There is a common mindset that plagues general perceptions of trash. When large crowds gather, especially at our beloved music festivals, it becomes prevalent that when it comes to garbage and sustainability, the general population banks on the fact that someone else will – either because they volunteered, or because it’s their job – come after us and clean up any mess left behind. Although many individuals play their part in the reduce, reuse, and recycle, and should not be generally lumped in with those who don’t, somewhere it has been instilled in us that someone else will do the clean-up.
Unseen by many, the aftermath of a music festival can be shocking. Some have even gone as far as calling these festivals “environmental disasters.” The perceptions of how these gatherings are impacting the environment – let alone the behaviors of many attendees when it comes to waste management – have sparked the creation of many green/eco initiative programs at several music festivals, including Electric Forest’s Electricology program.
Electricology is the science of waste reduction through the use of sustainable products, composting, recycling, and most importantly, your participation. With the collaborative efforts of Electric Forest, The High Five Program, Gemini Production Solutions, The Sweaty Mouse and Zero Hero, Electric Forest’s sustainability efforts touch all aspects of the production and work towards significantly reducing the festival’s carbon footprint. In meeting attendees halfway and providing some incentive to help with the cleanup, the Electricology program uses “EcoPoints” to reward participants for their green actions.
The concept is simple: (1) Recycle by bringing your recycling and trash to designated EcoZones throughout the grounds of Electric forest, (2) Earn EcoPoints for your participation in helping keep the festival clean, and (3) Redeem by visiting one of two Electricology Stores – you can redeem sponsored prizes such as ENO Hammocks, Osprey Packs, bottles by Eco Vessel, sunglasses by Nothing But Shades, and solar batteries by Solar Go. It’s that easy.
In addition to the generous prizes, Electricology is providing a productive and informative message that has the potential to change mindsets and reset behaviors. “These [types of] programs can change somebody’s direction in life, and we’ve been fortunate enough to see it happen with us and a couple of people we have brought along the last couple of years,” said Rachel Wells, representative of Electricology and The High Five Program.
Whether by volunteering for the program, participating to earn EcoPoints or coming up to Electricology’s booths just to find out more information, “I think getting involved and daring to see what is left behind from your precious music festival is a big thing you can do to change your perspective,” Wells stated. “The more and more people that do that, we invite them to become part of this message and to make it a priority of conversation. Sustainability touches everything you do, whether you realize it or not. Everything we consume is made of something, and the likelihood that it can be made into something else is a pretty awesome, beautiful concept, and it’s something we need to get people excited about.”
In these past months leading up to the festival, Electricology has not only been building excitement over this year’s expanded green program, but they have also sparked some heated social media debates over what types of items are better left at home.
“The Forest has been super supportive, and [we have] generated some really interesting and [sometimes] controversial sustainable conversations,” Wells said. “People got really defensive about glow sticks, but it’s a really important thing to talk about, because it is a very interesting product that cannot be recycled, and it’s so prevalent in our scene. If we start talking about some of these issues, there’s no right or wrong answers, but just ideas and perspective – how do we use it? How can we reuse it? What can we do to replace it?”
In addition to the problematic glow sticks, those beautiful prayer lanterns that light up the night sky are such a problem for the surrounding community that Electricology has started a campaign to #losethelanterns. Wells explained that days after the festival, workers and volunteers have gone around to the surrounding community of Rothbury, MI, apologizing and picking up lanterns that have landed in nearby farmland. Although the lanterns are marketed as biodegradable and environmentally friendly, “they do not burn up in the atmosphere, unfortunately. They may be made out of biodegradable materials, but they will never breakdown in 100 years in a landfill or sitting a lone in a field like they lie,” Wells stated. “We’re adamantly saying #losethelanterns and leave your lanterns at home.”
This year, Electricology is prepared to handle the waste from 40,000 people, not only over the course of the four-day festival but also from the pre and post production. Their hopes are to see more attendees participating than previous years and to get their message out to as many individuals as possible. “[With Electricology], we have the opportunity to teach some people how to be a better festival-goer, to be a better member of their community and to participate,” Wells said. “We all share the responsibility of keeping this place awesome, clean and sustainable, and making it possible for us to have future gatherings like this here.”
To read Vinyl’s interview with Rachel Wells in detail, please see our Q&A below:
Vinyl Mag: How do we get out of the mindset that someone else will just clean up our trash?
Rachel Wells: For us personally, volunteering and having the opportunity to service some of the companies that service that idea (that someone will just come and clean up your trash after you leave) really changed our perspective. As a frame of reference, a guy we have worked with for many years – we run this program at the Lockn’ festival as well – wanted to run our social media, but we told him if you want to run our Twitter you have to pick up litter. He did the five post-day clean-up with us, and everyday he would go home and say, ‘okay, I get it now, I get it now.’ and I would be like, ‘no, I don’t think you do yet…’ and after five days of it, it has completely changed his life.
I think getting involved and daring to see what is left behind from your precious music festival is a big thing you can do to change your perspective. The more and more people that do that, we invite them to become part of this message and to make it a priority of conversation. Sustainability touches everything you do, whether you realize it or not. Everything we consume is made of something, and the likelihood that it can be made into something else is a pretty awesome, beautiful concept, and it’s something we need to get people excited about.
That is the first step in what we’re doing here; we’re getting people excited about prizes, but it’s for doing something awesome, so it’s a win-win situation. If we can get people talking about it, getting involved, they’ll start to learn their own ways in how they can contribute and bring something new to the table.
I think we’re really doing it this year with social media. The Forest has been super supportive and generated some really interesting and controversial (sometimes) sustainable conversations. People got really defensive about glow sticks, but it’s a really important thing to talk about, because it is a very interesting product that cannot be recycled, and it’s so prevalent in our scene. If we start talking about some of these issues, there’s no right or wrong answers, but just ideas and perspective- how do we use it? How can we reuse it? What can we do to replace it?
VM: What ways have you found are most successful in encouraging people that being green doesn’t just start when you arrive on the festival grounds, but it starts in advance with the packing an preparation of their arrival?
RW: This is going to be our third year bringing our program to EF, and we have done the post-fest clean up multiple times; without a doubt, a third of what we are picking up is packaging. You are never going to get that air mattress back in that box. It’s great to get some new gear and pack it all up and set up your site, but we’re asking you to leave the box at home. Ultimately, [leaving the packaging at home], isn’t just going to cut down the clean-up time we’ve got here; it’s also going to cut down on the labor that we have to hire to come when our working WET’s leave. Sometimes, there’s a few extra days of post production clean-up there that could have been cut if people had just left some of that stuff at home.
In the long run, that also equates to major costs that could be taken off next year’s overhead and maintain the ticket prices. That’s what I mean when I say sustainability touches everything. You can actually equate this to ticket prices, when you really get down to it.
The social media aspect of encouraging people to really think about these things before they get on site has really been huge and crucial. Our concept is prevention before reaction, so what better way to body that than really get to people through social media months in advance.
VM: How do you think the program has developed over the last couple of years, and where do you see this program going?
RW: We are very proud of how it has expanded over the years. The first year in 2012, we partnered with a recycling company, and we created this massive sorting zone, and it really touched a lot of kids and had many people return (to help out with the program) the following year, because they were pretty much knee deep in everyone’s trash, and they saw what people threw away, and they realized how important it was to get the message out. We were just in the venue that year, and we had great success with 13,000 people bringing their Eco points back to our one store location for prizes. We had a really clean venue, but the campgrounds were pretty crazy that year, and it took a couple of weeks to clean up, and the seagulls were just awful.
In 2013, we decided to expand the program and extend to the campgrounds. We expanded multiple EcoZones to be like your neighborhood recycling center. When you go to the bathroom in the morning, remember to take your campsite waste with you, and get some Eco points on the way back, and get some new trash bags for the day, and make it part of your routine of your services. We were actually out of the campgrounds in five days last year, as opposed to the two and a half weeks the previous year.
This year we have 30,000 Budweiser recycling bags to hand out, in addition to other bags, and we are bringing the program back to the venue, as well as the campgrounds with seven locations, and we’re also putting an EcoZone in the Good Life Village this year with [it] being bigger than ever this year. The Village is almost it’s own music festival, and we want those folks to have the opportunity to participate in the program, and they don’t usually come out to the general campgrounds very often, so it’s important that we bring that to them. We’re going to have two stores – one in the campground and one in the venue, and it’s really crazy how much it has expanded.
Every sponsor that has gotten involved with EF has been very supportive and have donated lots of prizes including special ENO Hammocks, Osprey Packs, Solar-Go batteries, Nothing But Shades; it’s just incredible. And it’s incredible for us that we get to provide a service for all these awesome brands that we like and affiliating them with a great cause.
Where we see this going…first and foremost, we hope it is successful this year and we see people picking up and participating more. If that’s the case, and we think it will be, then we want to see these kids take these ideas home and take them to other festivals they go to.
VM: Why do you think programs like this are important, if not vital, to the festival circuit in general, and why specifically to Electric Forest?
RW: EF is kind of a rare bird. I think everyone that is involved in the production and on the patron side of things has a very eclectic taste, have been to a lot of festivals, have thrown a lot of legendary events in different genres – so EF itself is like this ‘turducken’ of fun and programs and prizes. So our program fits right in there with just getting people engaged. These programs can change somebody’s direction in life, and we’ve been fortunate enough to see it happen with us and a couple of people we have brought along the last couple of years.
Something beautiful about these events is everybody feeling like they are a part of it. And that’s why we believe our program is important, because the trash is often forgotten, but it is so important. We have an opportunity to keep a foot in the fun and also keep a foot in the important services and the building of this. We want to make sure we’re teaching people how to be a better festival-goer, how to be the type of promoters we want to work with – it’s important, because it builds an alternate community than the one you may grow-up in, and that’s just remarkable to us.
VM: What are your top three tips to staying green at EF?
RW: (1) Try and bring sustainable material. If something can be reusable or recyclable, awesome! Food stuff (containers) – if it can’t be something that is reusable, try to make it compostable.
- We ask you, in that moment, after that set is done, and your are basking in all the glory, stand there, and as that crowd clears, maybe just look around you, and make sure you haven’t left anything you consumed during that party, and make your way to one of our stations. We have hundreds of three-bin waste stations this year. So use our stations, and keep your areas clean.
- Reward your neighbor for doing the same (keeping your areas clean). That is ultimately the idea of how our program works. That positive reinforcement from a stranger to a stranger rolls over to another stranger, and before you know it everyone feels good about doing what they should be doing. Remember to pay it forward.
VM: What are three things attendees should just leave home?
- Prayer lanterns- we spend days working with the community afterwards trying to pick these up and apologizing to the farmers after the lanterns land in their fields. They do not burn up in the atmosphere, unfortunately. They may be made out of biodegradable materials, but they will never breakdown in a 100 years in a landfill or sitting alone in a field like they lie. We’re adamantly saying #losethelanterns, and leave your lanterns at home.
- Misconceptions about recycling, and negativity – we want people to be celebrating the idea of keeping it clean and not ragging on folks that aren’t – show them a better way to be.
It all started when a much younger Jackie dove into her parents’ record collection, grabbed that trippy Magical Mystery Tour album, and played “Strawberry Fields” over and over again until it was engrained into her soul. She grew up on the dreams and stories of Simon and Garfunkel, “Bleeker Street” being one of her favorites, the seduction of The Doors, Van Morrison, because “Brown Eyed Girl” is definitely her song, and the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Jimi Hendrix…you get the picture. It may not show on the outside, but Jackie has a hippie heart, and that reflects in her musical tastes today. While some of her favorites may or may not be jam bands, her taste in music feeds into many genres. From alternative, Brit, and indie rock - OK, maybe all rock - to pop, to rap, to electronic, she loves it all. As a northerner, she thought she would never understand country until she found herself on a Georgia farm in cowboy boots watching Luke Bryan shake it for her- yeah, she got that. She is a chronic wanderluster, she doesn't believe in guilty pleasures, enjoys a great Moscow Mule, and is an absolute music festival fanatic- you’ll find her wherever the music takes her.