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Patrick McCarthy headshot

Concerts Can Become More Sustainable: Here's How

Concerts create memories that last a lifetime, but they also generate a whole lot of waste that will last far longer. Avid concertgoer Patrick McCarthy offers some suggestions for attendees and venues to make this live music season more sustainable.
A crowd at a concert — sustainable concerts

(Image: Danny Howe/Unsplash)

Concerts create memories that last a lifetime, but they also generate a whole lot of waste that will last far longer. The peace, love and positivity at these shows come alongside a slew of unsustainable practices. 

Live music is a form of entertainment where plastic is always in attendance — more often than not, it’s the star of the show. Beyond single-use utensils, cups and bottles, merchandise tables hawk shrink-wrapped vinyl records, CDs and other plastic souvenirs. 

As a concert reviewer for my local newspaper, I attend 20 to 30 concerts a year. I’m often struck by the simple truth that the most sustainable concert practice I could adopt is to not go to concerts at all. But I’m in no rush to quit concerts altogether, and I doubt anyone else is either. As we roll into the season for live music, here are some suggestions for how we can clean up our collective act.

Concertgoers can…

1. Carpool to the venue

If you’re planning to hit a show with friends, arrange to travel together. While this may not negate the carbon footprint of a touring artist traveling to your town or city, you can at least take comfort in the knowledge that you’re doing what you can. There’s no better way to get amped up for a concert than loading into a car with your friends and belting out all the hits you hope to hear at the show. Plus, carpooling with a designated driver is a great way to prevent drinking and driving, allowing everyone to let loose and enjoy the music without worrying about getting home safely after the show. 

2. Recycle responsibly

While this one may seem like a no-brainer, it is important to be mindful when disposing of waste. Throwing recyclables in the garbage can is clearly wasteful. But the inverse can be just as bad, if not worse. When trash ends up in recycling bins meant only for cans and bottles, the garbage contaminates these recyclable materials and may prevent them from actually being recycled.

3. Leave no trace

Bring the camping mindset to the tailgate. Leaving trash in a parking lot may not feel the same as leaving it in a forest, but litter of any kind is a nasty calling card to leave behind. At best, someone else will have to clean up after you. At worst, your mess won’t be cleaned up at all, and your local ecosystem will pay the price for your neglect. If you’re tailgating, do everyone a favor and bring two trash bags: one for garbage and one for empties. If there’s nowhere to throw out your waste at the venue, bring it home. A little litter vigilance can go a long way.

Venues should…

1. Shift to reusables 

One of the biggest forms of waste at concerts is the single-use plastics served with food and drinks. Implementing reusable cup systems can significantly reduce this plastic footprint. Large venues and entertainment companies are already making the switch by partnering with startups that specialize in reuse.

Live Nation Entertainment rolled out reusable cups, collection bins and washing setups through Turn Systems. Meanwhile the reusable serveware company R World brings reusable cups to venues like the Crypto.com Arena and the Sphere in Las Vegas. Another option is allowing attendees to bring their own refillable bottles, as many music festivals do. 

2. Offer bussing options

If venues organized options for attendees to catch a bus to and from concerts, they could significantly scale down their carbon footprints. Plus, more people on buses means less traffic congestion before and after the show and lowers the potential for drunk-driving incidents. Venues wouldn’t have to worry about the revenue lost from parking space sales, as they could replace that with sales for a seat on the concert shuttle bus.

3. Clean up trash collection

Most venues could do better when it comes to collecting garbage and enabling fans to responsibly dispose of trash. The piles of trash and heaps of cans often seen strewn throughout parking lots after big tailgates aren’t solely the fault of fans. More often than not, venues fail to provide enough waste receptacles. When the limited receptacles overflow, fans are left with no place to responsibly dispose of waste. Other times, the receptacles are not easily accessible, their location is not clearly indicated, or they lack clear signage distinguishing between garbage and recycling. Of all the sustainability problems that concert venues need to address, this is an avoidable problem that doesn’t require much effort to solve.

4. Report emissions and sustainability efforts

Big festivals such as Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo are making sustainability partnerships and commitments while publishing breakdowns of their efforts. Local venues can follow suit by mapping out their sustainability goals, their progress and even their current emissions. While smaller venues lack the resources and revenues of these national festivals, they nonetheless can take proportionate action to reduce their carbon footprints and help make live music a more positive experience for all.

This story is part of Entertainment Month in TriplePundit's Sustainable Living Challenge, where we unpack simple ways to save money and reduce environmental impact in the ways we have fun. Learn more and take the challenge here.

Patrick McCarthy headshot

Patrick is a freelance journalist who writes what the robots can't. Based in Syracuse, New York, Patrick seeks to uplift, inform, and inspire readers with stories centered on environmental activism, social justice, and arts and music. He enjoys collecting books and records, writing prose and poetry, and playing guitar.

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