OPINION: Outside Lands litters park grounds, then gives back

Outside Lands took over Golden Gate Park last weekend, displaying a diverse range of acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Macklemore, Tiesto and Tegan and Sara, leaving our feet sore and our throats hoarse—but also an environmental impact on Golden Gate Park.

The music festival, now in its seventh year, is ahead of the curve when it comes to being eco-friendly, but attendees need to be more aware of the environment.

To keep up with the sustainability of San Francisco (a city that aims to ban the sale of plastic water bottles by October and makes it much easier to hop on MUNI than find a parking spot), the festival organizers urged eco-friendliness and awareness.

It’s no secret that music festivals can get messy—especially in a place like Golden Gate Park, a haven for nature and wildlife in the big city. Three days of Heineken and cigarette butts seeping into the grass can take a toll on the park’s ecosystem. It has suffered years of wear and tear from the city’s music lovers, not only during Outside Lands but other annual music events like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in October. Is this something the forests and meadows of our beloved Golden Gate Park can bounce back from?

According to Outside Land’s sustainability and eco-awareness hub, Eco Lands, the answer is a resounding yes. A rowdy three-day festival in the park doesn’t have to mean a death sentence for the environment. All it takes is awareness. For everything the festival is taking away from the environment, it is also going to great lengths to give back.

Eco Lands returned for the sixth year to deliver hands-on education and environmental cognizance through urban gardening workshops, partnerships with local and national non-profits and a farmer’s market. Guests were rewarded for bringing their own water bottles with free water stations, a method that saved 52,832 plastic water bottles from littering the ground last year.

Ideals like those presented in Eco Lands should be expressed throughout the year. In SF, we are no strangers to the ways of the compost bin or the reusable water bottle, but you should have seen the look on out-of-towner’s faces when they were confronted with three choices to throw their empty beer cups. Apparently it just got too mind-boggling, because the park was littered with empty water bottles, plates and cigarette butts at the end of each day.

However, Outside Lands is increasingly working to better the environment. Eighty-four percent of last year’s whopping 140 tons of waste was recycled, composted or otherwise reused, according to the Outside Lands website. The festival not only practices environmental friendliness, but also teaches attendees how to perpetuate environmentally healthy habits.

Outside Lands is not just maintaining a fleeting, three-day notion that is thrown out with the festival’s shrinking trash piles (waste diversion at the fest was up 9% over 2012). It is paving the way for a greener festival and aiming to instill long-term habits and knowledge in its attendees. At the end of the day, although Outside Lands can’t be 100% sustainable, it’s reassuring that environmental awareness takes precedence and takes steps (even if they’re small ones) toward a greener future for festivals.  Other music festivals and large events in general should take a recycled page from Outside Lands’ eco-friendly book.

Over the weekend, the festival worked with Clean Vibes, a waste and recycling management company for large events, to divert the festival’s waste. Clean Vibes “Trash Talkers” lurked around the trash bins to tell festivalgoers what they could and couldn’t compost (fun fact: you can compost gum). Straightforward signage depicting where to put your pizza crust served as a helpful guide. All of the cups, utensils, plates and bowls at the festival were biodegradable and compostable.

This year’s festival also featured a bike valet, so attendees could opt for a clean commute to the event. A trading post was offered where people could collect cans and bottles or compostables and trade them for prizes, like an eco-friendly Chuck-E-Cheese. The prizes were worth it too—saving up “points” all weekend awarded attendees with autographed merch and even a pair of tickets to next year’s festival.

 Though there was a rather impressive cleanup crew, people still threw their trash on the ground with reckless abandon. Why do people think it’s okay to litter when they are surrounded by music? Because they are hidden by hoards of people? Certainly they wouldn’t do that in normal circumstances on a Sunday stroll in the scenic park, right?

 Sustainability should become an inherent part of music festivals worldwide—if only environmental awareness was as popular as Kanye or Tom Petty’s headlining performances this weekend.