That’s it for this year. The festival season 2019 is slowly but surely coming to an end; and so it’s time to strike a balance. What remains at the end are devastated campsites, mountains of plastic waste and the burning question:

How environmentally aware is our youth really?

© Alexandra Kroczewski-Gubsch

More hype than substance?


Especially the young generation seems to be almost magically attracted to festivals. But where does the fascination for a weekend away from everyday norms come from? For many people, festivals are the expression of boundless freedom, of unconditional tolerance, of letting go and enjoying. And yet there is a bitter aftertaste when we think of a crowded festival site and hilarious celebrating crowds. While festivals stand for lightness and lightheartedness, they are also increasingly becoming a satirical image of our throw-away society. 

On the last day of each festival, when the last visitors drive off the area, the same picture emerges again and again: what was just reminiscent of the lively bustle of a carnival, could now be much more compared to a battlefield after the end of a war. Tons of garbage, torn pavilions, broken tents, garbage bags full of beer cans and plastic cutlery. A nightmare for any reasonably sustainable person. That’s what you should mean in times of Fridays For Future, environmental activism and electoral successes for green parties. Why do thousands of teenagers and young adults take to the streets week after week, demonstrating for environmental protection, avoiding air travel and plastic garbage to throw the first beer can on the lawn behind the tent one weekend later in the morning at 8 o’clock? Why does the youth demand a conscious and careful use of resources when kilograms of confetti are distributed throughout the area?

© Alexandra Kroczewski-Gubsch

❞ While festivals stand for lightness and lightheartedness, they are also increasingly becoming a satirical image of our throw-away society. ❝

How much garbage is too much?

According to the city of Nuremberg, 300 tons of garbage were produced at “Rock im Park” on the Nuremberg Zeppelin field. By 72,500 visitors in total, that would be about 4,16 kilograms of garbage, which were caused by every single person.  If we imagine how all 72,000 inhabitants of the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Lüdenscheid throw their garbage on the road for three days, we get a feeling of the extent. With 60,000 festival visitors, the Southside in Neuhausen ob Eck is also one of the largest festivals in Germany. According to the organizers, recycling was a major focus on the Southside 2019. Almost 400 workers were responsible for waste disposal; and for all dealers, sponsors and restaurateurs, there was a ban on disposable plastic. But is this really enough to sustainably reduce waste production? Despite the organizers’ efforts, 200 tons of garbage came together in the end – not necessarily less than “Rock im Park” with 10,000 more visitors. Marc Bilabel, the founder of the Green Music Initiative, which campaigns for eco-conscious festivals, sees next to disposable tableware, plastic cups and returnable bottles, above all, a big problem in the brought tents. Bilabel assumes that in Germany a third of the tents were left on the festival grounds. With 70,000 visitors this can be up to 15,000 tents to be disposed of by the workforce. 

Everything hopeless?

At least here, it should be clear that the responsibility lies primarily with the visitors – and thus with that generation, which just seems to be so demonstratively active for sustainability. Why the newly discovered environmental awareness of young people, especially at festivals, is so unstable: the comfort and the unwillingness to confine oneself in personal matters lies in the nature of man. Unfortunately, it is far too comfortable to buy a tent for less than 20 euros and, if it then (surprise) broke faster than expected, it will be left on the premises. It is much too convenient to pack plastic dishes and cans instead of plain cutlery or unwrapped food. It’s way too convenient to simply drop empty bottles in place. Do not get us wrong. If you want to protect the environment, you do not have to be a saint. Neither are we. But what we also aren’t: selfish and unreflective. And that’s the point. It is about questioning one’s own actions and stopping to put one’s own preferences over the rest of the world. It’s about analyzing your environment and figuring out where we can best act – and maybe even act. That’s exactly what thousands of people go to the streets week after week – for a common action and a better world. All we ask is that these very people put their comfort back and start with where there is still the possibility to make lasting changes.

© Alexandra Kroczewski-Gubsch


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