Taking On The Plastic-Free Challenge at Shambala Festival

Plastic-free living and environmental advocate Tia Grazette shares her experience of attending one of the UK’s most eco-friendly festivals plastic-free.

Images: Dawn Marie Jones 

Plastic is everywhere – it’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the clothes we wear. It has only been in existence for the last 70 years but has managed to embed itself into every nook and cranny of our existence and life on earth. 

The problem with plastic is that it is highly durable; nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today. The water bottle you drank from yesterday and only used once before discarding (hopefully into the recycling bin) will still be around 450-1000 years after you die – causing an untold amount of problems throughout its life, from choking turtles to eventually turning into micro-plastic eaten by marine life and passed into our food chain. Studies have shown that plastic chemicals act as endocrine disruptors – linked to health effects like cancer, birth defects and developmental problems in children. 

It is not only the environmental impact of plastic we all need to start to consider in our everyday lives but also the serious health implications. With this in mind, Eco-Age challenged me to attend a festival plastic-free. Music festivals are renowned for having a massive negative environmental impact as they consume high levels of energy, water, food and materials, and produce vast amounts of waste and carbon emissions. Roughly 23,500 tonnes of waste are produced annually by UK music festivals

I chose to complete this challenge at one of my favourite festivals, Shambala – which is also known for its strict eco-credentials – having completely eliminated single use plastic.

Plastic-free prep 

With just a week to organise myself, I trawled the internet for ‘plastic-free tents’ and ‘plastic-free sleeping bags’, and discovered a number of leads on the tent situation: organic cotton tents and tipis. Alas, they were far too expensive for my budget, so I had to wave goodbye to the beautifully spacious organic cotton tents that festival dreams are made of. I then stumbled across a cardboard tent, but when I saw the size of it, I decided against it – even with all my plastic-free campaigning and preaching over the last 10 years I wasn’t quite willing to give up all forms of comfort while camping.

Next up, I found the biodegradable tent made by Fling Tent – big enough to contain me and my belongings, with bonus space left over. This was the best find yet and it looked pretty good as well. However, the inventor was stuck up a mountain in the middle of nowhere and unable to send me one. My plastic-free and super sustainable tent option faded into the distance and with it my hopes of attending Shambala plastic-free. With less than a week to prepare and far too many other plastic-free things to organise, I decided it was better to take my old faithful tent and sleeping bag, already in existence – I didn’t need a new one to just prove there were plastic-free options, albeit a little limited.

The plastic-free festival idea is much harder than it seems and also can be quite stressful to organise. I decided to go on a little shopping spree. Lush was my first stop for plastic-free and zero-waste products. I picked up a shampoo bar, soap bar, exfoliator scrub, body lotion and hair honey which all smell delicious. I also got some cork and aluminium pots to keep them all safe and secure. 

Next up: I Love Lowie – with my limited budget I got some of their new beeswax cotton food wraps made from all their leftover fabric (such a great idea and perfect for festival snacks), a travel-size pot of sunscreen, a bamboo toothbrush, comb and cotton buds all made by The Zero Waste Club. These items would go nicely with everything I already own which is plastic-free – an all natural and vegan liquid foundation, eye shadow and pressed bronzer by Nui (which comes packaged in paper packaging), Who Gives A Crap toilet paper made from bamboo and wrapped in paper, and a loofa for those appealing festival showers I just can’t wait to queue for.

I decided to call in some help on the remaining items so contacted Sophie Benson, a writer and stylist with a focus on sustainability. She suggested I look on Acala for any plastic-free items I still needed. It was a treasure trove of all things zero-waste and plastic-free, so I immediately ordered a safety razor, vegan dental floss, toothpaste, reusable nail varnish wipes and a little glass pot of rosehip oil.

I then spoke to Ali Clifford, an expert in all things sustainable and founder of Incredibusy.com. She recommended Earth Conscious for an all natural and plastic-free deodorant, so I added a plastic-free deodorant stick to my list.

I booked in a manicure at Le Fix Nail Salon, seeing as I was camping for the best part of five days and I still wanted my nails to look good and presentable. Le Fix is one of the most sustainable nail salons in London – with toxic-free nail treatments, eco-friendly products and an owner who is super passionate about all things eco.

Feeling re-energised, I decided to give it one last push on the plastic-free front. I found some bamboo sunglasses by Fresh For Pandas made in all sorts of styles and colours, completely plastic-free and reasonably priced. I also ordered a blue mint cleanser from Lani – a new range of face, hair and body products, which are vegan and packaged in glass containers – and dug out my Elephant Box stainless steel lunchbox, snack containers and reusable water bottle. Pretty much set, I packed everything into my old rucksack: plastic-free toiletries, second-hand clothes, Po-Zu trainers, a couple of items from the rental clothing platform Onloan and an organic cotton towel and bedsheet.

At the festival 

We travelled to the festival by train, and once we arrived Shambala made festivalling plastic-free a breeze with their no plastic policy. No one is allowed to bring any single-use plastic onto the site and everyone is encouraged to use a reusable water bottle and carry a cup with them at all times. Each morning I had my Wild Nutrition plastic-free vitamins washed down with a plantshake smoothie in my reusable water bottle. For breakfast, it was package-free muesli eaten with my bamboo spork. 

While running around the festival, I carried my lunchbox, water bottle and spork for a completely waste-free lunch and dinner and my stainless steel cup for those essential shots of tequila late into the evening. At first it felt quite burdensome carrying all these extra items but I soon got used to it – anyway, what’s a bag full of stuff when you are saving the planet? It was a delight to see pretty much everyone at the festival fully respect and join in with Shambala’s strict eco-initiatives. The musicians also took it all very seriously. Harry Yeff, a.k.a Reeps One, attended the festival completely plastic-free as well and Patrick Hirst, a.k.a Ball-Zee, took his Shambala reusable water bottle everywhere he went while mostly wearing clothing from THTC, an organic hemp, bamboo and cotton streetwear label – and Emerald Rose Lewis wore a top made from recycled t-shirts designed by Melissa Honeybee of  Green Lanes Clothing throughout her DJ set.

What I learned

It’s a good idea to slowly swap in any plastic-free items over a longer period of time, putting less pressure on yourself and allowing the correct time to test each product out to see if it works for you – as, let me assure you, not all deodorants work. It can also get quite expensive trying to make the change all in one go.

Choosing to go plastic-free while surrounded by people and an environment that supported it was so much easier and would be a super fun way to start any plastic-free journey. There will always be certain things each of us find difficult to give up and choices we have to make along the way. I wasn’t prepared to sleep in a cardboard coffin for five nights and couldn’t quite find any plastic-free hair products that actually work for my curly locks. But I did succeed in going plastic-free with everything else I needed and discovered some amazing products along the way.

At the end of the day whatever each one of us chooses to and can afford to do will lessen the impact we are having on the planet. Although the plastic situation is at a crisis point right now and drastic actions are needed to resolve it, I feel assured that I am doing my bit – and happy that I have taken the first steps to becoming zero-waste and just in time for #ZeroWasteWeek.

Read our conversation on redefining zero-waste.

Take a look at these easy zero-waste swaps to get started on your low-waste journey.

Max La Manna challenges you to take his 7 day no food waste challenge.