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Patches of Green

| Lewis Akenji

As the number of visitors and the intensity of activity on the Sziget Festival island increase, so are the environmental effects and concerns about the carrying capacity of the niche island.

The last ten years have seen a constant near geometric influx of visitor numbers to the Hajógyári Island each August for the weeklong Sziget Festival, for a pop-culture salad of music concerts, games, parties and uninhibited pleasure mongering. The event’s dates are becoming a reference mark on the calendar of Budapest for music lovers streaming in from all over Europe. This year, the organisers plan to reach a record 400 thousand visitors, as well as increase the assortment of programs. But as the number of visitors and the intensity of activity on the island increase, so are the environmental effects and concerns about the carrying capacity of the niche island. As Ákos Dominus, environmental officer at the Sziget, explains in the following interview, such challenges are causing the organisers to open up parts of the festival to a forum of environmental awareness. While the positive initiatives are applauded, more action will be needed than is currently being undertaken.

Tudatos Vásárlók Egyesülete: Your website mentions active interest in the environment. Is that out of a need you see in protecting the environment or because it advertises to potential visitors who are environmentally conscious?

Dominus Ákos: We have two concerns on environmental protection: first, the Festival is quite a big exertion on the environment; and people visiting the Festival are coming to gain new experiences and a lot of cultural knowledge. They are really open minded while living and having fun in the festival area, so we suppose that they would be easily informed and educated for environmentally conscious life. Besides these, there is a real need to take precaution on certain fields: we have to make efforts against pollution (too much dust and too much noise).

TVE: Your website mentions the terms of a contract which demands to rebuild the place back into its original condition. Could you please tell more about the contract, and examples of things about the island you are supposed to rebuild?

D.A.: Sziget LTD., the organiser of the festival rents the area from the municipality of Budapest. We cannot make any irreversible changes to it, and can’t leave any trash on the island after the festival. So we’re not allowed to cut off trees or build new roads. We also made a research in 2003 and we found that the Festival doesn’t affect different life forms too much, and the nature of the area fully recovers by the next spring after the festival.

TVE: Do you have any specific educational aspects/programs on the Sziget that encourage visitors and help them to understand the importance of responsible consumption, as well as directing them to make use of the selective waste bins etc?

D.A.: Sziget has two main educational aspects: one is the Green Courtyard where NGO’s present their programs and themselves. They have many topics related to the problems of consumption, they hold lectures and exhibits. On the practical hand we run the selective waste management and also an educational program. We offer merchandising stuff for those who return certain amounts of different types of garbage. We sign each waste bin with different colours, use information boards by waste bins and also have volunteers to help to inform visitors. This way, we try to raise awareness towards selective waste management.

TVE: How do you ensure that selective waste collected on the island does not end up in municipal waste dumps but are actually taken for treatment or recycling?

D.A.: The selective waste is taken to separate containers on the festival island which belong to our partners, the ÉAI Hungary Public Benefit Company (alu cans) and Feparec Ltd. (PET.)

TVE: Can you mention a few things the Sziget organizers have done to ensure improved environment on the island?

D.A.: We cover the dirt roads with hexagonal plastic tiles. We have all stages covered to isolate noise and we also have a guarded bike storage facility for those using this alternative transportation form. As mentioned above, we made a survey during the 2003 festival to check how big impact the animal life and vegetation gets.

TVE: How much approximately do you spend just on maintaining or improving the natural environment of the island?

D.A.:Our budget is about 300 000 euros for selective waste management, soil pollution and noise reduction.

TVE: Do you work together with environmental organizations on the Sziget? If so what are roles or functions they have?

D.A.: Waste Working Group (www.humusz,hu) helped us in training our staff. Besides this we try to raise awareness for the programs of the Green Courtyard.

TVE: Are there any specific conditions for your sponsors and/or commercial dealers on the sziget to ensure environmentally friendly behaviour related to the consumption of their products?

D.A.: Commercial dealers, if they run a food-stand or a drink bar, have to use selective bins for glass, plastic and for food leftovers. Sponsors always offer merchandising for our full-for-empty action (where we give out beer/apple/non-alcoholic beverages for 50 pieces of empty cans or bottles collected by visitors).

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