Complete Wasters: For when the party is over

Written by: Recycling Waste World | Published:

Have you ever wondered what happens to the rubbish festival-goers leave behind after a music festival? Three people in the know are the team from Complete Wasters, a workers’ co-operative based in Sileby, Leicester. Marie-Claire Kidd reports.

Since 1996, workers’ co-operative Complete Wasters has been sorting and recycling the waste generated at festivals around the country. It has tidied up at Glastonbury, Blenheim Palace and Highclere Castle - aka Downton Abbey.

Every July it spends a dirty weekend at Hatfield House, an elegant Jacobean mansion in Hertfordshire. Here it clears up after a ‘Battle Prom’ - a concert with fireworks, cannons and cavalry - on Saturday to make way for the Folk by the Oak festival on Sunday, after which it clears up again.

Deborah Parker, Darren Potter and Colin Bowles, the three members who run the co-op, cannot do this on their own, so for each event they recruit up to 50 volunteers. 

Many are regular helpers, some just come for the day. They all offer a few hours of labour in return for a free ticket to the event.

Battle Proms picnic concerts

The co-op has a long standing partnership with Battle Proms picnic concerts which holds festivals at some of Britain’s grandest houses. 

Complete Wasters pick up the waste by hand - it just wouldn’t be cricket to damage grounds landscaped by Capability Brown - and sort on site to maximise the amount recycled.

“We want to get a slightly higher percentage of recycling, that’s why we sort on site,” explains Parker. “We usually contract with a bigger waste company to take the non-recyclables away.

“There isn’t generally a lot of glass, usually festival organisers discourage it, but Battle Proms are different. People are encouraged to bring picnics. They generate tonnes of glass including champagne bottles.” 

Each year Complete Wasters recycles more than 10,000 bottles at five Battle Proms.

Each festival has a different character, a different mix of waste and different methods of collecting and sorting; and each requires careful planning.

Summer Sundae

At this year’s Summer Sundae, a three-day music festival staged by Leicester City Council, Complete Wasters worked with event organisers ahead of the festival to ensure as much packaging as possible was biodegradable.

Parker says: “It’s not easy to persuade traders to use recyclable packaging because it’s more expensive and harder to get hold of than conventional packaging, but at Summer Sundae we had success, aided by the introduction of a Green Trader Award for the most carbon-neutral trader. We managed to get that across the board.

“After the event we took about 300kg of biodegradable plastic pint glasses to a local windrow composting facility, where they were mixed with other green waste. The resulting giant heaps got hot enough for the pint pots to fully biodegrade into useful compost for the local farmland.”

The volunteers must be trained and supervised and the co-op members often rely on the more experienced volunteers to lead teams in order to provide an efficient service.

Parker again: “We have a core group of regular volunteers who have been with us for 10 years or so and we advertise locally to attract new volunteers. It works really well for students who want to go and see something but can’t afford it.”

Potter says they try to recycle everything as local to the event as possible.

He adds: “There’s little benefit in transporting waste too far to be recycled otherwise our carbon footprint increases, so local merchants are important.

“At last year’s Hatfield Weekend we took over 16 cubic metres of cardboard and plastic bottles to a merchant just eight miles away.”

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