Let’s talk about…Cleaning up Electric Picnic

Cleaning up Electric Picnic: Steps that could minimise post-festival waste

After a summer of heatwaves and fairly consistent dry spells, September has promptly returned us back to our regularly scheduled programme of rainy weather.

Ireland’s weather is notoriously fickle – sunny one minute, torrential rain (potentially) the next. Once the summer season is over, this unpredictability returns in full force, leaving us with an ‘Is there a need for an umbrella?’ guessing game each time we leave the house; a game I’ve already done badly at so far – apparently a clear morning is no indicator that later in the day you won’t be caught between choosing to hang outside the library for twenty minutes until the rain abides, or making a desperate dash home without getting drenched (I chose the former and yet somehow still got caught in a downpour on the way home… oh well).

However, be it rain or sunshine, at least the weather always serves us by giving us something to chat about. The weather being the Irish person’s go-to topic for small talk is a stereotype, sure, but it’s not unfounded. Opening a conversation with a fellow Irish person is essentially akin to setting off a time challenge for who can resist the urge to comment on the weather the longest.

One group of Irish people who had particular cause to fret over the weather recently were those planning to attend this year’s Electric Picnic festival. The highly-anticipated music and arts festival took place last weekend, drawing a record 70,000 people to the Stradbally estate, with headline performances from big names like Tame Impala, Megan Thee Stallion, and Artic Monkeys filling out an impressive line-up over the three-day event. It was the festival’s first staging in three years due to Covid, and although many festival-goers have cited it as having been a huge success, they also commented on how the on-and-off weather dampened things a bit.

Now no one, in good faith, would expect a festival that takes place in Ireland well into the autumn season to include the same scorching weather as other international festivals. After all, Ireland’s festival fashion is always incomplete without a waterproof poncho. Luckily however, the Irish are well enough acquainted with wet weather to not let it (forgive the pun) rain on their parade too much. And so, despite the occasional downpours captured in videos online, Electric Picnic’s comeback has been heralded as a major success.

However, the poor weather did bring about some consequences. Heavy wind and rain did a number on people’s tents even at the early stages of the weekend, and by the time the crowds dispersed from the Laois site on Monday, a host of broken camping equipment remained, discarded by festival-goers along with a lot of general rubbish and debris.

It’s expected that any festival event this large is going to leave a significant amount of litter in its wake, and Electric Picnic is no different. After all, in 2018, so many tents were abandoned that a bulldozer was required to remove them. And it’s not a big stretch to assume all the weather damage done over the course of the weekend only served to worsen the situation.

The waste-laden festival grounds left behind sparked a lot of outrage from the public, who blamed young attendees for the mountains of debris. And no doubt a significant amount of the post-festival waste can be attributed to people who were simply disinterested in taking the time to clean up after themselves. However, it’s also clear that Electric Picnic’s organisation in this area leaves a lot to be desired.

In response to the huge amount of waste discarded yearly at the event, Festival Republic (who run Electric Picnic) said that while they believe the key is for campers to reuse their belongings, when it comes to whatever waste that is inevitably left behind, they “collect it responsibly, separate it and recycle everything that can be recycled”.

However, while this is welcomed, more could be done before/during the festival. Online, people highlighted the need for increased waste facilities during the actual event, with many reporting that there was a significant lack of toilets and bins, and that the facilities that were there were poorly maintained. Attendees who did take the time to tidy their rubbish into bags allegedly reported having to walk 30 minutes to find a bin, which they said were overflowing and hadn’t been emptied.

The festival’s attendance shot from 55,000 to 70,000 this year, and there is a sentiment going around that while the entertainment on offer scaled up in response, the facilities did not. Electric Picnic is such a major event on the calendar in Ireland and it’s a pity to see this lack of organisation undermine its reputation. I think festival organisers would benefit hugely from addressing this facilities issue head on, and also by introducing creative incentives to prevent the rubbish left behind, as is done at other international festivals –e.g. exchanging bags of rubbish for drink tokens or introducing a tent deposit. We cannot stop the Irish weather from bringing down tents or stop certain people from opting for the lazy route, but there is certainly a lot more that can be done.

Electric Picnic is a mammoth event, one which has grown hugely in the past few years, and one which will no doubt continue to do so into the future. Now is the time to fine-tune how it’s run, so that post-festival waste doesn’t routinely become the biggest news story to come out of an otherwise much-loved event.