Against massive festivals' effects or focusing on limiting waste generation

Greenpeace emphasizes on activities' impact, while promoters focus on reducing pollution

Primavera Sound 2024
Primavera Sound 2024 / Jordi Borràs

Cinto Mora i Abelaira | Barcelona

June 2, 2024 01:07 PM

During the whole summer, dozens of international artists will travel to Barcelona to perform in one of the many festivals that will take place across the city, and some even around Catalonia.

To watch them, thousands of attendees from all over the world will also come to the Catalan capital, generating a high environmental cost.

The impact of transporting, organizing and building stages, merchandise areas and everything needed for these festivals to take place is also enormous.

Festivals promote public transport, while Greenpeace urges that the location of festivals is considered when planning festivals.

"A particularly sensitive space, near a protected area or a beach, should be avoided at all costs", says Elvira Jiménez, Greenpeace spokeswoman.

Music fans at Vida Festival
Music fans at Vida Festival / Gemma Sánchez

Non-stop energy

Music festivals need to ensure a constant and uninterrupted energy flow, which is why they require the rental of generators.

"The challenge, especially for a festival like ours, but I suspect for all, is the energy issue. And anyone who says otherwise is not being truthful to the reality of the sector," says Xavier Carbonell, manager of the Vida Festival, an independent music festival taking place in Vilanova i la Geltrú, a seaside town south of Barcelona, with the likes of Vance Joy, James Blake, Catalan artist Ferran Palau or many emerging artists.

Carbonell says that "relying solely on the conventional grid is not enough because if the urban grid ever fails, you are left without a festival."

He adds that "the efficiency of the generators we rent is not determined by the festival but by the energy company."

Larger festivals increasingly try to reduce the number of generators, and this edition of Primavera Sound had four different stages connected to the city's electricity grid and two more that will combine the grid with batteries.

Music fans at Primavera Sound 2024
Music fans at Primavera Sound 2024 / Jordi Borràs

Waste generation

A few years ago, the image of plastic cups, plates and cutlery was common at these events, but in recent years, this material has been increasingly replaced by cardboard.

Elvira Jiménez, spokeswoman for Greenpeace, warns that massive production of cardboard products is not the solution either.

With the public in mind, Jiménez says that "these are moments when people are more open to trying new habits, and this should be taken advantage of."

In reducing the use of single-use materials, attendee reception is not always quick. Cesc Casadesús, director of Barcelona's Grec Festival, explains that "people still ask for the printed show leaflets. Sometimes it is a sentimental issue, but it is a fact that people are still reluctant to reduce paper use."

Beyond this type of waste, new materials that are not reused are often used for the construction of stages. This year at Primavera Sound, "98% of the grass that transforms the stage area into a meadow was also reused," according to the organisers.

‘The Pulse’ at Festival Grec 2023
‘The Pulse’ at Festival Grec 2023 / Eli Don

Sustainable mobility

"It must be ensured that a person who wants to attend the festival does not have to travel by their own car," says Elvira Jiménez, spokeswoman for Greenpeace.

For Cesc Casadesús, the director of the Grec Festival, mobility is also a crucial part of the cultural event.

"For some time now, we have provided free electric buses at the end of the shows; this year there will be a bicycle parking area and we have eliminated car parking so that people are forced to come by public transport," he says.

In the case of Primavera Sound, there has been an agreement with TRAM for years to exceptionally allow the T4 line to operate uninterrupted during the three days of concerts.

Other festivals, like Vida, go further and create genuine bus networks with multiple stops to connect the Vilanova i la Geltrú rodalies commuter train station with "all the campsites where we know attendees will be staying."

And for those traveling from abroad, Greenpeace has a different recommendation: "breaking the default habit of taking a plane."

The environmentalist organization invites festivals to implement discount systems for attendees who prove to have travelled by train from another country.

In the quest to find initiatives to reduce the environmental impact of the audience, the Grec Festival is part of a network of festivals aimed at reducing transoceanic flights in tours coordinated with festivals in southern France, Spain, or other European countries.