Written by Lucy Coulson

Photography by Felix Adler and Sonia Ziegler

It’s all fun and games at Roskilde Festival — until Sunday around 11am. The fun is on the first train back to Copenhagen and the games, well, they’ve been left behind; abandoned and covered in pee-dust, dried tuna and beer. What remains is a sad, sad sight for the volunteers’ very sore eyes. 

At a festival with around 130,000 attendees, 50,000 tents and God knows how many beer cans, there’s bound to be rubbish — piles and piles of it. And it’s taken global warming, and maybe a little push from our friend Greta Thunberg, for festivals like Roskilde to begin to *ever so slightly* worry about said piles and piles of said crap. The organizers are beginning to introduce green initiatives and incentives for people to, oh I don’t know, start acting like adults and clean up after themselves? And things sure are changing. (At a snail-like pace, but changing nonetheless).

This year saw a Roskilde Festival first: no more single-use cups or plastic straws. This was a big step. But was it big enough?

We had a wander around the camps and talked to festival-goers about their views on the efforts Roskilde Festival is making towards becoming more sustainable; about what is going well, and what can be done better. 

Bodil, Volunteer

What do you think about Roskilde’s sustainability efforts this year?

I think this year it’s a really clean festival, and I think that these reusable cups are one of the main reasons. I think people are trying to care more about what they have around them and throw things in the garbage bins. And there are also more and more garbage bins around, all over the festival. Which is good. 

Is there anything that could still be improved? 

Yes, I think removing things like plastic forks and plates could be good. The environment can’t handle those. If they have cups that are reusable, why not have the rest? I think that is something they could work on. But I think they are as well! You know we don’t have any straws this year, so I think that’s very cool.

Camp ‘Get A Tent’ 

Did you know that when you’re booking your Get A Tent, there is also an option to get a recycled tent? Were you aware of that option? 

Oh, we didn’t know that! That is pretty cool. But it was so difficult to get a tent in this area, like, the queue on the internet was causing it to crash. It was impossible to even get a tent, so I think if they want to make that a possibility they need to fix the page, because everybody is just clicking to even get a spot here. Your main goal is to get the tickets, but if there was a box you could check that said ‘recycled tent’ then that would be fine. Everyone would be fine with that. 

What are you going to do with your tents when you leave?

Sometimes we take them, but mostly we leave them. But we take good care of them, so that they’re not, you know, totally trashed. It actually should be mandatory to use a tent from last year. It would be great if they had a return system – like you get a tent and then if you return a tent in good condition you would get a refund. There is no reason to destroy it. Right now, we get a new tent every year but we just choose this option because it’s easy and this is the best camp area. 

This is the fourth year we’re here, and this is the first year it’s been officially a “clean” campsite. It’s always been quite clean here, but now it’s officially a “clean area”. I think it’s because everyone who lives here really likes Roskilde but they don’t want the muddy part — so you clean up after yourself. And some of us have worked here so we know what it’s like to walk around picking up cigarette butts. 

Is there anything you think Roskilde is doing well, or could do better next year?

I think it’s really nice that they put a refund system on the cups! So they don’t have so much single-use plastic wasted on beer cups. It’s also really nice they don’t give you straws anymore. The refund system is easy, but I was eating in a place where people were trying to return six cups and they didn’t take them. So if it could be made a little bit more clear where you can return them, that would be great. But it’s an amazing system, and people are holding on to their cups a lot more. We have like ten here because we just wanted to have them in the camp. 

Anything else? 

I’ve always loved the CoffeeCows in the morning, but previously if you had your own cup it would be less expensive — but now they don’t care anymore! Now it’s the same price and they just give you new cups all the time. The CoffeeCows actually got worse. They’re not even ringing the bells anymore. There’s a lot of things wrong with the CoffeeCows!

Have you noticed this new rating system on the signs of the food stalls? 

Yes I’ve noticed it but I don’t know what it means. It is probably about the climate impact or the carbon footprint, but there is no explanation anywhere. I thought it was how organic it was. I was looking at a vegetarian option and fish, and they were the exact same, so I didn’t really get it. 

On the subject of food — I think it’s just great that they’ve made it mandatory for all food stands to have a vegetarian option. As a vegetarian, it used to be a big challenge. 

So it seems fair to conclude that it seems like the communication of new initiatives could be improved a little bit? But the things they are doing, they are doing well? 

Yes. Overall — some of us are from Finland and we keep coming back to Roskilde. It’s our sixth year now because it’s just an amazing festival. Obviously things are not perfect, but this festival is really trying to improve, be conscious and listen to the feedback as well. They really want to make this a good experience for all the visitors and they make it sustainable.

Linda and Mette, campers

We’re talking sustainability at Roskilde. What are your thoughts? 

Linda: For starters, the LoveSpring idea is contributing nothing. You need to buy a plastic water bottle in order to get water — but that bottle is really bad quality. So you just use it for the festival and then you throw it away. That’s not sustainable. I tried to fill my own bottle and they were like “oh no, we are not allowed to fill that for you”. That doesn’t make any sense.

Mette: Yeah, we brought our own water bottles to LoveSpring but we needed to buy their bottle in order to get their water.

That does sound dumb. It also costs more to produce these water bottles so they might as well have the single use ones…

Mette: We talked about that. Don’t sell the bottle just to sell the bottle. People will throw it away. It’s like they’re selling you the concept of sustainability without it actually being good for anyone. I have one word: greenwashing!

Even if these initiatives are not working their best, does it inspire you to behave differently? Act more sustainably or change your behavior in any way?

Mette: I don’t think they inspire me necessarily, because I think the reason they happen in the first place is because they were inspired by the movement in general around the world. So I think that people who come here are already inspired by something else. So it’s not new to me, but I think it’s definitely easier to follow the rules if they are there.

Anything you want to add? 

Mette: One thing I can add is the sustainable use of water. We are so freaking privileged in this country to just have water but the pressure on the taps is insane. It’s truly insane. You get completely showered when you turn them on. It’s super idiotic. You can’t put your hands underneath it!

Mette: Also, Rub og Stub is really participating in the movement against food waste at Roskilde doing the community lunch stage dining. They are constantly battling food waste and I think they are doing a really good job and they should get more parts involved in that.

General consensus? Doing fine, but could be doing a lot finer. With the introduction of ‘clean camps’ (wherein 91% of guests in 2018 took their tents home), CarbonAte climate labels in food courts and the fact that 90% of food served is now organic — it is clear Roskilde Festival is making the steady, albeit slow, transition into a greener festival. They are also making conscious efforts to increase awareness around the sustainable initiatives they start, as well as reward the best environmental initiatives each year to encourage proactiveness — but from the conversations we had during the festival, it seems they’ve still got a way to go. 

We heard a lot of constructive feedback from some pretty passionate people with no other motivation than to have a good festival and not hurt the planet in the process. Based on these conversations, some developments for next year could include things like, but not limited to: finding an alternative for plastic cutlery, finding a better system for Get A Tent (read: make people aware of the recycled tents), briefing everyone on how and where to get a refund on their reusable cups, asking the CoffeeCows to stop being cows, boycotting LoveSpring (or just getting them to alter their concept) and doing something about the insane and unnecessary water pressure on the sinks. Just some food for thought, whoever’s listening. But hey, Roskilde, if you are reading this, we’re big fans. Keep up the good work. But maybe just like, triple it, or something.