There are so many demands on our time, so many worthwhile causes, so many important things to do. It’s often hard to judge what’s a good use of our time and effort, what’s a strategic intervention that, with a small effort, can make a really big difference.

Allow me to explain why something seemingly small like getting music festivals to stop using single use plastic bottles and cups is hugely important, and well worth a few minutes of your time to help make happen.

Music festivals are places where a little bit of magic happens.

When you’re at a music festival, your heart and mind is opened to new ideas, new ways of behaving, new ways of seeing the world. The heady combination of music, with its extraordinary emotional pull, and a crowd of like-minded people all moving to the same beat, makes them events ripe for nudging people into deep change.

Over the 3 1/2 years since I set up Green Music Australia, I’ve come to recognise that trying to move the music scene towards complete sustainability too fast won’t work. I’ve had to work carefully to find the right ask that is big enough to make a real and tangible immediate impact, small enough to seem achievable, and strategic enough to lead us towards the next steps logically.

That’s what brought me to plastic water bottles.

Plastic water bottles, and plastic cups at bars, are everywhere in the music scene. They are totally unnecessary, with obvious alternatives available, and they are our most visible environmental impact, strewing the ground at festivals by early evening.

Launching our #BYOBottle campaign last year, we have recruited numerous amazing artists, including Paul Kelly, Katie Noonan, Missy Higgins, Ball Park Music and many more, to commit to carrying their own reusable bottle, changing their drinks rider to request venues and festivals to provide jugs or refilling stations instead of plastic bottles, and reach out to their friends and their fans about it.

We’ve also over the course of the year worked with 13 festivals, big and small, helping them reduce or eliminate plastic water bottles and cups, making refilling stations available both backstage and front of house, contracting bars and stall holders not to sell plastic, and communicating effectively with artists, crew and punters about bringing their own.

Over the summer, we’ve smashed through a quarter of a million single use plastics that our campaign has stopped from being used and thrown away.

This is big enough to make a difference: saving birds and turtles; cutting emissions due to manufacture, transport and waste treatment.

It’s small enough to bite off and chew. As we’re already proving. And it’s highly strategic.

By taking this on and winning, we:

  • show festivals that reducing their environmental impact is achievable, popular, worth doing;
  • we open the door with festivals to next steps, such as moving to 100% renewable energy, using only LED stage lights, adopting composting toilets, providing cycling and public transport infrastructure, and more;
  • we bring audiences in on the journey straight away, using the cultural leadership of hugely influential people (musicians) to show them the way – our results in two festivals polled so far show over 95% support for the move; and
  • I believe most importantly, we begin to show that throw away culture is not cool.

This campaign is the first critical step in shifting cultural views around protecting the environment. It brings people along with us as we make the music scene clean and green. Just as black and white musicians performing together contributed to ending segregation, just as strong women singers helped boost feminism, so too can greening the music scene make caring for our planet seem like common sense.

With that in mind, we have launched an open letter to five of Australia’s leading music festivals, calling on them to ditch disposables and move to reusables.

We’ve chosen these five festivals carefully. Byron Bay Bluesfest, The Falls, Groovin the Moo, Laneway and Splendour in the Grass are all very big festivals with a major impact. But they’re also all thoughtful members of our music scene. We’re in conversation with all of them already to a greater or lesser extent. And we are confident that each of them, in their own way, is getting ready to move. A couple of them are very close indeed.

But, for a huge event, it’s a big and somewhat confronting step to choose to go plastic bottle free. They need support and encouragement from artists, from punters and from peers, reassuring them that we’ll back their move, that we want them to do it!

These festivals recognise the horrible impact on the environment from throw-away plastic bottles. They’ve seen the photos of dead birds, as we all have. They’ve grappled with the vast piles of rubbish. They know they have to act. They’ve seen the leadership of festivals like Caloundra Music Festival, Illawarra, Woodford and THE PLOT, all of whom have worked to reduce or eliminate plastic bottles. And they’re willing to follow suit. As long as we help.

So far we have over 500 signatures, which is a fantastic start. But we want to get thousands of signatures, to really show these five festivals that making the move to plastic free is what the people want.

Here’s the link to the open letter:

By signing this letter yourself, sharing it on social media, and sending it around to your friends and contacts in the music scene, you can help make a really big difference, stimulating important, strategic efforts to protect the environment. Throw away culture isn’t cool. Helping to end it, and protect our planet, is super cool.


Tim Hollo

Date uploaded: 15 April 2019

Tim Hollo is the founder-director of Green Music, a climate advocacy organisation

Tim Hollo is a well loved musician and respected environmentalist. As well as performing around the world with a FourPlay String Quartet, he has spent 15 years working with organisations including Greenpeace, the Greens and He is the founder and Executive Director of Green Music Australia and Executive Director of the Green Institute. Tim's work is frequently published in The Guardian, ABC Online and Crikey, and he often appears on Sky News and ABC 24. He has presented on arts and sustainability at events including WOMADelaide, Woodford Folk Festival, Australian National University's Human Ecology Forum and Progress2015

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