✔ The UK's biggest music festival has a net positive impact on the climate
✔ Glastonbury’s carbon footprint is -1,278 tonnes of CO2e
✔ If they weren’t there, attendees would produce 27,397 tonnes of CO2e
Glastonbury. The time of the summer when 200,000 revellers turn Somerset’s Worthy Farm into a manic, magical, often muddy tribute to music that produces a carbon footprint of -1,278.018 tonnes of CO2e.
That’s right: the biggest UK music festival, which attracts more than 200,000 attendees and creates 2,000 tonnes of rubbish each year, actually has a net positive impact on the climate.
To put this into perspective, if these punters didn’t go to Glastonbury, those same 200,000 fans would, in five days, produce 27,397.26 tonnes of CO2e.
We found these figures by calculating how many equivalent metric tonnes of CO2 (CO2e) the festival produces – a measurement that converts non-CO2 into one easy system.
So let’s take an in-depth look at Glastonbury’s carbon footprint, and see exactly how it managed to achieve this outstanding result.
What’s on this page?
How Glastonbury saves CO2e
Saves 174.528 tonnes of CO2e
How much waste does Glastonbury produce?
The festival produces around 2,000 tonnes of waste each year – or at least, that’s how much rubbish is left behind, either in bins or on the ground.
Is Glastonbury plastic-free?
The 2019 festival instituted a ban on the sale of plastic, which is set to be in place for the foreseeable future.
The new policy was a success, with the on-site recycling team telling BBC News that there was “a massive reduction in the amount of plastic on the site this year”, adding that the total amount was “the least ever seen, by a distance.”
By stopping plastic from being purchased in any bars, shops, or backstage areas, the organisers reduced the numbers sold from more than a million plastic bottles in 2017 to zero in 2019.
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Recyclable vs non-recyclable
Around half of all waste created by Glastonbury Festival is reused or recycled, according to the event’s organisers, which adds up to 1,000 tonnes of rubbish.
It helps that traders are compelled to supply only compostable or reusable cutlery, plates, and straws.
In 2019, Glastonbury embraced the spirit of recycling even further by constructing a dance arena – the Gas Tower – entirely from plastic found littering public spaces in south-west England.
Glastonbury waste statistics: the savings
How Glastonbury combats waste
Glastonbury’s recycling centre recycles or reuses half of all waste at the festival. That places the event above the national household average of 45.7%, as recorded by the UK government in 2017.
1,000 tonnes of waste is recycled at Glastonbury, while only 914 tonnes would be recycled otherwise. That means an extra 86 tonnes of waste isn’t wasted.
Using a 2018 Journal of Cleaner Production study which places waste’s carbon footprint at 224kg CO2e per tonne of rubbish, we can then say that this saves 38.5 tonnes of CO2e – as much as nearly four people release per year in the UK. Nice one, Glasto.
The ban on plastic sales also had a huge effect in 2019, reducing the amount of waste and meaning the festival’s 1,300-strong on-site recycling team could more quickly process 45 tonnes of aluminium cans, and turn 4,500 litres of cooking oil into biofuel.
They did this all by hand-sorting rubbish left on the ground and in the event’s 15,000 bins, and putting that trash in bin bags that’d been made from recycled plastic – which was then recycled again.
All the bags they use for compostable food waste are also recyclable. They’re made from cornstarch, and are turned into compost along with their contents. In 2017, the team made 132 tonnes of food waste into compost. That’s the same weight as 24.3 elephants.
The team’s hard work also allows the festival to far outstrip the UK’s food waste recycling rate, which stands at around 10%.
Using parliamentary statistics, that means festival-goers would have saved 13.2 tonnes of CO2e while composting food waste at home, instead of the 149.2 tonnes saved at Glastonbury – meaning the festival saves 136 extra tonnes of CO2e every year.
Festival-goers also managed to take 99.3% of their tents home from the festival – a higher rate than in any previous year.
Saves 990.498 tonnes of CO2e
Glastonbury’s air pollution
Electricity: 15.66 tonnes of CO2e
Glastonbury doesn’t spew black fumes into the atmosphere, but it does require a great deal of electricity to fuel five fun-filled days of amp-related entertainment – and in some cases, that energy is fossil fuel-powered.
The festival consumes around 30,000kW, which results in 14.7 tonnes of CO2e.
It also uses 126 back-up generators, adding another 0.96 tonnes of CO2e.
Transporting amenities: 7.39 tonnes of CO2e
Glastonbury typically offers more than 500 food stalls, 900 shops, and 5,000 toilets, all of which need to be moved to the site by road.
According to our calculations, which use an Exeter University study into CO2 vehicle emissions, it takes 2.16 tonnes of CO2e to transport the food stalls, 3.89 tonnes to move the shops, and 1.34 tonnes to make sure there are enough toilets.
Transporting performers and fans: 47.1 tonnes of CO2e
Around 50% of attendees drive to the festival – but this is cancelled out by the fact that when measured over five days, this level of carbon emissions isn’t significant.
It’s also quite possible that people actually use less energy by travelling all the way to the Somerset town of Pilton, since they spend the next few days in a tent, barely using any electricity at all.
But you can’t have Glastonbury without performers and their gear – and in 2019, the number of performances rose to 2,800.
There are caveats to this. For instance, some of the performers, from AAA Badboy to Zoo Humans, put on multiple shows.
Many of the acts came from the local area, without much equipment, while others travelled from other British venues, by coach or in a large car, which creates a relatively small footprint.
And many international stars – like Kylie Minogue and Carrie Underwood – organised their tours so that they were only travelling small distances to Glastonbury.
However, others, such as the Cape Town’s Langa Methodist Church Choir, Billie Eilish (who travelled from Sweden), Vampire Weekend, and Janet Jackson (who both came from the US), flew hundreds or even thousands of kilometres to perform.
We’ve calculated that acts travelling from within Britain produced 8.6 tonnes of CO2e, those coming from Europe expended 15.5 tonnes, and those arriving from further afield were responsible for a massive 23 tonnes.
How Glastonbury combats air pollution
47.1 tonnes of CO2e is a huge amount of air pollution, but thankfully, Glastonbury has long tried to negate its own impact on the environment.
Way back in 2010, before solar power was cool, Worthy Farm installed 1,316 solar panels on the roof of its huge cattle shed.
This renewable behemoth – one of the biggest systems in the UK – generates 205,700kWh each year, according to Glastonbury’s website.
That saves a staggering 100.9 tonnes of CO2e annually, and even taking away the 30,000kWh needed for the festival, that still leaves 175,700kWh of renewable energy per year – or a saving of 86.1 tonnes of CO2e.
The festival has also long used wind power, having first installed a 150kW turbine in 1994.
Nowadays, the pro-environment Green Fields section of Glastonbury, which includes the 1,000-capacity Croissant Neuf stage, is entirely powered by wind and solar power.
The festival’s organisers, Michael Eavis and his daughter Emily Eavis, have always been willing to push the boat out when it comes to renewable energy options.
As mentioned above, the festival turns around 4,500 litres of cooking oil into biofuel every year, which powers 10-12% of the event – around 1.5 tonnes of CO2e – including stages in Theatre & Circus and The Park.
In 2015, when the festival used considerably more diesel generators than it does now, the use of biofuel instead of other energy sources saved 150 tonnes of CO2e.
The event’s organisers repeatedly show that they practice what they preach, not least by heating their Worthy Farm offices with a ground source heat pump.
As another way to reduce their footprint, they’ve used 185 LED towers on the site since 2013. The lights’ manufacturers say that their low-energy product can power a set for 500 hours on just one tank of fuel.
The festival has also welcomed innovative academic projects which seek to bring even more green sources of energy to the site.
A five-year partnership with The University of the West of England (UWE) has brought festival-goers such innovations as the Pee Power toilets, which used attendees’ urine to produce electricity for a phone charging station, lighting, and information panels.
The Eavises have arranged for more than 10,000 trees to be planted in the local area since 2000.
Each tree saves 0.08 tonnes of CO2e per year, according to Carbon Neutral, which means that they now absorb 800 tons of CO2e per year – the biggest carbon saving Glastonbury makes.
Smarter energy usage
Through a joint investigation into the event’s generators, UWE and Glastonbury discovered that many of the machines were too large, and stayed on for too long.
Now, instead of running them constantly, they only switch them on for 2 to 4 hours per day. We’ve calculated that this step saves 6.72 tonnes of CO2e per year.
As mentioned above, 50% of attendees drive to Glastonbury – but the fact that 50% don’t drive to the festival is completely down to the event’s organisers, who have worked hard to encourage fans to avoid high-carbon methods of transport.
They increased the cost of car tickets by 50% over a four-year period, and have partnered with National Express to transport people to Glastonbury from around 75 places across the UK, resulting in huge carbon savings.
In 2014, 28,000 people were driven to the festival in the company’s coaches.
Glastonbury’s Green Issues Coordinator Lucy Smith pointed out in 2014 that “one coach can take the equivalent of 50 cars off the road.”
But if we assume most people weren’t travelling alone, and that each coach stops 18 cars from driving to the festival, that still saves 19,626 tonnes of CO2e each year, which helps with cancelling out the emissions of those who do drive.
Saves 112.992 tonnes of CO2e
Glastonbury’s water pollution and usage
The festival has been fined once for water pollution, after human sewage leaked out of a slurry tank during the 2014 festival and made its way into the Whitelake River, killing 42 fish.
The judge ordered Glastonbury to pay a total of £31,000, noting that the festival had “low culpability” for the leak – and his comment that “lessons will be learned” was prescient, considering there haven’t been any issues since.
13.6 million litres of water are used during Glastonbury, sourced from a pair of underground reservoirs which were built specially for the festival.
While that sounds like an unimaginable amount of water, it’s actually a gigantic reduction on the volume that those attendees would generally use.
The average is 142 litres per day, according to the Energy Saving Trust, which would neatly work out to 142 million litres over the course of the festival.
That means that Glastonbury attendees use 10 times less water, saving 128.4 million litres in the process.
As well as the clear environmental benefits of saving water – a precious resource which is crucial and finite – this also saves on carbon emissions.
0.88g of CO2e is typically emitted per litre of water supplied to households, which means that the festival saves a further 112.992 tonnes of CO2e.
How Glastonbury combats water pollution
One of the reasons for the stunningly low levels of water used at the festival is the lack of showers.
Glastonbury’s official advice states that “we’d just recommend packing a washcloth and a bar of soap for a good ol’ fashioned stripwash and making do (it’s the Glastonbury way!).”
“Due to the enormous demands on our water supply, Glastonbury is not able to offer large numbers of public showers.”
– Glastonbury Festival website
In 2011, the festival introduced the Green Traveller package, which rewarded anyone who used coaches with – among other privileges – the exclusive use of 12 showers powered by solar energy.
There are over 1,300 eco-friendly compost toilets on site, which yield more than 500 tonnes of compost every year – and organisers work as hard as they can to encourage people to use the facilities.
Their campaigning work is the main reason why there have been no significant problems with water pollution at Glastonbury since 2014.
“Peeing on the ground causes toxic pollution of the water table … Wildlife and fish are affected if 200,000 people pee everywhere.”
– Glastonbury organisers
The event has also addressed the issue of confetti – which can get into the river and endanger its animals – by switching over to biodegradable confetti from 2019 onwards.
Glastonbury’s noise pollution
Noise pollution isn’t part of a carbon footprint, but it can be a factor in health issues from high blood pressure to heart attacks.
It’s therefore crucial for organisers of a festival like Glastonbury – which has the potential to be louder than the average human pain threshold – to watch the levels.
There were 37 noise complaints made during the 2019 festival, which was higher than the previous two festivals.
The local Mendip district council told Glastonbury after the 2019 event to reduce the amount of “low frequency noise propagation” – meaning bass – especially after stage curfew, according to Somerset Live.
In 2011, a Gothenburg University study found that low-frequency noise can contribute to headaches, trouble with concentration, and irritation.
But for the most part, the noise isn’t especially harmful.
The council’s licence for the festival lays out noise restrictions which mean Glastonbury can’t exceed 65dB in the surrounding areas.
So when you go outside in the towns and countryside around the festival, it’ll sound like – at most – a louder-than-usual conversation.
The Killers broke the festival’s sound record in 2019 with their 106dB set – but thanks to the festival’s cutting-edge technology, they didn’t break the 65dB limit in neighbouring locations.
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How Glastonbury combats noise pollution
As well as making sure neighbours aren’t bothered, the festival also provides advice on how attendees can help their long-term hearing, encouraging people to take breaks from the music and wear earplugs from time to time.
Glastonbury also mostly keeps to local noise laws, and has long held silent discos to avoid excessive noise at late hours, well before the idea caught on in the 2000s.
The festival took another pioneering step in 1994 when it became one of the first events of its kind to hand out free wireless headphones to attendees, so they could listen to music and watch World Cup games without breaking noise regulations.
5 ways to be more eco-friendly at festivals
1. Travel there by public transport
2. Use the toilets
3. Put your rubbish in the correct bins
4. Use only what you need (don’t waste water, napkins, etc.)
5. Take your belongings home with you – including the tent!
How eco-friendly is Glastonbury?
Glastonbury’s negative carbon footprint is incredibly impressive, and that doesn’t even tell the whole story.
For one, the organisers decide not to hold the festival every five years or so, to help the ground recover.
These fallow years have taken place in 1988, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2012, and 2018, and will almost certainly happen again in 2023 or 2024.
This environmentally friendly step is taken despite the fact that Glastonbury’s organisers now make a profit of around £1.4m each time they hold the festival, even after including the huge sums they give to charity.
Over the past few decades, Glastonbury has made and donated millions of pounds to pro-climate charities including Greenpeace, Oxfam, and WaterAid.
In 2019 alone, the organisers raised more than £3 million for good causes. This was a record amount, but will surely be eclipsed in future.
It’s also worth mentioning Glastonbury’s light pollution, which is significant during the five nights of the festival – though stringent council restrictions and the event’s location mean that the negative effects of the bright stage lights are minimal.
And the dozens of positive environmental actions that the festival takes more than makes up for it.