Photo: Shrink your summer festival footprint

Keep your summer festival footprint to a minimum. (Credit: SJ Photography via Flickr)

Canadians love a good summer festival. And they're great—combining the health benefits of time outdoors and the reduced carbon footprint of a staycation! From folk fests to nights filled with fireworks, crowds flock to local parks, beaches, and farmers' fields.

Many events are going "green" (like Edmonton's annual Folk Fest) but that doesn't leave us concert and festival goers off the hook. Enjoy all that your summer city festivals have to offer without adding waste or destroying precious local green spaces.

Summer festival dos and don'ts

Leave the car at home. Walk or take advantage of public transit, shuttles, and bike valets to avoid hassle and parking costs, and lower your carbon footprint.

Tuck a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, and cloth napkin into your handy cloth bag or backpack to reduce waste.

Support food and drink vendors who offer reusable or compostable plates and cutlery, not unsustainable Styrofoam containers. Some festivals offer plate and cup rentals for the day (or bring your own)!

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Obey the "Keep off grass" and "Stay on designated paths" signs to help sensitive grassy areas recover once the crowds go home.

Volunteer—many of your favourite annual events wouldn't happen without them—and enjoy the added perks!

Don't smoke. Did you know that all 224 of Vancouver's parks and beaches are smoke-free? It never fails that every shoreline cleanup lists cigarette butts as the number one litter item. Help a sea turtle, bird, or dolphin break the bad habit of swallowing these toxic morsels and butt out.

Don't walk past a piece of litter. You might automatically use on-site waste, recycling and compost bins, but others might not be so enlightened. Pick it up.

What's "green" about your favourite local festival?

Comment on this blog for a chance to win a three-layer stainless steel Tiffin (perfect for picnics) and a reusable ceramic coffee mug (draw date August 9th)!

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

July 2, 2012

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Apr 22, 2014
9:56 PM

The more we engage with our fellow humans in fun stuff the more we create the space for engagement on what matters. So have fun, listen well to them and they will be more inclined to listen to you about how you want your kid’s kids to have a festival experience too. Green should be FUN!

Jun 30, 2013
8:59 AM

Other than the fact that it’s primarily a meat-fest, the Oh Canada Ribfest in Waterdown, Ontario is much greener this year than previous years! All the drinks were served in compostable cups, there was no styrofoam packaging (all paper-based) and best of all —-they had no garbage cans anywhere, but instead they had a big tent set up in the middle of the event called the ‘recycling centre’ where a couple of volunteers literally take ALL waste by hand and sort it into recycling boxes (paper or plastic) and green bins for compost!! They had a couple of extra recycling volunteers walking around with big bins to collect garbage people had left behind and they’d take that back to the recycling centre to be sorted as well. These are still baby steps (I shudder to think how many animals were killed for this event..) but I was really impressed to see the improvement from previous years!

Aug 10, 2012
6:22 AM

The Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ontario is the greenest music fest I've ever seen. They have ample water re-fill stations and they use and sell re-usable beer mugs, cups, plates and sporks. Volunteers are on-site to wash dishes throughout the festival.

Aug 09, 2012
4:49 PM

Love the tips! I hope to see more and more green changes in my local festivals too!

Aug 09, 2012
1:59 PM

Love that idea to carry a cloth napkin. A fork would be easy too!

Aug 09, 2012
11:47 AM

Alison, I agree that all vendors should use environmentally friendly packaging. I think this should be the standard in all national parks as well.

Aug 09, 2012
11:44 AM

This is great, just posted it to Facebook. We could reduce waste by an astronomical amount if we all carried our own dishes, napkin and refillable water bottle. Thanks for putting it into this conext.

Aug 09, 2012
10:46 AM

Personally, I think it's easier going green when you have small children. They need to "graze" constantly, so you always have reusable containers with you to eat out of. And I for one have no qualms about asking them to fill my container than to put it in a throw away. Not like we travel that much

Aug 09, 2012
9:56 AM

The Winnipeg Folk Fest has had the plate rental program for years and years. When you get food from one of the vendors, you pay and extra $2. When you are done, you return the plate to the drop-off place and get your $2 back!

Aug 09, 2012
9:46 AM

Unfortunately, the festivals I've attended have a long way to go… But I do my share (bring my reusable water bottle and carpool). It's a great suggestion to volunteer, I could try to implement the changes!

Aug 04, 2012
4:30 AM

I think it would be great if cities and towns passed a bylaw to ensure that festival vendors are "green". As consumers we have to make a choice… but wouldn't it be great if the festivals offered only earth-friendly items in the first place?

Jul 23, 2012
10:25 AM

@Marieke: I agree with you about Bluesfest being impressively green. Last year I volunteered for them and couldn't believe how far they went to make sure that all possible steps were taken to "greenify" the festival.

I was a little disappointed this year, though. All of the cutlery in the volunteer canteen was plastic, while the public enjoyed compostable cutlery in the fair grounds! Considering they're feeding thousands of volunteers for 12 days, that really adds up!

Even so, what they do is miles better than what a lot of huge festivals do!

Jul 17, 2012
9:11 AM

one of my favourite small festivals in alberta is the sasquatch gathering. they don't even have any food vendors!

Jul 08, 2012
2:29 PM

Summer festivals also build community. Sunshine, fresh air, spending time with friends and neighbours — these are all excellent ways to connect with people. We usually walk or bike, but sometimes we can carpool as well. We usually bring our own reusable shopping bags for any flyers or samples that might be there.

Jul 08, 2012
10:05 AM

Bluesfest in Ottawa does an excellent job, all their beer cups are made out of corn, same for plates and cutlery. Always enjoyed being on the Green Team (before I moved out West) and spreading the word to people attending.

Jul 07, 2012
3:48 PM

All of our local festivals offer water refill stations and compost and recycling stations (on top of regular waste). This is a huge improvement over previous years and other places I have visited, so although it is still not "perfect" it is a step in the right direction.

I also was pleased to see a few whole foods/organic food stands at the last few events (instead of just the usual chip wagons)… offering things like fresh fruit smoothies and juices, corn on the cob, salad rolls and collard wraps, and one stand even selling just apples, bananas and other easy to carry/much fruits. I definitely appreciated having some healthy food options!

Jul 06, 2012
4:28 PM

Great tips! I'd love to win the tiffin! Keeping my fingers crossed. :)

Jul 05, 2012
4:59 PM

I am looking forward to all the festivals Edmonton is offering this year. I already have plans to take my own plate and cutlery to Taste of Edmonton. The only way we can teach our kids to be green is to lead by example.

PS — I was amused by the fact that you are offering a tiffin box as a giveaway (my blog is called

Jul 05, 2012
12:26 PM

In The Soil- Niagara's home-grown arts festival is my favourite local festival! It's green because it is a local and accessible festival- I'd say most people walked, biked, or used transit to get there! There aren't any limits on bringing your own food or water, so that definitely cut down on plastic bottles being used.

Jul 05, 2012
11:07 AM

The Ottawa Folk Festival is super environmentally friendly! They offer water fill up stations and sell only aluminum bottles. The food vendors use reusable dishes and cutlery. The booths house local artisans (there are a lot of recycled and "up cycled" goods).

Jul 05, 2012
10:43 AM

Good ideas. Simple ways to go green!! I will share these ideas with my friends and family. I do carry a reusable water bottle and coffee mug with me on my commute every day, but hadn't thought about using these to festivals. Good idea for Farmer's Markets too, I'm going to bring containers with me on my next visit.

Jul 05, 2012
8:53 AM

I volunteered at the Folk Fest last year and no one sold plastic water bottles — instead, they hooked up water stations from "watermatters" to existing water sources. I thought that was a great green initiative and I had a lot of festival goers comment on it!

Jul 04, 2012
4:09 PM

The Hillside Festival at Guelph Lake in Ontario is the greenest festival in the country. Food and beverages are sold in re-usable containers. Beer and wine are sold exclusively in Hillside festival cups that are sold on site. There is a dish washing station where volunteers wash the dishes and return them to the food vendors. The city of Guelph donates tanker trucks of municipal water that volunteers fill concert goers reusable containers with. No empty plastic water bottles, no stacks of disposable beer cups any where. This year is already sold out :-( There might still be volunteer positions available. This is my third year of volunteering. Great music and a great time.

Jul 04, 2012
12:46 PM

i think the fringe fest does a pretty good job of 'green' in fact they have a whole volunteer team dedicated to green: recycle etc etc

Jul 04, 2012
11:53 AM

I've been going to the Hillside Festival for years, and I'm always amazed at all the great things they do to keep it green (re-useable plates and utensils, compost bins, water-refill stations etc.) it inspires me to be smarter about the way I attend.

Jul 04, 2012
11:08 AM

Because my daughter and husband are celiac. We rarely eat food provided at events, and usually truck our own food in (and containers come home with us) but I do like my travel mug, it keeps my tea/coffee warm and it's re-usable. My daughter loves her travel cup too…It's nice, I don't necessarily do it to be "green" but it's nice to think that the the automatic things we do are lessening our footprint (and our pocketbook because sometimes you get a deal, or a free coffee with a cup!)

Jul 03, 2012
11:17 PM

I love that almost all the festivals we attend now have drink container recycling bins! My family uses all reusable glass and stainless steel bottles and food containers, and I have a tough time understanding why more people don't, but at least recycling what they do drink out of is a step in the right direction! One day…

Jul 03, 2012
3:01 PM

Great tips! I have a reusable set of utensils I bring with me on road trips.

Jul 03, 2012
12:35 PM

Great tips! I recently went to Cooking Fire at Dufferin Grove park in Toronto. All meals were served with reusable plates, cutlery and cups or by bringing your own. There were lots of volunteers who worked so hard so that others could enjoy the event. Cheers to them!

Jul 03, 2012
10:38 AM

Would love to win the tiffan! I'm working towards many of the tips on this site, including converting all of our lunch containers. Help me out :-)

Jul 03, 2012
9:43 AM

We have got our kids into the habit of picking up garbage wherever we go! A little gross sometimes, but I love hearing my 4 year old say incredulously "Mommy, somebody littered!"

Jul 03, 2012
9:39 AM

Loving these practical tips! Thanks so much!

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