• Morgan Fagg

Re: Cycling, about time we got on our bikes and off our asses (E.P.F. 2019)

Twenty years ago, I went to Portugal for my first European Festival to take part in the Cycling Competition. Twenty years later I went to take part in the Photography Competition but couldn’t help but notice a distinct lack of either recycling or environmentalism.

The year is 2019 but I was there to party like it was 1999 and I would have to wonder what progress we have made in two decades. I decided to attend a meeting for organisers of the event as I had a question or two about the Photography Competition but I ended up with huge insights into the organisation of such a festival.

One issue that came up was plastic cups. Countries were told that they couldn’t use their own plastic cups at the festival and this was a huge issue for a lot of countries who had travelled very far and with alcohol and supplies that had cost a lot of money to bring to Portugal. Instead in the Expo arena we were to use reusable cups that would cost you 50 cent.

People were very frustrated being told they couldn’t use plastic cups and a Portuguese organiser said that had only learnt about the restrictions a few months ago. Naturally I started to wonder why that information couldn’t have been shared days or weeks ago with the rest of the countries but instead, I decided to ask directly, why can’t plastic cups be used and asked “is it for security or the environment?

The story we were then told was that it was for the environment and that the region had won a prestigious environmental award that it risked losing if the Expo grounds were full of waste etc.

My concern was that people would end up taking their shot of liquor and emptying the contents from one plastic container to another one without any real benefit or the unnecessary duplication of waste as people moved a drink from disposable container to a sturdier environmental container which would not reduce any waste at all.

This didn’t happen and countries were able to use their plastic cups in the end but I was still waiting to see some recycling or environmentalism taking place which never happened.

I’ve been an environmental advocate ever since I have been a teenager and have always encouraged cycling as a form of transport and have been critical of excessive packaging for a couple of decades but I am all talk.

My apartment is not powered by love or hugs or solar or wind power and while I separate my plastics, cardboard and glass, that is something I have only been doing well for about six months. 

I have however seen first hand a festival that did run on recycling and love. Back in 2002, I spend several days (Less than a week actually) in Ecotopia which was an Environmental gathering that took place in the woods of County Clare that year. It was incredible.

The first night they served vegan food which sucked. It was the blandest stuff I’ve ever eaten and not worth the €5 a day costs for three daily meals. The next day things were different as they started to add nuts and spices. Suddenly I could see myself enjoying the odd vegan meal and only occasionally snuck off to the town for some curried cheese chips.

There were a few wheelie bins on site and when I put a plastic bag of rubbish in one, I realised that those bins were for 700 people and I was single handedly producing most of the waste.

On one occasion I enjoyed mint tea which was a mint leaf in a cup of boiling water and on another occasion they hooked a laptop up to a bicycle to show a video and I volunteered to power it.

The friction provided the power but it wasn’t easy to cycle that contraption and I was amazed how little leg power I was providing. It was a laptop, not a Ferris wheel and not a washing machine. 

17 years later, I was enjoying drinks with a Belgian girl at the European Festival when we got talking about the environment and she criticised the lack of recycling at the event. I started to think, isn’t this an award-winning region etc and began taking a very critical look at our event.

Like Ecotopia, we were fed three times a day but what an absolute waste. There was no organic waste bin that I saw being used so any food waste went straight in with the plastic waste and there was a lot of plastic waste. Brittle plastic knives and forks meant that people were taking extra cutlery as the disposable cutlery wasn’t fit for even single-use. 

When it came to having something to drink, we were given a plastic cup filled from glass jugs but people were taking two cups of water at a time, doubling the amount of waste. On one occasion, I brought along my own sturdy plastic cup but I should have done it every time and by putting those glass jugs full of water on the dining tables, people would only have needed a single cup. Simple.

Again extra cutlery near the dining tables could have reduced waste compared to taking more than was needed from where we were served the food.

Can you imagine if we were using those sturdy plastic cups that cost 50c at the Expo arena instead of disposable plastic? Imagine if we used glasses at the food hall and actual cutlery. Cheap cutlery not the good silver but something that cleans easily in a dishwasher. I didn’t see any Greeks at the festival this year so we could have even used ceramic plates.

When I was in college in AIT, I made an issue about using glass mugs versus polystyrene cups. As glass cups broke, they weren’t being replaced so people would take from the polystyrene pile and not the dwindling number of glasses and worse people would take two cups as the outer cup acted as insulation. 

I annoyed my friends a lot but they did buy me a cup as a present and I used it every day and rinsed it in boiling water before putting it in my locker. The cup was a nice gift but I doubt I encouraged anyone else to reduce the waste and I was probably just annoyed my friends. I was certainly annoyed that people were talking about the environment at the European Festival without seeing anything to show for it. Twenty years is a long time not to see any progress between festivals.

If there was any environmentalism award in this region known for forest fires then whoever is handing out environmental awards in Portugal should be hanged from the nearest burning tree. The world is on fire as Disney's Bill Nye the Science Guy has had to spell out to people recently.

It’s time we got on our bikes, powered our laptops and reused something before throwing it in the bin with all the food and plastic waste that could have easily been separated.

You might think I am being too hard on a weeklong festival but even when I went to a Portuguese beach and wanted to bin a Coke can, I was confronted by three different coloured bins but with no signage to say what the colours represented.

I looked in each bin to see what other people had dumped in the bins but seeing to obvious option for my coke can, I was reduced to throwing it the nearest one. Maybe I was meant to throw it in the ocean or something, I don’t know but as the Amazon and Arctic burn the real question is, who even cares? 

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