choice is one thing, but Glastonbury have done a fantastic job of bombarding the public with direct and determined environmental messages as part of their “love the farm, leave no trace” campaign. 99% of tents were taken home this year, which was an astonishing contrast to the scenes I saw when I left the camp site three years ago. Glastonbury has ensured that environmentalism remains at the heart of what it means to buy into the spirit of the festival. How can we capture this spirit to reflect what it means to be a citizen of a city in the future?

Since the previous Glastonbury in 2017 the issue of plastic has exploded into public consciousness. Without wasting any time, Glastonbury announced they would be, where possible, single use plastic free. None of the 800 food vendors sold plastic bottles and none of the food or drink was served in plastic. The legendary Sir David Attenborough made a surprise appearance to congratulate everyone on the huge progress and the estimated one million plastic bottles saved from entering our environment from the festival. Glastonbury has made this transition with unapologetic confidence, showing that with strong purpose and leadership, a complicated organisation, as large as a pop up city, can change at a fast pace. 

Going plastic bottle free was made possible by WaterAid, who ran 37 refill kiosks (in addition to 850 taps throughout the site) encouraging people to refill and keep hydrated in the heat. I met the CEO of Wateraid (very briefly) as he filled up my refillable bottle in the crowd while watching an ABBA tribute. I wasn’t surprised to see this fantastic demonstration of leadership by example as I have heard Tim speak before, and it was brilliant to see him getting stuck in with a backpack of water and a portable tap in the crowd. 

So to round up, I have learnt that I can live quite happily on 20 litres of water a day, at least for a short period of time – and also that Glastonbury has a lot to offer us as an example for towns and cities of the future. The decision makers behind this festival are ambitious and not afraid to try new things (they sold over one million plastic bottles in 2017 and zero in 2019), they can make quick and confident decisions (all showers on site were closed for the festival due to dry weather, forcing people to rethink their behaviours) and they have strong and unapologetic environmental messaging, supported by some very high profile and trusted charities, not afraid to get stuck in. 

I wonder what progressive steps Glasto will take next year to mark their 50th anniversary. I hope I am there to see it! 

Lydia Makin – Policy and Project Manager, Waterwise 

Photo Credit

Instagram @matt_gwel