Thousands of plastic tents are disposed of at festivals. Could cardboard tents be the solution?

Editor’s Note: Call to Earth is a CNN editorial series committed to reporting on the environmental challenges facing our planet, as well as solutions. The Rolex Perpetual Planet Initiative has partnered with CNN to raise awareness and education on key sustainability issues and inspire positive action.


Scattered across the undulating green fields of Bramham Park, a rainbow of plastic sheeting flaps in the wind. The country estate, which hosted around 100,000 revelers at the Leeds Festival in late August, was standing. Empty except for the remains of their tents.

It’s a scene repeated every summer across the UK when hundreds of thousands of people attend music festivals across the country.

While cleanup volunteers help scan the camp grounds for salvageable tents, most of the estimated 250,000 people have been left behind At UK festivals, it ends up in landfill every year, according to the Association of Independent Festivals.

Tayla Evans decided she wanted to change that.

Her startup EnviroTent creates camping gear that’s recyclable and biodegradable — because it’s made out of cardboard.

“I think a lot of people were a little unsure about it,” Evans says. Made of thick, corrugated cardboard, the tent is sturdier than people think — and more than up to the task of a three-day weekend, rain or shine, she adds.

READING, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: An aerial view of the Reading Festival campsite on August 29, 2022 in Reading, England.  (Photo by Chris Gorman/Getty Images)

The 21-year-old hopes she can offer a greener solution to campers, reducing plastic pollution at festivals.

“One in three people leave their tents behind, and most of them go to landfill – for us, it’s about making a positive impact on that number, so that even when people leave their tents behind, we just recycle or reuse them.” Evans says.

EnviroTent began as a school project in 2019, as part of the Young Enterprise Competition. Evans and her team won the UK finals in 2020 – but Evans was inspired to get down to business.

With experienced mentors, including designer Carsten Asthemer, Evans began taking the cardboard tent from concept to reality.

By choosing a seven-sided tree trunk-shaped structure instead of the typical triangular tent shape, Evans says her tent optimizes space and avoids claustrophobia.

“We tried to expand it as much as possible, while still using the least amount of cardboard possible to reduce material,” Evans adds.

EnviroTent showed off its prototype tents at the Vegan Camp Out Festival this summer.

So far, Evans has made several prototypes — including one that sat outside for four weeks in March (“It only collapsed when it snowed, so obviously there won’t be snow in the summer — hopefully,” she adds) and in July. In July, Evans attended the Vegan Camp Out festival in Oxfordshire to test the tents with the public.

“We let people in: adults, children, even dogs,” Evans says. “I think a lot of people were amazed at how strong they were.”

Cardboard tents trap heat more easily, making them warmer – good on cool mornings, but perhaps less appealing in a summer heatwave. They also block out light, which Evans says is popular with festival-goers looking to lie down in the morning. And the plain cardboard exterior is customizable, which is useful for keeping kids entertained at family-friendly festivals as well as making your tent easier to identify in a sea of ​​similar-looking shelters.

Based on feedback from the festival, Evans is now working on tweaking her design. I have already found a tent manufacturer to manufacture tents when the company is ready to expand. While it’s still in the very early stages, Evans plans to eventually set up tents at festival sites for occupants for £125 ($156) per tent, which she says will make them more convenient for travelers – and perhaps provide an added benefit.

“The less things people have to bring with them to the festival, the more likely they are to use public transport to get there, and this also helps reduce CO2 emissions from the festival,” she adds.

The seven-sided shape creates more space inside the tent, says Tayla Evans, founder of EnviroTent.

EnviroTent isn’t the first company to offer cardboard tents as a solution to festival waste.

Dutch company KarTent began producing cardboard tents in 2015, in response to the growing problem of single-use tents.

The KarTent two-person tilt-roof tent, which retails for €68 ($73), is made from 73% recycled cardboard and, like the EnviroTent, says it’s waterproof (they even put it in a car wash to test it). The used tents are recycled after the festival and turned into other cardboard products, including recycling bins for future events.

Its cardboard tents quickly grew in popularity across continental Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and in 2019, the company supplied nearly 20,000 tents to festivals across Europe, says Timo Kren, founder of KarTent.

But during the Covid-19 pandemic, festivals were cancelled, and the company quickly focused on creating temporary furniture for homes and exhibitions, including Covid-safe screens.

Now that festivals are back, the company is focusing on large orders of more than 500 tents, rather than the smaller events it catered to before, Crane says.

After the festival is over, KarTent reuses the cardboard as recycling bins for future events, or as soil covers for local farmers.

“The concept of all our products is very similar. At festivals, the waste is so obvious because everyone is coming and going at about the same time, so the amount of tents that are left behind is just crazy,” Crane says.

But with other temporary lifestyle products, like children’s toys and beds, people dispose of them at different stages, making the waste less visible, he says, adding: “There are a lot of products that people have to realize, it’s not something you need.” forever.”

But even biodegradable tents use resources and energy to manufacture.

The Shambhala Festival — a four-day arts and music event in Northamptonshire, England — says that for the third year in a row, it has left no tents left.

“Personally, we feel that educating the public and driving behavior change is better than focusing on biodegradable tents, as we feel the message should be to reuse and pick up after yourselves – and shift away from single-use items.” A Shambhala spokesperson told CNN in an email.

However, the festival acknowledges that its audience — whose average age is in the early 30s, rather than other festival attendees of mostly teens and early 20s — are more likely to own high-quality camping gear that they can reuse and maintain, and that other festivals attract strict green policies. People who tend to be more aware of and involved in these environmental issues.

The festival is also relatively small, with attendance of around 15,000 people, compared to Leeds and Reading’s audience of 100,000, and Glastonbury’s audience of over 200,000 festival-goers. (Reading, Leeds and Glastonbury festivals did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)

Camping equipment retailer Decathlon is also trying to encourage reuse of its camping equipment. This summer its UK stores launched the ‘No Tent Left Behind’ initiative, offering customers the opportunity to return their popular two-person festival tent during specified periods for a full refund in the form of a gift card. Decathlon then resells the tent within its “second life” to ensure the tent gets further use.

Camplight collects abandoned tents, cleans them and repairs them for reuse through organizations like Tentshare.

Tentshare, founded by Rebecca Hibbs in 2021, is a UK peer-to-peer platform for renting camping equipment, including tents, sleeping bags and folding chairs, from other users.

Heaps works alongside Camplight, a co-op that salvages, repairs and cleans tents left behind at festivals for hire, while tents that cannot be repaired are repurposed for use in bags, bunting and flags, Heaps says.

“This year in particular we’ve noticed that throwaway tents are cheaper and less fit for purpose,” Hibbs told CNN in an email. It is estimated that the average festival tent’s carbon footprint is about 3.2 kilograms of carbon, the equivalent of charging 1,400 smartphones.

“It’s a huge waste of our planet’s resources,” she adds.

While Hibbs prefers people to rent and reuse tents (“The most sustainable items are items we already own!” she adds), cardboard tents can be a great alternative to single-use plastic tents, “especially with… Cardboard recycling. “Then it is reused,” she says.

“We are all working towards the same goal of reducing the terrible waste left behind at large festivals,” adds Heaps.

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