A duo from the Netherlands think they have the solution to Ireland’s festival-season tent-trashing habit, writes Ellie O’Byrne.
Jan Portheine had never been to a music festival when a friend showed him a picture of the infamous Glastonbury clean-up: A sea of cheap, discarded tents, stretching as far as the eye can see.
Shocked, he researched further and discovered that in his native Netherlands, 25% of punters abandoned their tent at the end of a weekend at a festival.
Things are no different in Ireland: The past two years, footage of campsites littered with abandoned tents following Ireland’s biggest music festival, Electric Picnic, have caused outcry and calls to make festivals more sustainable. (After Glastonbury last weekend, Emily Eavis said 99.3% of the tents brought by punters were taken home.)
A trained architect, Portheine met industrial designer Wout Kommer at Cleantech Challenge, an innovative sustainable design competition at the University of Delft. Together, they came up with a surprising solution to tent-trashing: Cardboard.
Their company, Kartent, now sells recyclable cardboard tents that sleep two and can be used for three days, even, apparently, in a typically rainy Irish summer. They’re active at festivals in the US, Australia, and the EU — including Ireland.
Kartents are delivered to participating festivals, where they are pre-pitched. Punters are then encouraged to decorate their tent with the aid of paints, crayons, and other art materials, to make their weekend home stand out from the crowd.
After the party’s over, the Kartents are dismantled and shipped to the Netherlands for recycling. They aren’t immediately pulped; instead, in a far more emission-efficient system, the intact cardboard is cut to patterns and converted to furniture or boxes for a home removals firm before the residual cuttings are pulped.
“The products we make from the old tents are really nice because they have paint and crayons on them,” Portheine says. “When you cut them, you don’t see complete drawings, but they are colourful.”
While many commentators heap shame on festival-goers for ditching tents, Portheine says punters have reasons other than hungover laziness for abandoning their temporary accommodation.
“The reason young people leave these tents behind is not only because they’re lazy, but because they’re on a low budget,” he says. “Cheap tents break really easily because they are designed to.”
With that in mind, cardboard is a cheap material that can offer a solution for a comparable price to forking out for a so-called “festival tent”, like those sold by Irish retailers over the summer.
It’s lightweight, surprisingly durable, and party people might appreciate that the interior of a cardboard tent stays blessedly dark and cool in the morning when that hangover makes its ungodly presence felt.
But the bottom line is always going to be money, Portheine says, especially for bigger festivals. “We have been trying to get our tents into Electric Picnic for four years straight because we feel we can bring a really big benefit,” he says.
Tents can be made from a combination of different materials including nylon, plastics, and metals of different grades, and are difficult to recycle, although there have been a couple of fashion start-ups manufacturing wet gear from disposed-of tents.
Reuse is preferable to recycling in the ideal waste hierarchy, Portheine acknowledges: “If you bought an expensive tent to use your whole life, that would be better than for the environment than our system, of course. But in the way that festivals and the business of tents is going, we’re not seeing that being done at the moment.”
Due to their large size, Kartents are only available as a pre-pitch option; in Ireland that’s done through festival supplies delivery company Pamper The Camper.
The next Irish festival to feature Kartents is this weekend’s Forever Young, the new ’80s-themed festival which debuts this year with a strong ecological focus and a line-up including the Human League and Kim Wilde.
The entrepreneurial company are currently working on a prototype for a structurally reliable Kartent that fits in a backpack, which would be available for retail. After that, Portheine hopes, the future of festival camping could be very corrugated indeed.
Kartents will be available at Ireland’s first ’80s festival, Forever Young Festival in Palmerstown House, Naas, this weekend, July 5-7. For more info, visit foreveryoungfestival.ie