The festival season is often a rite of passage for many young people, but a much darker side of youth culture emerges once the festival finishes and everybody goes home, leaving their rubbish behind. Living in Reading, the festival is always a source of gossip with the mess it makes being a common theme. This year I volunteered to help salvage some of the rubbish for good causes like refugees and witnessed for myself the temporary and disposable attitude that people must have when leaving their tents behind. This way of thinking spreads far further than the campsite, it just so happens that the tens of thousands of festival-goers concentrates the effects into one specific place.
“What does this complete disregard for the mess we leave behind tell us about youth culture?”
My decision to volunteer was based on my stay in the campsite two years previously and, being that friend that nags everyone to recycle, I wanted to prevent so much of it going to landfill. After an amazing and exhausting weekend at the festival I witnessed for myself the devastation left behind on Monday morning; tents as far as the eye could see and with them camping chairs and sleeping bags galore. The rain had evidently led many to abandon all their belongings with clothes, shoes, and camping gear piled high. When packing up the tents it occurred to me that much of what was left behind had very little wrong with it. We were easily wiping tents down and a sleeping bag could be washed without a problem. The sites as a whole looked as if they could still be populated as a reported 60,000 tents were left behind along with equipment totalling a value of £1 million.
It’s an undeniable fact that the vast majority of festival goers are under 25, particularly in the campsites, so what does this complete disregard for the mess we leave behind tell us about youth culture? If you read the comments section of online articles you’ll find an angry ‘Sue’ or ‘Barry’ dismissing it as the irresponsible attitude of the ‘youth of today’, who have been spoilt by their parents and never learnt to clean up after themselves. To a certain extent this is true. When faced with a sea of abandoned tents you can’t help but wonder why nobody bothered to pack it up and take it home. But looking past the surface level blaming, tents are made cheaply and advertised as a ‘festival’ item. Gone is the idea that a tent is for life and in comes the ‘experience’ mindset. Industries know that young people would much rather spend their money on experiences than material items and market their items so that they fall under the umbrella of the ‘experience’. Consumers then treat these items as a temporary extension of the experience and leave them behind when they leave.
As convenient as it is to blame the big corporations, the attitude of young people has to change. The contradictions of young people being ‘Eco conscious’ and getting behind the plastic straw ban but then leaving their tents in a field is ever-so-slightly ridiculous. Even whilst at the salvage, I got talking to a girl who had come to help out and even she had left her tent behind when the purpose of her being there was to help the clean up. Overall, it is the contradiction that is the most frustrating. It seems that we only have the capacity to care about something if it is within a context that is spoon fed to us and this may be the darkest trait of all. Declining a disposable straw makes us feel much better about ourselves so that we can continue making a mess for other people to clear up with a clear conscience.
So do we go for the heads of the marketing companies? Or do we tell people to clean up after themselves? Both appear to be mammoth tasks but godspeed to those charities and local volunteers who go in and spend a few days clearing up after people in order to help others.
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