Credit: Peats Ridge Festival
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You're right up the front, close enough to the stage to be showered with the lead singer's sweat. It's impossible to stay still as the crowd surges and sways like a many-limbed, multi-headed and hyperactive beast. You're filled with a sense of celebration, community and hope as you count down the start of a new year.
For many, music festivals held over the New Year have become a tradition. It's a time to let it all hang out, camp with friends away from the demands of your normal routine and celebrate the past and the future.
But the morning after, as you pack up your tent with a throbbing head, spare a thought for the rather monumental environmental hangover that such large-scale events can cause.
The damage done
A journalist surveying the scene at Woodstock '94 after an estimated 300,000 people converged on 340 hectares in New York state described "hillsides strewn with garbage and abandoned tents, beside a creek bed littered with lawn chairs, underwear and rotting scraps of food".
In 2007, British newspaper The Independent reported that a stream running through the Glastonbury Festival grounds was cordoned off to prevent festival-goers peeing in it. Ammonia levels from human urine had become so high that they were endangering fish.
That's not to mention the less-visible carbon footprint of powering these events nor the impact of hundreds of thousands travelling to the festival site.
For Peats sake! There must be a better way
After a two-week intensive permaculture course in Byron Bay, British-born DJ Matt Grant found himself reconsidering his decade-old vision of setting up a music festival in the tradition of legendary UK festivals at Glastonbury and Leeds and almost gave it up to pursue a degree in environmental management.
"It woke me up to a bigger picture of looking at resources, looking at the planet," Grant says. "I was completely drawn two ways: [I was thinking] the festival is a passion but I have an obligation here to do something about sustainability."
Luckily for all those who have since enjoyed the Peats Ridge Sustainable Arts and Music Festival, Grant had an epiphany:
"One day it just clicked. What I love about festivals is that people can step into this space, and it's a space where they're open to new experiences and perhaps this is actually the best place to teach them about sustainability."
Spreading the word
But are the Bacchanalian free-for-alls that are music festivals the place to be taking such a serious message? If people are there to let their hair down, consume mind-altering substances and lose themselves in the music, will they take any notice of environmental initiatives?
"When they come to the festival they're exposed to how we do things; we don't shove it down their throats," says Grant.
"There's this stuff happening at the festival that engages them in the environmental learning process without forcing them into it."
And it's true that there's a strong and visible sustainability message at every level of the festival, the following are just some of what can be found:
-- Composting toilets (which, from personal experience, are far less smelly and disgusting than your standard Portaloos)
-- Solar-powered mobile phone recharge stations
-- A bike chaperone service that encourages cycling to the event
-- Organic food served on compostable plates and cutlery
-- Four-bin sorting stations (organic waste, general waste, recycling, paper and cardboard) with friendly bin monitors to help you figure out what goes where.
There is also a more overt on-site educational program. The Ecoliving Stage (run in conjunction with the University of NSW Ecoliving Centre) runs a continuous program of talks, discussions and workshops throughout the festival.
Grant argues they're not preaching to the converted. "First and foremost we are a very, very, very good arts and music festival. That's our selling point."
A model event
When Matt Grant and his team went about setting up the inaugural Peats Ridge Festival in 2004, "we were the first major-sized festival that embraced these principles." Conventional event systems and services on offer didn't match the sustainable philosophy of the festival, so they had to improvise and come up with new ways of doing things. Peats Ridge was the first major event to run entirely on bio-diesel and renewable energy and the first to install composting toilets.
"If it's going to take 10 to 15 per cent of our budget to put in place practices that are going to reduce our impact, we'll just spend that money because it's what we're about, it's a core thing for the festival," he explains.
In 2008, the achievements of Peats Ridge Festival were recognised by the NSW government with a Green Globe Award and their environmental education initiatives have been acknowledged by none other than the United Nations.
Much to Grant's satisfaction, the innovations and ideas forged out of necessity are today being shared with other Australian festivals and events around the globe.
The Model Event project makes information on all of the systems used at Peats Ridge available free of charge for other event organisers.
Other festivals in Australia are certainly talking about taking up the challenge of reducing their eco-footprints. But Grant admits the commitment to the underlying principles varies from event to event.
"It's de rigeur now in events that you've got to at least nod your head towards green principles, you've got to do it...but there's still very, very few events where it's at the core of what they're doing."
There are some encouraging signs: in 2008, five Australian festivals - Southbound and West Coast Blues n Roots Festival in WA, Bluesfest in NSW and the Falls Festivals in Tas and Vic, received an International Greener Festival Award, an independent recognition of their comprehensive environmental policies, including waste and water management, carbon emissions and care of the festival site.
Grant and other Peats Ridge staffers have consulted on sustainability to high-profile events such as Live Earth and the V Festival.
Meegan Jones, 2006 event manager of Peats Ridge, now works as a sustainability coordinator on the Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds mega-festivals in the UK.
The first waste manager for Peats Ridge, Nickie Haylan, was Grant's flatmate at the time. Based on the systems developed for the festival, he has since founded a company called Sustainable Cleaning Systems.
The Australian company that developed composting toilets for Peats Ridge, Natural Event, is now establishing itself in Europe.
Watching sustainable solutions flourish locally and abroad fuels Grant to continue refining the festival. He's committed to "a continual process of improvement through environmental auditing". With only a few weeks left until Peats Ridge 2008 kicks off, Grant says he can't wait. "Wherever I look around the festival I can see this is really making a difference, which makes me feel good about it."