Osheaga—a two-day, five-stage, sixty-plus-band music and arts fest—for the second year running, has been flexing its ecological muscles. Among the first bashes of its kind to tally its environmental footprint, Osheaga offset its carbon emissions (including the fossil fuels used to transport out-of-town artists to the Montreal venue) and donated 50 cents from each ticket sold to the David Suzuki Foundation. Recycling and educational initiatives were also put in place for a sustainable, carbon-neutral whoop-up. Environmental consultant Lee Schnaiberg, and one of the festival organisers Dan Webster partnered to greenify Osheaga this year. Schnaiberg has already been involved in greenwashing other festivals in New York and Tennessee. The old-guard Montreal hipsters go way back—they brought the Smashing Pumpkins to Quebec when the pop-rockers “played to fourteen people and were just a band in a van.” The good news is that other festival organisers are also greening their outdoor events. The summer-long River to River festival aims for carbon neutrality; Lollapalooza uses biodiesel; Échofête, in Trois-Pistoles, lessened waste for the fifth year running and threw out only one bag of garbage after four days of fêting. “Hopefully,” says Schnaiberg, “the trend can turn into something lasting.”
Osheaga’s Blueprint for a Green Fest:
1. Low-carbon energy.
With carbon neutrality a main goal, organisers selected a venue near a major metro station to encourage spectators to leave their vehicles at home. And instead of using diesel generators to power the sound and lighting systems, food outlets and Internet café, organisers found an onsite outlet and plugged in. Schnaiberg estimates the final bill will only be in the 4,000 to 5,000-dollar range. “Sometimes doing the green thing is not more expensive,” he said. “It’s even cheaper.”
2. Biodegradable cups.
The clear cups used at Osheaga were made from PLA plastic, or poly-lactic acid, which is essentially fermented milk sugar, said Schnaiberg. They don’t look different from regular plastic cups, but there is no petroleum by-product leeching into your Molson. One snag, however, is that the cups require their own waste bins. And when 25,000 people are drinking alcohol from these cups, finding the right bin is not always as easy as finding the beer vendor. PLA plastic can’t mix with recyclable plastics since one will compromise the reprocessing of the other. While Molson sold beer in bioplastic cups, other vendors were wrapping sandwiches in plastic take-out bags they don’t even use in stores. Osheaga organisers are taking notes in preparation for next year, and onsite merchants will be asked to use greener containers and packaging.
3. Separation of recyclable, compostable and biodegradable materials (oh, and garbage, too).
There were dozens of pairs of plastic bins—one for garbage, the other for recycling—scattered around the site. This year, however, all compostables ended up in garbage bins. Still, Webster is already refining plans for next year, which should include bins for compost and bioplastics. Festivals like Osheaga need to make ecology as easy as possible, says Katie Loftus of the David Suzuki Foundation, which will receive roughly $12,500 from weekend ticket sales. “When you show up at an event and there are giant recycling bins that you can’t miss, you're going to use them. I don’t know many people who carry their pop cans home with them.”
4. Outreach and education.
A team of volunteers was travelling between the sets of bins, ensuring garbage was separated from recyclables. Among these tutors in plastic gloves was 16-year-old Gifty Asave. “People usually put [debris] in the garbage bins or on the ground, but we approach them and set them straight.” Charles Foucreault, in the crowd that day, added: “it kind of guilts you into using the recycling bin. You feel like an asshole otherwise.”