The Ultimate Guide To Festival Friendly Food Packaging

 In Blog, Blogs

The mere mention of a festival is enough to conjure up images of a thousand stomping feet, but what we don’t immediately visualise, is that each of these feet leaves behind a rather deep carbon footprint. While some festival-goers may speak of “enlightenment”, in reality festivals have become notorious heavyweights in the global pandemic of excessive (and frivolous) waste. Although die-hard artists and activists will forever have their place at these massive events, the majority of attendees are drawn to festivals as a form of escape. While most festival goers would choose to support eco-friendly options such as recycling, they are often left with little choice in terms of catering and festival infrastructure.

While intoxicating beats flood the air, and a buzzing pro-green crowd swarms past clutching their polystyrene cups, a truly woke individual may find themselves pondering the irony of the whole event. For the straight-edged among us, festivals are traditionally associated with utopian ideals such as world peace and free love. Yet these days the eco-friendly spirit of the Rainbow Warrior lies hidden beneath the murky waters of throwaway culture. Statistics reflect a much darker side to festivals, with the average UK event generating 23, 500 tons of waste. This includes tents, plastic bottles and clothing, with the main culprit being food and food packaging.

Not only is food wastage shocking from a humanitarian perspective, but the energetic resources used to produce consumables (and their packaging) are squandered when these items are thrown away. Our ever-receding landfills are a significant cause for concern, and a recent statement from Greenpeace warns that “we have little time to prevent an unfolding climate disaster.” However it’s not all doom and gloom in the stomping grounds, with over 60 UK festivals taking meaningful steps towards a more ecologically sustainable setup. Their shared goal is a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and world-renowned events such as Glastonbury, have already surpassed this number.

The Green Festival Scene

With slogans such as “leave no trace” waste management has become the main focus of eco-friendly festivals around the UK. There is no end to the innovative solutions of this fabulous crowd, with inventions such as composting toilets emerging as an alternative to the infamous Portaloos. Festival infrastructure is turning towards greener energy supplies, with solar-powered stages and even entire events being powered by renewable energy sources. While some festivals offer incentives for car pooling, others such as Shambala have completely banned the sale of plastic bottles, asking attendees to bring their own.

Of course the onus is not on the casual vendor for grand-scale remodelling, but the rise of the green bandwagon often requires stall holders to provide more sustainable services. Whether your incentive is based on festival regulations or out of a genuine concern for our planet, there are options available to help reduce the environmental impact of food and food packaging. Depending on which festival you are catering for, your choices will range from compostable or biodegradable packaging, to reusable or recyclable materials. You may also have the option of composting excess food, but regardless of the festival setup there are a number of ways to up your green game (and save cash in the long run).


The devil is in the details, and this guide will tackle everything from festival infrastructure to the eco-friendly disposal of food and food packaging. The journey towards a greener festival footprint is not an overnight affair, but the bonus is in the lucrative financial benefits you will receive long term. As festival-goers begin to embody the global cause, the social stature of your catering business is sitting firmly in the spotlight for all to see. Consumers are growing more and more conscious of their choices, and it is hopeful that in the next five years, single-use polystyrene and plastic will be outlawed completely. With the phasing-out date already set for straws and drink stirrers (April 2020), this major milestone is pointing in the direction of a greener future.

Regardless of future legal implications, the fact remains that single-use plastic is the most commonly frowned upon environmental faux pas, so it pays to get on board in every way you can. Only a few months ago Michael Gove made an insightful and profound public statement on the dangers of single-use plastics, commenting: “These items are often used for just a few minutes, but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life.” His words cut right to the core of throwaway culture and have entered the hearts and minds of consumers around the United Kingdom. Change is upon us, and it seems the opportunity to green up your game can do only good. Forward planning is essential for both business and environmental recovery, so it’s a great time to begin exploring a more eco-friendly way of life all round.

You don’t have to go full-on zero waste to make a big difference; you can simply take your first small step towards sustainability, and use this comprehensive outline as an end goal. Going green means that you will constantly be re-evaluating and adjusting your game plan, so it’s best to begin by simply picking out the most convenient starting point for you and your company.  It’s a good idea to take an in depth look at your current environmental impact, so as to assess where best to incorporate the golden rule of green living: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. No matter where you choose to start, remember that it’s not an all or nothing scenario, and incremental changes are often the best way to go.


Disposable Food Packaging Alternatives

By far the best strategy for environmental transformation; reducing energy expenditure, disposable packaging and food wastage will also benefit your profit margin. Typically, the higher your overall costs, the deeper your environmental impact. Factors such as disposable packaging increase expenses considerably, often resulting in a hefty clean-up bill for any scattered debris with your name on it. The easiest (and most public step) towards an eco-friendly saving, is to ensure that your food packaging is at least recyclable, compostable or biodegradable. In the sober eyes of your classic green consumer, plastic and polystyrene are considered completely taboo, so avoid this rookie error at all costs.

Unless you or your festival co-coordinators are willing to arrange for the recycling of these items, they will offend your purist customers and simultaneously fill up the landfills. Your best option for alternative food packaging at a large scale event, is to find bio-based products such as compostable cutlery or biodegradable cups, plates and containers. The difference between compostable and biodegradable packaging is the time it takes for disintegration to occur. Compostable packaging biodegrades in less than 12 weeks whilst mixed with food waste, whereas biodegradable packaging may take several years to fully return to the earth. For a show stopping eco-friendly alternative, look into edible cups and plates made from seaweed to delight the ever-growing green crowd.

The Catering Carbon Footprint

For the more advanced green caterer, there are several changes that can add up to massive savings, while simultaneously promoting an eco-friendly brand. Greenhouse gas emissions can be minimised by incentivising staff awareness of environmental efficiency, to ensure that catering equipment is only switched on when necessary. Smaller changes such as using energy saving light bulbs and appliances, correctly storing food and cutting down on water consumption are often overlooked, but these factors all add to your overall sustainability and are an easy place to start.


It’s not always practical to take a stash of reusable plates and cups to a festival, but wherever possible try to use this approach. Not all festivals offer collection services for your wandering dining ware, however many involve consumers by requesting that they bring their own containers and utensils. Remember to consider the recycling facilities available to you, and form an eco-friendly strategy that combines the festival framework with your chosen food type. Pizza is a good example of when to re-use, as the grease-stained cardboard boxes cannot be recycled, so it’s a smart idea to choose washable materials that can be recycled.


Eco-friendly Food Packaging and Utensils

If you are catering to the green crowd, the very least you can do is provide recyclable food packaging https://ecotogofoodpacks.co.uk/what-food-packaging-can-be-recycled/ and utensils. Plastic is considered sacrilege among the green crowd, yet Western society (even at festivals) tends to consider hand to mouth food consumption highly questionable. For this reason caterers should endeavour to procure packaging and utensils that can be composted or recycled, depending on the rules of festival organisers. Offering anything less than this could potentially cause your greener customers to do an about turn, before making a beeline directly towards your smiling green competitor.

Questions to Ask Festival Organisers

In the event that you are lucky enough to be attending your first eco-friendly festival, here is a short checklist to set you up for success:

  • What materials are forbidden to enter the festival grounds?
  • Which materials can be recycled by the available facilities?
  • Should these materials be separated for the recycling?
  • What capacity do the recycling bins hold?
  • Are festival staff appointed to supervise the recycling?
  • Is there a compost facility available for food waste and bio-based products?
  • What types of compostable utensils and packaging are permitted?

It is worth finding out exactly how the festival infrastructure works, as it will help inform your choice of packaging. While edible cocktail glasses, plates and water sachets remain the biggest crowd-pleasers, they are also the priciest choice. Generally the most economical green option would be to stick with recyclable packaging such as paper, glass, tin or cardboard. Biodegradable and compostable plastics are typically more expensive, but you may need to “fork out” for the utensils, unless you go the reusable route.

Organising a Green Setup

Not all festivals offer recycling services, but you can always ask the organisers to supply clearly marked recycling bins for your stall. Alternatively you could make the arrangements yourself, in which case be sure to broadcast this heroic act and let your green customers know just how committed you are to the cause. It is advisable to appoint a member of staff as recycling manager, to supervise the recycling bin and keep it free of contamination. You will likely need to arrange for the rinsing of certain items, so chat to your festival organiser if you require logistical assistance for that as well. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of providing sachets of any nature. Sugar, coffee and milk should all be served old-school, minimising any plastic disposables that could ruin your image.

Fly the Green Festival Flag!

The typical festival goer is part of a growing subculture that has embraced an eco-friendly lifestyle, and consciously seeks to align their expenditure with their beliefs. The rare diamonds among them will actually know more than you about sustainability, so don’t try to sweep any plastic or polystyrene under the carpet. Instead, use signage such as blackboards to communicate your strong points, especially any behind-the-scenes sustainability. Don’t hesitate to flaunt your greenness and raise awareness about any eco-friendly choices such as your packaging, resource management, sourcing and menu.

Inspire your staff to spread the word, and make your sustainable efforts known to anyone who will listen. You could even have promotional flyers, badges or stickers printed to promote your green campaign. Although festivals can get rowdy, the majority of attendees would prefer to be presented with eco-friendly options. Packaging is without a doubt the most obvious change a caterer can make, to signal that the business is environmentally conscious. In addition to upgrading the social status of your brand, your new stance will likely have the added impact of turning your competitors a bright shade of green.


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