Glastonbury Recycling Crew: from Foo Fighters to Poo Fighters

Is it just me or are festival ticket prices getting a little extortionate? As a student fresh from the education machine, broken and penniless, the thought of spending £200 on anything is enough to make your knees wobble.

Take Glastonbury, for example. To get your hands on one of the most sought-after festival tickets in Europe, you will need to empty your pockets (and the back of the sofa, and the spare change tin, and the “money for emergencies box”) of £243, incl booking fee. That’s nearly £60 more than in 2010 and a whopping £156 more than in 2000. And that isn’t even the only hurdle. The tickets themselves are as elusive as Theresa May’s Brexit promises, and immeasurably more popular, so even if you do miraculously have £243 disposable income straight out of university, you’d be hard pressed to get your hands on one.

Alas, do not lose hope, because this summer I went out of my way to outsmart capitalism and tour some festivals completely free. I managed to work Glastonbury, Greenman and Deershed. Whilst bartending at Greenman and stall managing at Deershed were both great experiences, nothing can quite contend with the adventures Glastonbury gave me.

The Beginning…

It is 6:30am on Tuesday 20th June in a small village outside Cardiff. The air is moist with dew, our eyes are moist with sleep and the coffee is luxuriously, upliftingly moist. The morning sun has turned the garden into a glittering wonderland worthy of the hashtag “oufitinspo”. My pals and I are waiting for our friend to arrive in his McDonalds Happy Meal box on wheels so that we can pile in our belongings, with hopefully enough room for ourselves, and set off on the road to Glastonbury.

The Pyramid Stage

We are all part of the After-Festival Recycling Crew. This means we get the festival for free, subject to paying a deposit (equal to the price of the ticket), but we spend four days after the festival picking up litter and being part of the overall clean up. We also have the privilege of arriving a day before the tidal wave of general ticket holders, which means skipping out on the 10-hour queues. I had never worked a festival before and so had no idea what to anticipate. I had no money at the time but could not face a summer of living at home and working at a pub again, working at festivals seemed like a good alternative. All I knew was; I was going to Glastonbury, and Radiohead were headlining. Absolutely no discussion needed.

As we set off on the motorway, gasping feebly at pockets of air squashed between sleeping bags, tent bags, food bags and bags of wine, the Radio 1 DJ over-enthusiastically begins to play an eclectic selection of thumping EDM. We look at each other, laugh, and turn the volume up. It is a perfect start-as-we-mean-to-go-on moment.

Fast-forward to exactly a week later…

It is 6:30am on Tuesday 27th June. I am stood in a pool of bin juice, in a Recycling Warehouse that smells overwhelmingly of bin juice, surrounded by bags, full of rubbish producing copious amounts of bin juice. There are others like me, clad in protective white jumpsuits made of tissue paper, shuffling miserably through the puddles. Imagine that scene from E.T. remade into an ominous, post-apocalyptic film about the consequences of global warming.

Glastonbury is finished, and all that remains in evidence of the weekends endeavours are hundreds of tents left abandoned on the hillside, their ghostly silhouettes a haunting reminder of the wastefulness of festival culture. The tin cans strewn like tattered trophies amongst the foliage are an all-too-palpable reminder of the immense hangover. The only human life that remained was us, the after-festival cleaning up team. In the warehouse, our job was to empty bags of rubbish onto conveyor belts, the contents of which were sorted into categories and thrown into bins; plastic, compost, glass, metal and landfill. Everybody was in a team of nine or ten, which helped to boost morale and the overall ‘vibe’.

Initially, it was a shock. Walking straight from Glastonbury onto the set of a Greenpeace advert condemning the damaging environmental effects of hedonism was a lot to handle. The combination of mountains of bin bags, the sweet sickly smell of rot and just a tent to call home only added to the post-festival fragility. ‘Toilet break’ became code for ‘I’m going to go and take half an hour to have a mental breakdown, brb’.

Whatsmore, it was impossible to predict what combination of half-decomposed detritus would be coming out of the bags. Although the bins around Glastonbury were equipped with pleading “PLEASE ONLY PUT THE RIGHT RUBBISH IN HERE” signs, nobody really gave a toss. It wasn’t just normal rubbish either, there were prams, sleeping bags, tents, chairs, hats, coats; not to mention the endless stream of unopened beverages. It looked as if people had quite literally left their lives behind in the fields.

My most memorable discovery, and probably most told festival story of all time, was unearthing an enormous pile of turd. Yes, human turd. It came down the conveyor belt deftly concealed amongst some tissues and paper plates, hunched in the foliage like a crouching tiger. Its contents unbeknownst to me, I lifted the tissues to chuck them towards “Compost” and in the process unveiled the big brown present. It fell to the conveyor with a resounding slap. Like any unfortunate prey, my immediate reaction was flight, I wanted to run away from the steaming pile of stranger’s faeces and never look back. But we had a duty; to the environment, to the people who put so much effort into making the festival happen and to ourselves. So, I fought the urge to run and carried on. The first Encounter of the Turd Kind is always the worst, and I can confirm that the first is never the last. I personally had three that I was aware of and my friends had similar experiences. My friend Kris even discovered a poop caked wine bottle, maybe attempting to relieve oneself into obscure containers is the new FAD.

Was it all worth it?

Absolutely. Despite having to wake up at the crack of dawn to wade through mountains of waste, Glastonbury was the time of my life and it was all free. I got to cry at Radiohead, leap ferociously to Fat Boy Slim and make my parents jealous with Chic. The benefits of being on the Recycling Team are numerous; free meals, staff showers, free phone charging services to name a few. And if being on the Recycling Crew has taught me anything, it is that no festival is perfect. On the surface Glastonbury is a utopian, hippie wonderland, yet behind-the-scenes the sheer amount of filth produced during one weekend is mind-boggling. Not all hope is lost, though, because it is possible to make a difference. I felt a lot more satisfied earning my way into the festival and being part of the enormous communal effort that makes Glastonbury possible. That isn’t to say that paying for a festival ticket is a bad idea, and I know many people who had to do the recycling crew during the actual festival and found it really hard. What I would say is that anyone who is strapped for cash but wanting to have a good summer, working and volunteering at festivals is a great opportunity.

Sarah Martin


Photo credit: 1) Glastonbury Recycling Crew 2) FACT magazine 3) IBTimes UK