The summer festival season is officially upon us, and that means warm days filled with great big crowds gathered to pay homage to great bands playing great music. While that all sounds pretty… well… great, there is one festival staple that may go unnoticed until the last note is played and the crowds have gone home. Unfortunately, that not-so-little detail is a huge amount of waste.

In 2017, it was reported that the nearly 100,000 attendees of North America’s ultra-popular Coachella music festival in Southern California managed to produce 1,605 tons of waste over the 15-day duration of the festival. It was also reported that only 20 percent of that waste (644,800 pounds) was recycled. Since then Coachella has taken measures to increase their sustainability record (more on this below).

Here are four North American summer festivals (including Coachella) that are making sure that their commitment to the environment lives up to the same hype as the music.


They might not have been especially Earth-friendly in the past, but since that 2017 report, Coachella has been digging deep to make sure that the only thing attendees leave behind is a minimal carbon footprint. 

Here are four ways that Coachella is making their hugely popular festival more sustainable:

1. Donation Centers

Attendees are being urged to pack minimally in an effort to eliminate abandoned goods. They are also providing a number of donation centers where people can leave those “I had to have it but now I don’t want it” items to be repurposed.

2. #RecyclingSunday

Coachella’s recycling efforts won’t be limited to a single day, but the designation of Sunday as #RecyclingSunday will give attendees notice to grab blue compostable waste liners on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings.

After that, all they have to do is sort their recycling into the bags and leave them outside their camping spots. There are also drop off locations that offer attendees bringing waste the chance to win an exclusive prize.

3. The Coachella Waste Gang

This team knows all there is to know about recycling and composting, so when in doubt, ask them! They walk around the festival and campgrounds to ensure that waste is properly disposed of while also making sure that it ends up going to the correct places for processing.

4. Many, Many Waste Bins

Coachella has taken steps to take the guesswork out of waste disposal. The festival will have roughly 400 wooden waste enclosures designed for specific recycling and composting needs. If attendees are still unsure of where to take their waste, they can simply toss questionable trash into a white cardboard bin to avoid contaminating high-quality recyclables in a fit of aspirational recycling.

Outside Lands

When people think of this festival they think of the beautiful setting of Golden Gate Park and the incredible music. What they might not think about is the festival’s diversion rate.

While diversion rates aren’t as exciting as a great headliner, they are what makes festivals like Outside Lands such a successful annual event. Just how amazing is their diversion rate? It’s one of the highest in the country.

Of the nearly 400,000 pounds of waste its attendees create each time around, 92 percent is diverted from landfills. Outside Lands accomplishes this admirable feat by doing the following three things well:

1. Composting (129,060 pounds of compostable waste diverted in 2018)

By working with Eco-Products, Clean Vibes, and the San Francisco Department of the Environment the festival has made sure that all cups, plates, bowls, and utensils are 100 percent compostable. Finding the right place to dispose of these items is easy, thanks to specific green bins placed all over the festival.

2. Recycling (221,330 pounds of recyclable waste diverted in 2018)

If it can’t be composted, chances are it can be recycled. Outside Lands strongly encourages recycling of all single-use items—those options are clearly marked to eliminate even more guesswork.

3. Reuse (221,330 pounds of recyclable waste diverted in 2018)

If it can’t be composted or recycled, the question becomes… can it be reused? More often than not the answer is yes. Whether it is pallets donated by SF Clean City, food donated to Food Runners, or used cooking oil (UCO) donated to Greasecycle, there are always options to reuse.

Burning Man Festival

This Nevada desert staple, with origins dating back to 1986, is not just a music festival, a cultural phenomenon, and the inspiration for festivals around the globe—Burning Man is also incredibly sustainable in four very unique ways.

1. Leave No Trace

Burning Man states this initiative as, “Leave the place you visit the same or better than you found it; leave no trace of your having been there so that others – human and animal – can enjoy the land the rest of the year.”

2. Greening Your Camp

Burning Man works very hard to shift perspectives – “We’ll give you all kinds of practical advice, tips, and tricks, but the most valuable piece of advice is to look at everything in your planning process with a green perspective. The first step is to stop — and think. Learn and consider the 6 R’s – Respect, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Restore.”

3. Greening Your Art

Art is a huge part of Burning Man, but before attendees start creating they are urged to pay attention to:

  • Sourcing materials in socially and environmentally conscious ways—reuse, repurpose and recycle rather than buying new;
  • Consider where your materials will be disposed of. Are they destined for the landfill, meant to be repurposed, or burned? A donation is also an option through construction-grade lumber reclaiming project called Burners Without Borders
  • If burning is the endgame, be environmental about it—non-toxic materials are preferred;
  • If the artwork moves, power it with eco-friendly options like biodiesel generators, solar, or people power.

4. Green Your Vehicle

Burning Man inspires “mutant vehicles” that are expected to be as green as they are unique by using:


Lollapalooza isn’t just a fun name to say, it’s also an internationally known music festival that draws huge crowds, big-name bands, and a good deal of thanks from the environment for its efforts to have a minimal carbon footprint. 

Here are the four steps Lollapalooza takes to keep it green:

1. Get There Green

Carbon Emissions are unavoidable when attendees travel to and from the festival. To address this, Lallapalooza urges people to get to the venue via carpooling, public transportation, biking, or walking. They even hook up deals for bike rentals and service deals through companies like Divvy and Chainlinks.

2. Reuse and #BYOBottle

According to Lollapalooza, they work with “Event Water Solutions to provide free, cool, filtered water at Hydration Stations throughout the park to help you go refillable!” This is just one of the ways that they encourage attendees to bring refillable water bottles.

To really drive this point home they joined BYOBottle (a music industry campaign to promote reusable water bottles in response to plastic pollution). 

3. Divert the Waste

Lollapalooza has waste disposal covered through their provided trash, compost, and recycling bins. To give a little extra green incentive, they worked out a way to reward those who choose to be responsible. The Rock & Recycle Program lets attendees earn a commemorative festival T-shirt, a Heritage Bicycle, and the chance to score more in exchange for recyclable waste. 

4. Support Sustainable Business

Attendees of Lollapalooza can continue their green efforts by making fair trade, local, organic, and vegetable-focused choices when they eat and drink at the festival. These choices are the least environmentally damaging and are often served on recyclable or compostable materials. This helps to support sustainable businesses in all that they do.

Read more tips and tricks about how to reduce your waste this summer with our RUBICONMethod guide.

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