Go to Festivals, Leave No Trace

Happy summer zero wasters!

You know what summer means? It’s festival season!!

Living in Southern California, I have my pick of truly amazing festivals like Coachella and Lightning in a Bottle, then there’s also BottleRock and Outsidelands in NorCal. Until this year, I had only ever been to Coachella, but I decided to expand my horizons to a slightly smaller, more low-key festival I’ve heard the most wonderful things about the past few years, Lightning In a Bottle. And boy, am I glad I did!

The Do Lab, the crew that puts on Lightning in a Bottle, has their environmental footprint on lock.

First, at EVERY waste station throughout the entire grounds, there was not only a container for trash, but also for recycling and compost. I’m kicking myself now for not getting a proper photo to share.


Second, when entering the campgrounds, campers are given two trash bags and are told if they pre-sort their waste into trash and recycling, then disposal is free. However, if you fail to pre-sort your waste, and sort it well (they check the contents of all waste bags before you’re allowed to leave) then you have to pay $5 per bag of unsorted waste. They also have the Green Team patrolling the campgrounds Sunday night and all day Monday so festival-goers aren’t tempted to be super rude and just leave their trash at the campsite to avoid any fees.   

And third, several, if not all of the food vendors served with either compostable flatware and compostable paper plates/bowls or went completely zero waste by serving meals in a metal/ hard plastic bowl with actual silverware, and had patrons pay a $2 deposit which you got back when your bowl and silverware were returned. I was beyond impressed with the entire waste set-up at this festival. BRAVO DO LAB!

Alright, enough about how the festival was super waste-savvy. This blog is supposed to offer guidance on how YOU can be zero waste at a festival, regardless of where the festival itself is on the zero waste spectrum. There’s a lot of material to cover here, because there are heaps of “go-to’s” and “must haves” for festival-going, especially if you’re camping at said festival, but for the sake of keeping this blog reasonably short, I’ll trim what could fill out an entire guidebook, down to a list of essential and/or convenient items I brought that helped me to keep my festival experience zero waste.


When camping at a festival, it’s important to bring snacks. Although there are a plethora of delectable meals to be found, and always that one pizza truck that’s open all hours, it would be a rookie mistake to arrive without snacks on snacks on snacks. That being said, these snacks are usually bags of chips, protein bars, cookies, crackers, you name it.. and you know what most snack foods have in common? Packaging.  

In order to avoid this conundrum, I resorted to a few zero waste snacks that I knew would keep well even in extreme temperatures. Here’s a list of those snacks:

  • Oven-roasted, crunchy balsamic chickpeas (bought dry in bulk, then re-hydrated and roasted at home)
  • Homemade kale chips
  • Apples & oranges
  • Dried mango & ginger slices (bought from bulk section)
  • Cashews (bought from bulk section)
  • Almonds (bought from bulk section)
  • Popcorn (bought from the bulk section, popped at home)

You’ll also see in the photo I brought a twist-cap bottle of wine (since cork is rarely recyclable), a few cans of cold brew coffee, a thermos, a reusable water bottle, a glass Tupperware container, bamboo cutlery, a stainless steel cup (in place of a red solo cup), some muslin drawstring bulk bags, and a stainless steel straw. I felt very extra, and that I had packed WAY too much, but I honestly used every single one of these items, and most of them I used every day.

PS -- I realize the dried mango and ginger slices are in plastic Ziploc bags, but I ask you to let that one fly, because I wash and reuse my plastic Ziploc baggies for years at a time.  

Personal Care

There are several personal care items that are essential for festival-going, and none of them are normally zero waste. See below for a list of those items, and their zero waste alternatives:

Essential Item Zero Waste Alternative
Wet wipes, body wipes Towels, water, bar soap
Store-bought hand sanitizer Homemade hand sanitizer or a wet towel
Store-bought aerosol dry shampoo Homemade powder dry shampoo
Perfume or body spray Essential oil
Body lotion Homemade body butter

Most personal care items can be made at home in order to be zero waste, and I haven’t gotten around to experimenting with all of them, but the ones above I’ve managed to figure out. Stay tuned for recipes and DIY tricks in future posts!

There you have it, some tips and tricks to experiencing a festival without leaving a trace.

PSS. Most, if not all of these tips also apply to camping in general.

Now go out and enjoy that sunshine and those summer vibes! Enjoy the festivals, enjoy the camping, and enjoy it knowing you’re doing it pretty darn sustainably.



Madisen Gittlin