- As the Montreal festival season comes to a close, it's worth considering their tremendous environmental impact.
- From waste to carbon emissions, these are the effects of Montreal summer festivals.
You're out on a warm Friday night enjoying a free show at the Montreal Jazz Festival, without a care in the world. You've just finished a beer and despite your best efforts, the crowd is making it difficult to find a recycling bin. You place the can at your feet but it accidentally gets kicked aside. Your friend lights up their third cigarette after crushing the previous two underfoot. Try you might, but it's difficult to maintain eco-responsibility at a huge festival.
Each summer, Montreal hosts well over 100 festivals and events. The number gets higher and higher every year, in fact.
Festivals and cultural events are extremely important for the economy and identity of the city — it is a symbiotic relationship that is essential to the well-being of Montreal. Though, it's important to identify every potential environmental impact of Montreal's festival season.
Indeed, the city of Montreal unveiled a Sustainable Development Plan in 2016 — an action plan that looks ahead at 2020 and identifies key goals and aspirations "for a sustainable metropolis." There was nothing specific in the plan to help mitigate the environmental impact of festivals.
We spoke to Evenko, Montreal's top entertainment promotion company, and asked them if they had any plans to reduce the potential environmental impacts of Montreal's festival season.
We also reached out to the city to ask how their action plan was going but they didn't respond to comment. Unfortunately, there isn't much regarding waste management or ecological studies that's Montreal specific.
We can make some assumptions though, based on what we know about waste and the environment of music festivals in the United Kingdom and the United States and compare that to the economic results of Montreal's festivals complied by KPMG in 2018.
According to a report by Powerful Thinking, a U.K.-based think tank that aims to improve sustainability efforts, 3.17 million people attend U.K. music festivals annually and produce 23,500 tonnes of waste. This averages out to 2.8 kilograms of waste per person, per day. Only 32% of that waste is recycled. The rest ends up in a landfill.
In the U.S., the Desert Sun reports that in 2017, the Coachella Festival produced 107 tonnes of solid waste per day and saw 250,000 attendees for six days. That's 642 tonnes of waste in total.
We can make an estimate as to how much waste is produced during Montreal's festival season based on the information in KPMG's report. According to the report, 5.9 million people attended Montreal-area music festivals in 2018. That's well over the annual 3.17 million that attend U.K. festivals.
Therefore, using the comparable data that is available, Montreal festivals may produce anywhere from roughly 23,500 to 45,000 tonnes of waste annually.
Montreal Jazz Fest, for its part, expects to process some 34 tonnes of recycling. In fact, Jazz Fest is one of the most progressive Montreal festivals, reducing waste by almost half since 2008.
Carbon emissions are more difficult to calculate overall as, once again, there isn't a lot of Montreal-specific data. The Grand Prix, for instance, generates an estimated 7 tonnes of emissions. The total carbon emissions for the entire Montreal festival season is unknown, but with any mass influx of people comes an increase in congestion and, consequently, pollution.
As part of its Sustainable Development Plan, the city of Montreal has outlined an initiative to reduce its carbon emissions, focusing specifically on the expansion of public transit and the promotion of dense developments.
A promise to "design...public spaces to promote active and public modes of transportation" may have the most consequence for the organization of summer festivals, but the Development Plan appears to lack concrete action to address the impact of large, short-term events.
Though the plan makes specific mention of the movement of urban inhabitants and regular commuters, it seemingly fails to account for the potential impact of participants in the city's hundreds of special events. More work needs to be done.
There's no denying the economic importance of Montreal's music festivals, however. Despite potential ecological pitfalls, festivals are here to stay.
In 2018, music festivals represented an added value of $290.8 million for Quebec's economy and over $60 million in tax revenue for the Quebec government.
According to Evenko, the company that promotes festivals such as Osheaga and Île Soniq, organizers are committed to "ensuring that our green initiatives remain at the heart of the planning of our festivals. Our concern is to minimize any negative impact on the environment and to maximize the positive influence that festivals have on society and the economy. This awareness is essential, and we have made it a priority for several years."
"We create small villages that bring together a large number of people who must eat and drink, which inevitably generates an important quantity of waste of all kinds. Hence, planning the environmental impact must absolutely be taken into consideration when organizing these events in order to minimize the said impact."
The company has undertaken many green initiatives over the years and has seen them implemented with success. Osheaga banned plastic straws and limits the sale of water bottles on-site.
Waste management systems located on festival grounds sort through the waste in order to ensure that what needs to be recycled is recycled. In doing so, the event has reduced waste by 13 tonnes in just two years. "The key thing is the planning and promotion of the measures in place to reduce the environmental impact of our events," says Evenko.
Evenko suggests that festival-goers are also responsible for ensuring they maintain a respectable level of eco-responsibility. "The first rule is to promote awareness among festival goers in order for them to adopt eco-responsible behaviours that will have genuine effects on the ecological impact of the event they attend. This teamwork between the festival-goer and the promoter is crucial."
Simple actions can help in big ways, according to Evenko. They suggest that small actions, such as using public transportation or a bicycle to get to the festival, using reusable water bottles, and throwing things away properly can make a world of difference.
Evenko even told us a few key points about how they'll mitigate the environmental impact of festivals in the future. They're planning new initiatives and improving on already effective ones to reduce impact.
The important thing for Evenko, is to raise awareness of all the following initiatives among festival-goers:
Encouraging the selection of suppliers located less than 100 km away from the sites;
Reducing the amount of waste—for example, at concession stands, all containers, cups and utensils are recyclable, and the use of styrofoam is forbidden;
All hazardous materials must be handled responsibly by companies specialized in environmental services;
Promoting ecological transportation such as cycling and public transportation;
Providing safe bicycle parking to promote the use of this means of transport;
Encouraging the use of reusable water bottles on the sites in addition to installing water stations;
Prioritizing partners and suppliers that have their own sustainable development plans;
Installing a sorting centre for recyclable materials;
Installing compost stations and food redistribution programs.
Evenko and other Montreal festivals hope to reduce waste and minimize their ecological footprint. There's still a lot of work to do, but luckily, Montreal festival organizers are among the most forward-thinking in North America.
They do their jobs and it's up to us to do ours. It's important that you help mitigate your impact on the environment whenever you're attending a festival in Montreal.