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An Eco-Conscious Roundup of NorCal's August Music Festivals

Glastonbury Festival in England this past June is one example as to why music festivals are being called "environmental disasters."
Glastonbury Festival in England this past June is one example as to why music festivals are being called "environmental disasters."
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

August is here, which means that a few of the biggest local music festivals will soon be filling the Bay Area and its surrounding areas with live music, people, and unfortunately, a dreaded amount of trash. The masses of people driving into the area and the piles of waste that festival-goers leave on the festival grounds have given outdoor music festivals a bad reputation, being labeled by some as “environmental disasters.”

The main problems that outdoor music festivals face are: the influx of automobiles to the location, festival-goers not packing up but simply abandoning their belongings after the event is done, lack of garbage cans, fliers from bands and vendors littering the ground, and festival organizers' failure to empty overflowing garbage cans until the end of the day (or worse, the end of the event weekend itself).

Knowing this, festival-goers still can make a conscious effort to leave a lighter footprint and have a greener experience at this month's many upcoming music festivals by carpooling, biking (if local), and taking advantage of the waste management programs offered at the Bay Area's upcoming music events.

This weekend, August 8-10, around 200,000 people are expected to attend Outside Lands in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. This indie extravaganza, being San Francisco's biggest, has taken on some responsibility to attempt to promote eco-friendly conduct while at the festival. It even designated an “EcoLands” area that hosts gardening workshops, a bike valet, a farmers' market, community organizations, and more. In addition, all food containers and utensils at Outside Lands are 100% biodegradable and compost bins can be found throughout the festival grounds.

On the South Bay on this same weekend, August 8-10, is the 25th annual San Jose Jazz Summer Fest. This outdoor jazz festival expects more than 100,000 attendees, and has 13 stages scattered throughout the Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park. Summer Fest has in the past worked with the City of San Jose Environmental Services and the Nothing Wasted organization to try to divert the majority of its waste from ending up as landfill. Its status as a San Jose Green Event is currently pending.

The 2nd annual First City Festival hits Monterey from August 23-24 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds and expects over 20,000 people at this indie pop-focused event. First City Festival is working with the Offset Project on zero waste initiatives of its own as well as reducing its carbon footprint, according to its website.

Electronic dance music festivals don't have the best track record of being environmentally-friendly. San Jose's 1st annual Electronic Sriracha Festival takes place at St. James Park on August 30 from 12pm-8pm. Organized by Movable Feast, it will be as much a food festival as it is an electronic dance music festival. Little is known yet about any sustainability efforts, but will hopefully follow the examples of Northern California's previous August music festivals.

The festival organizers coordinating environmental programs events are only half of the issue. The other half is the guests' responsibility: cleaning up after themselves, recycling or composting if possible, carpooling or biking to the venue, and supporting music festivals with good policies.