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We Need to Stop Killing the Planet Every Time We Go to a Music Festival

How BangOn!, Lightning In a Bottle, and other Burning Man-affiliated festivals are leading a movement towards sustainability.

Signs are everywhere of how irredeemably fucked our planet is: California is basically becoming the Gobi desert, entire ecosystems are at risk, and a casual earthquake is due to decimate Seattle, Portland, and the entire Pacific Northwest. It's time to admit that we are all complicit in turning Earth into a trash planet—and that the music festivals we all love are a significant part of the problem.

As we pointed out recently, there's a growing movement in the US towards sustainability, "or at least a notion of guilt-dressed-as-accountability," that's changing the way festivals approach the massive carbon footprints left behind by attendees. Unsurprisingly, Burning Man and its affiliated tribes are doing the best job at this. This weekend, Burner-friendly party BangOn! is throwing their Elements festival in Brooklyn, with headliners like Shpongle, Paper Diamond, Anna Lunoe and XXYYXX spread over genre-specific stages with names like Water, Earth, Air, and Fire.

Aerialists at BangOn!'s Elements festival (Photo via Anya White)

While the festival has always had an eco-friendly outlook, this year the crew is kicking it up a level, installing solar-powered cell phone charging stations and art installations, and serving drinks out of biodegradable cups. Recycling cans are a given, and organizers say they're using alternative energy sources whenever possible. The festival is also offering 33% discounted tickets to everyone with hybrid or electric vehicle registrations.

"We are trying to show young people that we think it is 'cool' to be eco-conscious while having fun," says BangOn! founder Tim Monkiewicz. "Many people think that going green at a festival means recycling and using alternative energy to power the sound and lights, but there are many other things to consider. The trucks that deliver all the equipments use energy, the waste from the port-o-potties, even people using public transportation takes energy."

Monkiewicz credits Burning Man as the leading event for eco-conscious partying, acknowledging that other festivals have been slow to follow suit because of the extra costs involved in going green. Still, BangOn! is part of a growing group of music festivals making strides towards being responsible about the environment.

Thomas Jack at Lightning in a Bottle 2015

Lightning in a Bottle in California is frequently praised as the greenest festival in America, and even hires a sustainability director to lead its earth-friendly initiatives. Stages at LIB are made from recycled materials, the event runs partially on solar energy, and volunteers sort through trash as part of a waste-reduction program.

Read our recap of Lightning in a Bottle 2015

Bonnaroo also gets props as another festival determined to do good by the planet. Because the event owns the Tennessee farmland that it takes place on, organizers were able to improve its water-filtration systems and install compost pads. They also have a "Clean Vibes" crew that picks up garbage and teaches attendees how to recycle properly.

Still, Richard Goodstone, co-founder of Superfly Productions (the company behind Bonnaroo), echoed Monkiewicz that green initiatives are expensive. "If it's 10 times the cost, we may have to say that we're not going to do the most sustainable option," Goodstone told LA Weekly. "We can only do so much based on our finances."

The Clean Vibes crew at Bonnaroo (Photo via John Partipilo / The Tennessean

As festivals like Bonnaroo weigh the costs of green initiatives, smaller events like New York City's Destination Moon are hoping that their eco-friendly model will provide a blueprint for others to do the same. Destination Moon's three founders decided to start their own event after seeing how much waste and energy misuse were plaguing bigger summer festivals. In addition to eco-friendly power sources, the festival also encourages artists to use all-recycled materials for their shows. For example, at one of their events last year, artist Macylyn Milsark created an installation out of strips of cut-up white plastic bags, which video artist John Backstrom project-mapped visuals onto.

DJs like Sammy Bananas are helping fight climate change

Perhaps one way for bigger festivals to pull off going green without blowing their budgets is through working with corporate sponsors. In an interview with Motherboard, Destination Moon's co-founder Walker Esner called these sponsors "instrumental," and Monkiewicz also says that BangOn! is searching for benefactors to help them afford more of these eco-friendly initiatives.

Whether it's through corporate overlords, technological advances, or finding creative solutions, one thing is clear: we've got to stop trashing the planet every time we decide to get trashed.

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