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Photo: Lise Hannibal

Lifestyle

NorthSide – Denmark’s most sustainable festival

When 35,000 festival-goers come to party and drink beer, they usually leave behind a mountain of garbage, cigarette butts and broken plastic cups. Not at NorthSide. For the past 10 years, the festival has been working on green solutions for everything from food to dealing with waste. The difference is plain to see

Since 2010, NorthSide has evolved from a modest one-day celebration into a huge event, attracting names such as The Streets, Major Lazer, Tove Lo and Tame Impala. Despite its huge growth, the Aarhus-based festival has retained its original premise of sustainability and has won several awards for its work on green solutions.
“Our ambition from the outset was to create a sustainable festival,” says John Fogde, Press Officer at NorthSide. “All the decisions we take are designed to push things in the right direction. Nothing is bought or agreed without looking at the sustainability angle.” 

Photo: Lise Hannibal

Together with its sustainability partner, WorldPerfect, the festival puts the principles of sustainability into practice. And practice is very much about recycling.
"We see waste as a resource,” says Sofie Randel, Resource Manager at NorthSide. “Our overall goal is to have zero waste by recycling all the waste produced.” 

It’s no small amount of garbage that accumulates over the three-day festival either. “Last year there were 188.7 tons of waste, which is already 20 tons fewer than last year,” Randel says. “And 74.6% of it was sorted for recycling.” 

Photo: Lise Hannibal

“There’s often a perception that you can’t get people to clean up after themselves, let alone sort waste, once they’ve had a few beers,” Randel says. “But everyone can influence waste and we’re all part of the sustainability process. Through a number of positive measures – and without pointing any fingers – we’ve managed to change the audience’s behavior.”

Trash Butler at NorthSide. Photo: Solvejg Christensen

These measures include stylishly dressed Trash Butlers and Trash Maids, who walk around the festival site handing out small bags for garbage and pocket ashtrays for cigarette butts. They provide smiles and squirts of hand sanitizer and generally make all the guests feel comfortable. Specially designed ReBox bins help people sort their waste into six different types, while free beer is on offer for those who collect a set number of cigarette butts.

It works too. The people attending NorthSide party, drink and look like any other festival-goers, but it’s clean. You won’t see a single cigarette butt or piece of garbage as you walk around the festival site.
“I actually had to cancel two cleaning teams this morning because there wasn’t enough for them to do,” Fogde says. “I’ve never seen such a nice-looking festival site.” 

“We call it the pizza tray principle,” Randel says. “Most people are reluctant to leave litter where there isn't some already. We want clean to be the new normal. A cigarette butt sends a message – and so does having no cigarette butts.”

Sustainability isn’t just about waste, though. The food at NorthSide is 100% organic and the same goes for 97% of the beverages – from beer and coffee to wine and vodka. The food packaging is FSC-certified and plastic-free and a deliberate decision has been made not to provide parking spaces for cars. 

Photo: Lise Hannibal

“Instead we’ve provided good facilities for cyclists and pedestrians,” Søren Stochholm from WorldPerfect says. “As a result, 93% of people came to the festival on foot, by bike or by bus in 2018.”  

NorthSide’s motto is “Lead The Way” and the festival loves to be the first to try out new things. Many of these have related to beer, such as Tuborg Rå, which was brewed as an organic beer especially for NorthSide. The brewery didn’t think there would be a market for it, but the organic beer sold out on the first day and is now available everywhere. 

Beer has also inspired this year’s major new initiative: the end of disposable plastic cups. 

These have been replaced with large quantities of solid plastic cups, cocktail glasses and beer mugs, with a deposit system introduced so that the cups don’t end up on the floor and are brought back to the bar instead. They’re washed in a giant dishwasher, stacked and returned to the bar, where they can be used again and again. 

Photo: Lise Hannibal

“It’s a joint investment that we’ve made together with some of the other big festivals,” Fogde says. “The idea is for the cups, mugs and dishwasher to move around the festivals every summer for many years to come.”

The system, which made its international debut at NorthSide this year, has exceeded all expectations. Virtually all the cups were brought back to the bar and the cups for the 90,000 beers sold on the first day were washed and ready to use again next morning. All of which spares the environment vast quantities of disposable plastic.

Photo: Lise Hannibal

“The things we do influence other festivals,” Fogde says. “Others are also starting to think about sustainability, which enables us to join forces to make this kind of investment. This turns us into a kind of sustainability lab and our experiences can help to drive change in society.”

So how do you become even more sustainable?
“I often find that people don’t know where to start,” Randel says. “But you just have to start where you can. A lot of it is common sense and you don’t need a cast-iron strategy in order to make a difference.” 

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