Zero waste festival founder Maudie Johnson: 'We survived as a human race before plastic and we certainly can after'

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
No Planet B festival co-founder Maudie Johnson

We’ve all seen the pictures of the aftermath of a big festival.

Crumpled-up tents with wonky poles, empty beer cans carelessly discarded, overflowing bins reflecting visitors who have at least tried to do the right thing. Festivals have become a symbol of human nature: a love of fun teamed with a mindless consume-and-dispose attitude. We may tut and moan, but the inconvenient truth is we can all be guilty of it.

But for the conscientious consumer, there is an alternative. No Planet B is the UK’s first ‘zero waste’ festival, which brings together the concepts of minimalism, veganism and, of course, no waste, all in one place.

The event has been rescheduled to launch next year in lieu of planned monthly events made to build its name further and gain as large an audience as possible. Organiser Maudie Johnson is hopeful its ethical principles will draw in a large crowd.

Monthly events will host workshops, demos and cooking classes, all aimed at spreading awareness of how to live a more sustainable and ethical life, with plenty of live music and dancing thrown in for good measure. All just a taster of what’s to come by the time the Cotswolds festival comes around in 2019.

The more sceptical RWW readers may at first dismiss the festival as simply a get-together of the already environmentally conscious. But movements of this nature should not be underestimated.

No Planet B is here to bring a very serious message to not just the classic environmentalist but also a growing pool of people from all walks of life who have an interest in how they can reduce their harmful impact on the planet.

Johnson says: “Zero waste can be quite a scary term, but we want to show you steps to make it easier. It doesn’t have to mean you have to live a completely zero-waste life, but you can move in the right direction, it really is a fascinating concept.”

With UK festivals generally producing more than 23,500 tonnes of waste per

event, No Planet B offers the classic, quintessential summer experience with an eco-conscience. Attendees are encouraged to bring food in their own containers, with all food and drinks offered on location served in 100%-recyclable packaging.

Although Johnson recognises the value of working closely with local waste management companies, she also stresses the importance of individuals taking on responsibility for their own role as consumers.

She says: “Plastic wasn’t invented a ridiculously long time ago, so we have to say we survived as a human race before and we certainly can after.

“I know a lot of festivals use plastic because of health and safety. But I’m firm in my belief if we were to go down that route we wouldn’t get anywhere, we would be constantly using single-use plastics, and then it gets to the point of where do we draw the line?”

Right place, right time

Over the past year there has been a sea-change in attitudes towards plastic waste and disposability thanks to efforts from across the industry and beyond. There really couldn’t have been a better time to have launched the festival, so was it mere coincidence?

Johnson says: “I have a very deep intuition with things and I’ve always been ahead of the trends. If you can launch a business in the first third of a trend, that’s the perfect time.

“We wanted to utilise a movement that was already growing, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel but accelerate movements that already exist and take them from being online to somewhere that has a real space and we can celebrate them and inspire others.”

Anyone who has ever attempted to organise a birthday meal knows the headache of arranging even the smallest scale of events.

Extra kudos must therefore be given to Johnson, who has not only progressed the simple idea of zero waste into a tangible movement but also undertaken the mammoth task with minimal experience in events organising.

“I’ve never run a festival before but do have business experience as I work as a yoga teacher. It’s led me to realise your strengths and weaknesses and I’ve therefore brought two other people, Hannah Lobb and Chris Bush, to work with me on the project as brand marketing manager and production manager.”

Logging on

Whether it’s updating government policy or launching sustainable business pledges, there’s plenty of ways to decrease environmental impact. But for Johnson and her team, it comes down to behavioural change.

The No Planet B team are harnessing the power of social media to spread their simplistic messages about sustainability. It is the tool which allowed Johnson to originally feed her appetite in sustainable thinking and has now allowed her to grow a business.

She says: “The name for the festival came from a hashtag, showing how we’re really tapping into social media as a powerful tool. It’s all about integrating the movement and making it, and this word sounds trashy, ‘cool’.

“If we’re talking about making this movement the social norm, you have to tap into where people are looking for inspiration. They’re looking at magazines, reality TV, celebrities, online, so we’re looking at how to use this influence to make it not aspirational but attainable.”

Although Johnson is optimistic and enthusiastic about the positive changes we can all do to reduce plastic pollution and over-consumption, she does acknowledge it isn’t often that straightforward.

Sometimes we do forget our reusable plastic bag, occasionally we need to use a straw to protect our teeth after a few too many gin and tonics. How easy is it really to live a zero-waste lifestyle?

She says: “It’s about believing we can make a difference as individuals and using your everyday actions and words to mirror those beliefs. Sometimes it’s tough and isn’t the easy route. You may have to walk an extra two miles to find the recycling bin or seek the shop with the loose vegetables.

“I can sometimes go at things quite directly and forget that everyone may not be quite ready to hear it in that way, so have had to tone down the way I say things. We want the festival to be integrated into activity so that it feels very natural, and want to help people know how to make a change in a really fun way.”

Response to the festival so far has been hugely positive, with more traction building within the online community day by day. Originally planned to run this year, Johnson and her team made the brave move of rescheduling the Cotswalds event until next year in order for it to “make a bigger impression on the UK festival scene, with environmental acknowledgement once it comes around.”

Living a zero-waste life may seem to be a daunting prospect, but people like Johnson are making the concept seem not just more appealing, but much more acceptable too.

No Planet B Festival offers the perfect opportunity for both the converted and the curious to share ideas, press pause on the craziness of everyday life and have fun. And, for once, not at the planet’s expense.

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