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The phenomenon of buying bottled water is a perfect expression of how ridiculous and disconnected to environmental cause-and-effect modern [consumer] society has become. Disposable plastics cause mass-scale pollution of our rivers and oceans and poss a risk to wildlife and human health through micro- plastics emerging in the food chain. It is literally EVERYWHERE, and every bit of plastic ever made still exists.On top of that, bottled water is often 2,000 times as expensive as tap water, and often lower in quality – totally bonkers!

Back in 2015 we decided we needed to tackle this issue head-on, and while doing so make our festival experience cleaner – as much of the waste that ended up on the ground was plastic pint cups and bottles.  We teamed up with the amazing RAW Foundation and produced the Making Waves Campaign to tackle plastic at Festivals.

There’s loads more information about the problems associated with plastic on the RAW website HERE.

What have we done at Shambala?

Rather than focusing on trying to recycle more plastics, which isn’t really a solution for a number of reasons, we are designing them out of the festival ecosystem through three key initiatives.

Bring a Bottle Campaign

Since 2014, we have had a site-wide ban on the sale of drinks in plastic bottles, instead asking our audiences to bring a reusable bottle. We have put in additional water points, offer free chilled filtered water at the bars and work with Frank Water who have a mobile hydration unit. We also sell stainless steel water bottles with 100% profit going to RAW Foundation and FRANK. Find out more here.

Reusable Bar Cups

Rather than disposable plastic or paper cups, we operate a reusable bar cup system. People pay a one-off £1 levy when they buy their first drink and then get a fresh cup when they return their cup (or a token) to the bar. After the festival all the dirty cups are taken to an industrial washing facility to be cleaned and reused for other events. Many lifecycle analyses find that reusable plastic bar cups used 3 times have a lesser environmental impact than a typical single-use cup despite the transportation and washing impacts.  

Reusable Hot Coffee Cups

Research suggests 5 billion cardboard cups are used once and not recycled in the UK each year, equating to over half a million trees worth of source materials. Your brown, cardboard cup may look all earthy and recyclable, but it reality it isn’t, due to the polymer lining. With an estimated 30,000 cardboard cups used at Shambala alone, we started out own mini-revolution in 2017. If you purchase a hot beverage on site at Shambala, you’ve got two options:

1. Bring your own reusable cup or mug from home – plastic, bamboo or metal (no ceramic or glass for safety reasons please!)

2. Buy a beautiful Shambala cup in advance (or onsite from any cafe serving hot drinks while stocks last).


In 2018, we started to tackle the finer details – feminine products, glitter, cable ties and what festivalgoers are bringing with them. We’re continuing to fine tune this, and have more up our sleeve for our 20th bash! 

Have we been successful so far?

Yes! Here’s how:

  • With policies such as banning sales of any type of disposable plastics, it’s easy, as we have effective control of any sales onsite and we work with great people anyway.
  • With the public-facing initiatives such as Bring a Bottle it’s important that its well received and effective, to inspire changes in behaviour. Within 3 years 95% of festivalgoers brought their own water bottle – box ticked.
  • The bar cups initiative was tricky – it felt like hassle at first (to some) to carry around a cup, and logistically it’s a massive exercise behind the scenes comparted to disposables. But it’s working, and people like it. Our real challenge is trying to reduce the number of lost cups each year.
  • Hot cups – we captured around 8,000 cups which were sent for specialist recycling in 2017 but we know there are more to capture and are improving systems.