By Rachel Levy-McLaughlin
Most music festivals conclude with cans and cups scattered across once green fields that are now rife with bald spots from mosh pits and exuberant, dancing crowds. The Atlin Arts and Music Festival is almost the exception to this inevitable repercussion of hosting thousands of people to enjoy some tunes.
By the time the weekend festival was coming to a close and the 2,000 people were clearing out of Atlin, B.C., the grounds - though somewhat stripped of their former green covering - were nearly free of litter. Just a few squashed beer cans or empty cigarette packages could be spotted tucked away in the corner of a tent or under a table.
It’s what the founders of the festival had in mind.
“Ever since the first year in 2003, we wanted to establish a green festival,” said Stephen Badhwar, a local Atlin farmer, also the head of the local fire department and a certified reflexologist. “We wanted to give ourselves a green gathering stamp of approval. The people who started the festival were all grassroots, community minded people and the environment was one of the main things we wanted to respect.”
One of the largest environmental impacts of any music festival is waste, and that only amplifies in a town the size of Atlin. While the festival rakes in 2,000 guests, the town’s population for the other 362 days in the year is between 300 to 400 people. From the get-go, the festival brought in the standard garbage bins with recycling and compost ones as well.
"Because it's a small town, we need to make sure we're not making too large of an impact,” said Erin Corbett, assistant producer who coordinated many of the festival’s green initiatives. “If we just left a mess here, we wouldn't have the festival. We need to respect the locals and the community.”
Part of the effort to curb the environmental impacts is “the green team,” a fancy term for the volunteers collecting garbage, recycling and compost. All weekend, the team fanned out across the grounds, armed with trolleys, bags and rubber gloves to clean up the refuse from the festival.
Back at the green team base - the dump truck and recycling bins - the volunteers sorted the recycling into cardboard, box board, plastic and refundable beverage containers. The refundables alone give the festival almost $2,000.
This year the green team sorted through significantly more beer cans than in previous years, but that was a deliberate move from the directors. The bar this year bought beer in cans as opposed to bottles to reduce the use of plastic cups.
“It was just perfect,” said Roger Gallagher, beer garden coordinator, festival board member and Atlin resident. “Save the environment, save the cost on cups. It's a win win.”
While they still had cups for wine, Gallagher estimated they saved 12,000 plastic cups from being thrown into the garbage, and saved $1,000 in expenses.
By the time the tents are cleared, there will still be the bald spots on the festival grounds. That is unavoidable, as all the directors mentioned separately. Even Badhwar was unbothered by the sudden lack of vegetation in their repurposed field.
“We've got a hardened site,” he said. “The grounds are maintained, the grass is cut short prior to the festival so the impact once the festival is gone is low because it's not like they're coming to a fresh site in the bush or a park that's not really used.”
Even through the deep tire tracks caused by traffic and lots of rain, organizers says they're confident the grass will grow back. Rogue cigarette butts and beer cans aside, the festival grounds and even the camp grounds will also return to their previous state, which Atliners and outsiders alike appreciate.
“Atlin is just such a pristinely beautiful part of the world, and it reflects the attitudes of the people living here,” said Hudson, green team leader. “We want to keep it beautiful, sustainable for farming. We feel the effort is well worth maintaining the beautiful location we're living in.”