If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.
– Pete Seeger
Every bit of plastic ever created still exists, and we humans move more materials around the globe than natural processes. These stunning facts come from a broken relationship with our living planet and from economic models based on limitless growth.
We’ve become used to throwing things away. In nature, there’s no such place as ‘away’, as everything is food for something else. Check out The Story of Stuff for a fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our wasteful production and consumption patterns.
Instead of dealing with the mess, let’s avoid it in the first place by buying second-hand, repairing what we can, and, if those things aren’t possible, purchasing from ethical companies that use minimal packaging. And remember, for you as a musician, it’s not just the direct impacts you’re having, you’re also sending a message to all those fans watching you on stage and online. So what you do really matters.
In general, following the waste hierarchy will be the best way to make sure your approach is aligned with the needs of our living planet:
It’s striking to consider that a plastic water bottle needs three litres of water to be created and a quarter of a bottle of crude oil. Most water bottles are not recycled after use, so billions enter landfill sites and oceans every year. Every item we buy, from musical equipment, to posters, packaging, cables and leads, has a similar story. The more we consume, the more of our living systems are exploited and the more waste is produced. Recycling has been one ‘solution’, but it’s less effective than we like to imagine. Here are some ideas to help you find a better relationship with the stuff in your life:
Use this downloadable hospitality rider as a basis for communicating with venues.
Consider pre-loved music gear before buying new. See second-hand places like Found Sound or the Swop Shop who sell in-person (Melbourne) and online, or search for second-hand music equipment shops in your town. And online second-hand websites like Gumtree, eBay and others can be a good source, too.
Join the BYOBottle movement by making a BYOBottle Artist Commitment. It’s a great way to help reduce plastic waste in the music industry and engage your team, your fans, and the venues, clubs and festivals you play at. Our staff picks for reusable water bottles are Ocean Bottle, Frank Green and EarthBottles.
Promote reusable water bottles and water refill stations at music events by using our Green Hospitality Rider when touring. Recommend venues look into brands like Elkay, Pro Acqua and Moda; festivals and events can enquire about services from Bettercup, We-Refill, and One Green Cup; and councils can find permanent outdoor refill stations from providers like Meet PAT and Choose Tap.
See more great BYOBottle resources, the Plastic Pollution Coalition’ plastic-free touring guide, and the RAW Foundation’s guide to plastic-free events.
If you get catering, request real plates, glasses and utensils backstage or bring your own. Think metal lunch boxes and reusable cutlery, straws, cups and bowls. We love products by Green and Kind, Kappi and Ever Eco. You’ve got the power on your rider to reduce disposable plastics – all you have to do is ask (see point 1).
You can get biodegradable glitter, package-free makeup and beauty products, bamboo toothbrushes and reusable menstrual cups, underwear and pads (like options 1, 2 and 3). See even more detailed zero-waste guides at awesome websites like Trash Is For Tossers.
Support festivals, like Strawberry Fields and WOMADelaide, that are making an active effort to reduce waste. Reusable cup and crockery systems are both better for the planet and cost-efficient. Talk to festivals about using these systems and incorporate them at your gigs.
Take (and promote) our pledge to Party With The Planet, not against it. We've been trashing our festivals for far too long, but we can clean things up, fast. And make use of some of the brilliant green festival kit that’s available including Ekologi Store’s Zero Waste Festival Kit.
There’s a huge ecosystem of businesses that support our music practice, from instrument makers to vehicle rentals. Many are taking great green strides while others lag behind. To help speed the transition, ask businesses about their green goals or, even better, only buy from those with a proven track record. Some of our favourites suppliers include Rock Posters (who can print on recycled paper using toxin-free dyes), Pikip Solar Speakers, B-Alternative, Lixo and A Greener Festival, who all specialise in environmental event services. For all things clothing and vinyl, check out the Fashion & Merch chapter.
If you do have to recycle:
Legendary musician and environmentalist Jack Johnson joined forces with Green Music Australia for his 2017 Australia/New Zealand tour to implement green solutions. Working closely with seven live music venues, including the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and Sydney Opera House, Jack's team successfully eliminated single-use plastic water bottles, beer cups and straws. As a GMA ambassador, Jack promoted BYOBottle encouraging fans to bring their own reusable water bottles and WE-Refill was contracted to provide water refill stations for fans. A Farm to Stage catering program encouraged venues to source from local farms, and the tour partnered with OZ Harvest and Kiwi Harvest for food drives and excess food donation. At each event, a ‘Village Green’ was set up to showcase 5-10 local environmental non-profits and drive fan engagement. As part of Jack’s All At Once social action community, partnerships were established with local non-profits including Tangaroa Blue, Surfrider, Sea Shepherd Australia and Sustainable Coastlines, to promote beach clean-ups and ticket giveaways in association with each Australia/New Zealand show.
This example shows what’s possible with commitment and support, with artists, venues, management and fans working together. For more detail on this case study, see Jackʻs 2017-18 Tour Impact Report.
Impact highlights from Jack's world tour included:
Speak with us if you’d like support to green your tour.
Climate change is the biggest challenge we have ever faced. The Earth and the natural systems that protect us all are at breaking point, we all need to do our part to collectively change.
Ben Gordon – Parkway Drive
I’m proud to support the BYOBottle campaign and encourage us all to bring reusable bottles to my gigs. Music is thirsty work, let’s do what we can to do it sustainably!
Of course, these kinds of individual actions are just the beginning. As the folks from The Story of Stuff say: “Over the past decades, many environmental and social change efforts have come to reflect the centrality of shopping in our culture, suggesting change can be made – or is even best made – through alterations in our individual consumption patterns. These efforts – buy Fair Trade or organic, use a reusable bag, screw in an LED lightbulb – are a great place to start, but they are a terrible place to stop. We know the issues we face are systemic. So we need to push for collective change.” That’s why your voice is the most powerful tool you’ve got. See Speaking Up for our suggestions on how to use it well. Or get in touch if you want to get more involved in the Green Music movement.
Australian heavy-metal band In Hearts Wake went all out for their fifth studio album KALIYUGA: Shrink wrap and jewel CD cases were eliminated, vinyl was pressed on a calcium-based ecoplastic and a special paper tape was used for boxes. They also carefully calculated emissions generated through the recording process and offset all 26.37 tonnes of CO2e through the purchase of Gold Standard-verified carbon credits in the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor, Western Australia.