The summer of ’17: How festivals in British Columbia minimised their environmental impact

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WelTec senior lecturer, Joany Grima, based in New Zealand, has completed a study investigating waste minimisation, and other “green” practices, at festivals in British Columbia (BC).

Joany Grima is a senior lecturer at Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec) in New Zealand, specialising in event management. In the summer of 2017, Joany was hosted by Camosun College as a visiting faculty member, during which time she investigated waste minimization practices at festivals in British Columbia with assistance from Camosun colleagues. Joany has been researching waste minimization practices at festivals since 2015.

Festivals are commonplace throughout Canada, and the number and frequency of festivals being staged is growing. Festivals occur in a range of settings, from urban streetscapes to remote rural locations, creating mini-communities for their duration, with the capacity to generate large volumes of waste. There is no standard for sustainability of festivals in Canada (Dodds, 2017; Dodds & Walsh, 2018), thus festivals implementing waste minimisation, and other “green” measures into their operations tend to do so due to their ethos and values.

This article focuses on data collected at 13 festivals staged in 2017, listed in table 1, where waste minimisation and other “green” practices were observed and documented from an audience perspective. The festivals took place within the boundaries of 11 local authorities, predominately on Vancouver Island; were held at a range of venues, and varied in size and scope.

Table 1: BC festivals included in the study (2017)
Festival Type
Pride Festival Victoria Street
Vancouver Island Music Fest Courtenay Music
Islands Folk Festival Duncan Music
Filberg Festival Comox Arts
Shorefest/Honda Celebration of Light Downtown Vancouver Music/Fireworks
Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival Burnaby Music
Cadboro Bay Festival Victoria Community
Watch & Learn Festival Downtown Vancouver Crafts
Great Canadian Beer Festival Victoria Food/Beverage
Esquimalt Rib Festival Victoria Food/Beverage
Salt Spring Apple Festival Salt Spring Island Food/Beverage
Sunshine Music Festival Powell River Music
Colwood Seaside Festival Victoria Community
























For festival organisers, the key finding of this study is to act beyond recycling in regards to mitigating the environmental impact of festivals. Locally and internationally, the waste minimisation landscape is changing. Recent restrictions on importing foreign waste into China has forced many countries, including Canada, to reconsider the traditional linear approach to waste management. Internationally, there is a growing emphasis on reducing, reusing and rethinking, rather than recycling, which festivals could consider incorporating into their operations going forward.

Measures observed being implemented in order to reduce the environmental impacts of the festivals fell into 13 different actions, presented in table 2. The most common waste minimisation measures implemented were recycling stations, free water refills, the promotion of waste minimisation and “green” initiatives; public transport, bike parking, and environment themed programming. The following briefly outlines how these measures were implemented.

Table 2: Waste minimization measures observed at 13 festivals in BC
Waste minimisation measure
Festivals implementing measure
Recycling stations 13
Free water refills 8
Waste minimisation & “green” promotion 8
Public transport
Bike parking
Environmental themed programming
Reusable cups, bottles, cutlery, crockery
Recyclable or compostable vendor packaging
Sustainable, local food providers
Dishwashing station
On-site compost
Permanent bins covered or removed
Reuse festival programme























Recycling stations
Recycling stations were set up on-site at all 13 festivals. Recycling stations were either unstaffed, monitored by a dedicated team, or staffed at all times. Recycling stations featured between two and four bins, and varied in colour, size, and styles; and in most cases clearly indicated what waste was acceptable in each bin.

Free water refills
Offering free water refills was a simple way of reducing waste from plastic water bottles at over half of the festivals. Water was available at dedicated refill stations, with some festivals, such as Vancouver Island Music Fest, featuring a mobile refilling service, staffed by cheery volunteers.

VI Music Fest 1

Vancouver Island Music Fest Water Crew

Waste minimisation promotion & environment themed programming
Waste minimisation and other “green” measures being implemented on-site were promoted by over half of the festivals. Signage encouraging waste minimizing behaviour was widely used, reminding patrons to utilise the systems being implemented, and some used festival programmes to communicate environmentally responsible messages.

Over a third of the festivals included environment themed programming in the form of activities, and information stands. The Colwood Seaside Festival, for example, featured a stand by Capital Regional District promoting sustainable water, while the Cadboro Bay Festival included a beach clean-up managed by the Surfrider Foundation, which festival attendees could volunteer their time for. 

Surfrider 1

Surfrider beach clean-up, Cadboro Bay Festival

While not explored by this study, waste minimization promotion and environment themed programming has the potential to positively influence the long-term “green” behaviour of festival attendees.

Public transport & bike parking
Attendees were encouraged to use public transport by over a third of the festivals. This measure included promoting regularly available public transport, and providing dedicated transport at no cost, or for a small fee or donation, from “park and ride” locations to the festival site, such as that offered by the Islands Folk Festival. For those preferring not to bring their vehicle to the festival site, bike parking was available at a number of festivals, including Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival. At some festivals, bike parking was by donation, and managed by volunteers.

Other measures
Less commonly implemented waste minimisation measures included providing or selling reusable cups, bottles, crockery and cutlery for use by patrons. The Great Canadian Beer Festival provided reusable glasses, while the Sunshine Music Festival complemented the provision of reusable crockery with a dishwashing station. Other festivals such as Vancouver Island Music Fest, restricted single-use packaging used by food and beverage vendors to items which were compostable or recyclable. Sourcing food from sustainable, local food providers was evident at two festivals, including the Salt Spring Island Apple Festival. One festival, Shorefest/Honda Celebration of Light, covered or removed existing permanent bins so as not to interfere with its recycling bin operation; and upon exiting the Filberg Festival site, patrons were encouraged to leave their free program behind to be reused, or recycled.

Filberg 2

Filberg Festival supporting recycling of programmes

It should be noted that as the data collected in this study was limited to the perspective of the audience, for a limited period of time, it is possible that not all measures to minimise the environmental impact of festivals were captured, including any “behind the scenes” activity.

This study commends the efforts of the 13 festival organisers to minimise their environmental impact. While the sample of festivals featured in this study represents a very small number of the many festivals occurring annually in Canada, the waste minimizing and other “green” initiatives described can be applied by other festival organizers to their events.



Dodds, R. (2017). Sustainability in Canadian festivals

Dodds, R. & Walsh, P.R. (2018). Assessing the factors that influence waste generation and diversion at Canadian festivals, Current Issues in Tourism, DOI: 10.1080/13683500.2018.1461813

Author correspondence:

Read more about Joany Grima's contributions to research here. 



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