More than 80,000 music lovers descended upon a tiny rural town in Tennessee to camp, dance, eat and sweat the weekend away in 90-degree heat during Bonnaroo, an annual music festival celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Thousands of cars and RVs poured through the gates, tour buses congregated behind the stages, vendors fired up their grills and staff prepared for the mountains of trash that inevitably accumulated as fans enjoyed a weekend of music and comedy acts, movies, auctions and dozens of other activities.
Everything about Bonnaroo is big, from the headliners — including Eminem, Arcade Fire and Widespread Panic — to the inevitable footprint of the festival when the temporary city dissipated on Monday morning. As with any festival, environmental considerations in areas like waste, water consumption, energy usage, pollution and emissions must be considered. Luckily, Bonnaroo has stepped up its greening efforts each year, and in 2011 festival organizers have done more to mitigate that monster footprint.
Attendees had the option of adding any amount of money to their ticket purchase price to support Bonnaroo greening initiatives like festival carbon offsets, a composting program, research into renewable energy sources and a cool upcycling project with First World Trash, which will turn unwanted tents turned in during and after the festival into bags, wallets and iPad sleeves. Green service pods, located all over the farm, allowed fans to learn more about these initiatives. (About half of Bonnaroo festival goers gave money to the green opt-in plan.)
Planet Roo, a "greening village" near the event stages, promoted eco and social activism with a waste-free cafe, a silent auction with funds going to charitable causes, a cinema tent playing socially conscious documentaries and booths helmed by Bonnaroo greening partners like Carbon Shredders, a group that helps festival goers learn how to reduce their carbon footprints. Bonnaroo has also partnered with Urban Land Scouts to encourage acts of stewardship among fans. There was even a Bonnaroo Victory Garden where fans could learn the basics of growing their own food, edible landscaping, small-scale composting — even Shiitake mushroom log demonstrations and seed swapping.
Rock the Earth, an organization that works to green the music industry, held a series of panel discussions, artist interviews and musical performances on Bonnaroo's Planet Roo Solar Stage, which was powered by solar panels. Speakers included Robert F. Kennedy Jr., discussing his film "The Last Mountain," and director George Langworthy, who answered questions about "Vanishing of the Bees."
Of course, all of these activities sound great, but what about that mountain of trash? Believe it or not, Bonnaroo's got that under control, with a stellar track record of managing its waste. In 2010, 60 percent of all waste by volume was diverted from the landfill, thanks in part to contractor Clean Vibes, a North Carolina-based company that is armed with 600 volunteers to promote recycling and proper waste disposal. It also helps that Bonnaroo provides free water stations to promote the use of reusable bottles and serves concession food with biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery. Organizers even stock the portable johns with recycled toilet paper. Furniture and decorations are reused each year, and leftover food is donated to regional food pantries.
Laura Sohn, Bonnaroo's sustainability coordinator, says 2011 improvements included more water refill stations all over "Centeroo" — the area of the festival where all of the events happen — as well as additional "Trash Talker" stations, where patrons can learn about which items they should recycle or compost instead of throwing away. Looking ahead to 2012, Bonnaroo organizers are planning a permanent solar array feasibility study and will continue to encourage carpooling to reduce travel-related emissions.
“We are really excited about the cumulative effect of our greening efforts over the 10 years,” says Sohn. “We hope to continue to be a leader in sustainability efforts as we explore solar and ways to reduce our overall carbon footprint.”
Inset photo: Austen Mikalka/Bonnaroo