Waterkant 2019: a festival truly zero waste

Waterkant.sh is a crossborder start-up festival (mostly Schleswig-Holstein and the Baltic area) with interactive workshops, inspiring speakers, innovative and engaging ideas and informal exchange as well as about 1,000 visitors. The festival, now for the 4th time, shows the growing attention for sustainable topics such as climate change, mobility and waste reduction. This year, part of the organization team – Sylvie Rham, Alexander Ohrt, Tim Logan and Eliza Rottengatter from Opencampus.sh – supported by Zero Waste Kiel e.V., created a systematic waste reduction concept for the festival. With their motto „RE//THINK.“ they placed the festival at the top of the Zero Waste hierarchy!

RE//THINK. as motto of the Waterkant 2019 edition

For Zero Waste Kiel e.V., this experience benefits one of their current projects where a modular „Zero Waste Certification“ system for festivals, organizations, businesses or institutions is being designed. This project was submitted to the Cross Border Innovation Challenge of Kiel Region and will be further developed at European level with other members of the Zero Waste Europe network.

To go Zero Waste, you need certain ingredients: logistic skills, common sense, but also a strong will, passion and creativity. Those first two ingredients are the minimum qualities you would expect from good and experienced festival organizers. But we have experienced more will, passion and creativity than we could have believed beforehand! I would like to cite Sylvie who wrote the following on the festival’s blog:

„We sat down with Marie and Marc Delaperierre from unverpackt and Zero Waste Kiel e.V. to systematically go through the places where the festival generates waste and what possible alternatives would be. It wasn’t easy at first, because you don’t notice habits at first glance. But once we had started to think through the different areas, we realised more and more and came up with new ideas. It was like being in a frenzy! And the best thing about it was that it was fun and playful and incredibly creative!“


Finally, even if some improvements can still be made, the festival that took place on 13th and 14th of June truly deserves the title of a „Zero Waste Festival“. Let’s have a closer look at some of the Zero Waste examples.

Alexander (picture: opencampus)

Festival infrastructure

The festival itself is located in an old naval pilot squadron on the seaside of Kiel, temporarily giving new life to the place. Almost all decoration was made of re-used (and re-usable) materials and second hand furniture. Signs where not painted, but written with chalk, ensuring the possibility to re-use them for the next festivals. Plants used for decoration were sold in an auction by the end of the festival.

Food and drinks

Water is a resource necessary for life and tap water is the most sustainable way to distribute it. In many festivals, you do not have access to it or need to beg for a glass of free water. Many caterer or beverage sellers believe that it would lower their benefits. No worry: as long as water, and not beer, flows out of the tap, this will not happen. On the contrary, a glass of water can make one feel better again and ready for the next glass of wine! In the old warehouse, water distribution points are very limited. Despite of this, the team took care and refilled several big jars of water in the central area of the festival.

In the same area, fruits, vegetables and chutney was offered for free by the group of foodsavers called Resteritter.

Food trucks and caterers were present as well: food and beverage was handed in reusable dishes. Disposables were entirely banned from the festival. Eating from a prober plate is not only a matter of Zero Waste: it also makes one’s meal more enjoyable. Doesn’t matter whether it is a vegan wrap or a classic „Currywurst“. Disposable straws were replaced by natural straws (or by no straw at all) and cloth napkins were used instead of paper ones.

„Spülbar“, an initiative providing a dishwasher mounted on a heavy duty bicycle, was taking care of the cleaning.

What you see and what you do not see

Zero Waste can be frustrating, especially when you wish for your efforts to be visible. This is difficult when your Zero Waste alternatives mean that there might be nothing to see:

No name tags for participants (in previous years they reused beer coasters as name tags), no marks on the parking area and so on.

Waste management

A good on-site waste management is essential. Festival visitors can be lazy, so they need to quickly find the waste bins if you do not want to end-up with a trashed place. Therefore, bins for sorting trash were placed in several spots. In the same way, close to each waste station, a box was placed for collecting deposit bottles and reusable dishes. Some helpers contributed to keeping it well organized during the festival.

The local waste management company ABK, already supporting the waste collection actions organized by Zero Waste Kiel e.V., reacted very positively to the demand of several bins to make separating the waste possible. To challenge us, they provided only one residual waste bin for the entire festival!

Shortly before the festival, Marie did a last check-in with the organisers and delivered last advices on how to make the waste management logistic efficient between stands, caterer  and central bins.

Zero waste communication

A festival needs publicity to be visited. Usually there would be flyers, signs and the like. One might also receive a goodies take home. Waterkant adopts a minimalistic approach, with a limited number of flyers in postcard format placed in strategic places as well as an online communication.

Besides that, the festival’s reputation gained from previous years was enough to attract visitors.

In the same way, no flyers were distributed during the festival and information about sponsors and partners was reduced to one wall.

Communication on zero waste

To make a festival zero waste, you need to communicate it to your visitors, partners, suppliers (which can be chosen among sustainable regional companies), exhibitors and any other actors so that they join your efforts and do not go the opposite way (eg. delivering beverage in plastic bottles).

This was made very clear by the Waterkant Festival’s team in all communication preceding the festival. There was a code of conduct, several blog articles explaining zero waste choices on the festival’s website as well reminders throughout the festival:

First, in his opening talk, Tim Logan announced the zero waste character of the festival. Second, the sorting containers allowed for visitors to actually see the waste produced during the festival and its preparation.

Zero Waste Kiel e.V. were also present with their highly visible stand. Skadi Frahm, Pia Stock and Frederike Fahrenbach provided information on what zero waste means and how our association promotes zero waste in lifestyle, businesses and cities.

And we can proudly talk about our the result of all communication efforts: Zero Waste was universally respected by visitors, exhibitors and partners – and very little waste produced!

Room for improvement for the next years? Accepting imperfection and wrapping-up.

Since this year’s edition was a performance, it will be even more challenging in the coming years. Of course not everything was perfect: caterers who did not play the game and proposed paper tissues or carton plates, insufficient signs causing confusion regarding the different waste bins, and room for improving the Zero Waste idea even further.

The Zero Waste approach and an honest intention to follow it up were essential. What’s left to do in the next years is to improve logistic and communication.

Zero Waste Kiel e.V. will meet up again with the festival’s core team. We will look at actions done, remaining potentials and end with a quantified wrap-up of the waste outcome. But be sure, this is only a pretext for some informal talk („schnacken“ as we say in Northern Germany) and celebrate.

Reproduce and scale up the model

Festivals, exhibitions or any other events are frequently used to promote new products, brands or technologies as they impact a large and receptive public. But, as shown by Waterkant, they can also demonstrate to the same large public that new ecological visions such as Zero Waste (Waterkant also addressed topics like mobility – inspiring visitors to come by bike -, food and energy) are a reality and accessible, and thus be actors and multipliers of the social changes necessary to face today’s ecological challenges.

Marc Delaperrière

Many thanks to the Opencampus.sh team!

Pictures: Pia Stock, Marie & Marc Delaperrière, zero waste kiel e.V.

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