Heading to a Festival? Here’s How to be a Tidy Kiwi and Reduce Your Waste

Ethique founder and guest writer Brianne West’s best tips for actually leaving your camp ground in a better state than you found it (and yes, that includes you fun folk at R&V!

With summer festival season right around the corner, it’s shaping up to be an epic affair for many Kiwis keen to let their hair down after the year that’s been.

However there is a dark side to festivals – the incredible amount of waste that’s associated with them. You may have seen the infamous photos of festival locations strewn with rubbish that people just leave behind – cups, bottles, clothing and even tents.

Some festival organisers in New Zealand are opting to do their bit to encourage festival-goers to reduce their waste through initiatives such as offering refill stations and preventing plastic bottles going into landfill, which is great to see.

But if you’ve got a festival locked in for the upcoming summer, there are many ways you can do your bit to reduce waste!

Take your own drink bottle

There’s a tall, skinny creature that lives in a crowd of festival-goers. I’m sure you’ll have seen it – the tower of reusable cups. The system goes: pay for a drink, return the cup and get a bit of money back. Sounds good, except when you’re in a mosh pit or sitting high on a hill, a few cents isn’t enough incentive to hold onto an empty cup – you have fist pumping and storm stomping to do!

So, those cups end up on the ground, then others collect them up and return them for cash. That completes the loop, but what is one step better? BYO bottle. Take reusable plastic or aluminium bottles – they probably won’t let you in with a glass one. Reusable cups with clips that hang off your bag or camelbacks are great – if you don’t mind looking like you’re about to go on a hike.

Carpool to the event 

One of the biggest source of festival carbon emissions comes from the vehicles coming and going. Most events and festivals happen in remote areas (most of them quite beautiful), and a lot of people travel with just one other in the car. Why not start the party earlier and pack up your car with your friends and all the stuff you think you will need but really won’t.  

You can make your journey more fun by fighting over the music, caraoke, and stopping for ice cream.  You’ll save cash and make it easier to find your friends afterwards – everyone has to end up back at the car at some stage. If public transport is put on by the festivals, take one of those for extra-bonus carbon savings (and bus trips are often quite fun!)

Rethink your outfit choices

We all know the fashion industry is pretty despicable with bonded labour, horrible working conditions and lower-than-low wages. But did you know it’s also one of the top five most polluting industries in the world? The environmental costs of producing cotton are astronomical, through water to grow the plant, to dyes and the carbon emissions to get it to you. And then you might only wear that cheap t-shirt once because it only cost you $7 (the true cost is much greater, you just don’t see it.)

That’s a hard no.  Having an outfit that is warm, comfortable and tough eliminates that waste as you can reuse it over and over throughout the event (though do keep an eye on the smell!)  Being comfortable becomes much more important than being the best dressed at 2am on the third day when it’s pouring with rain, but you still want to stay on the dance floor. Take a laundry bar to spot or hand wash them as needed.

If you do want to get amongst the fashion scene, don’t be afraid to buy second-hand – you can get some fab designer gear at recycle boutiques, and you’ll be far less likely to be wearing the same thing as someone else. And keep away from party supply stores – those cheap plastic flowers, glitter (the worst in so many ways) and cute props you use once will definitely end up in a landfill, or worse, our waterways.

Ditch the plastic poncho

Let’s be real – dancing in a plastic bag scores 0/10 on the fun scale. Plastic ponchos score similarly on the environment scale too – most of them get chucked after one use. So, bring a rain jacket! It’ll be far comfier and you will use it over and over again. The fold up into almost nothing and weigh bugger all so you won’t even notice if it’s there – but you will miss it if it’s not.


If you’re staying over for a festival, I recommend taking bars. It means carrying less (woohoo!), they’re multi-purpose, and no plastic bottles are left at the shower areas. You also totally remove the risk of your conditioner exploding all over your clothes. Wins all around. If you need dry shampoo, we have a recipe over here – pop into a little container, easy peasy! If you’re heading to a four-day festival, you won’t even need one of our full-size bars.

Rethink your food choices

Since most festivals are supplied by food trucks, food waste is already kept to a minimum. But what about the packaging? Reusable containers and cutlery are a no-brainer if you’re camping, but in the festival zone, they’re just not practical, unless you’re happy to dance with a big backpack (no thanks).

Instead, bring packaging-free snacks – fruit and bulk bin nuts to eat in your tent. If you need to refuel after a massive d-floor session, look for food options that have less packaging and don’t need utensils – sandwiches and burgers in paper or food-on-a-stick are always winners. Execute full swerves around anything in polystyrene or plastic. A good way to scope out the options is to creep on what other people are eating – and ask them to point you in the direction of eco-options.

Ditch the wet wipes

Oh dear, I know! Wet wipes feel like a festival necessity. How else do we get clean when we get back to the tent at ridiculous o’clock? Just like face mask sheets, wet wipes don’t actually biodegrade, because most of them contain plastic (and yes I’m sorry, even the ‘biodegradable’ ones suck). When they break up, the fibres break down into tiny microplastics which end up filling our oceans. Fun fact – there are now no environments on Earth that can be categorised as plastic free. Awesome work us.

Just pack a washcloth or two and a body-wash bar, bring some water back to the tent with you, and have a good lather up and wipe down. It’s so much cleaner than a wet wipe – for you and the environment.

Clean up!

I get it. When you’ve spent four days living it up, the last thing you want to do is clean. Wouldn’t it be nice just to leave everything there, and go find somewhere that does a decent coffee? I know that feeling. It’s a feeling you have to fight. Put on your grownup pants, and get your site looking tidy. 250,000 tents are abandoned at music festivals in the UK alone – the earth doesn’t need yours added to the pile.

Happy dancing!

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