What happens to the tents that are left after festivals?

What happens to the tents that are left after festivals?

Let me paint you a picture.


It’s August 21st 2004, and a newly turned 16 year old me has just collected her GCSE results. I went with my friends as both my parents were working. My arch nemesis, English teacher Mrs Walton, stared at me with her eyes like daggers and much like Mrs Walton I had very low expectations for my results. My attendance in the last year inferred I was leading a double life (I wasn't), I had the attention span of a fish (and the brain cells of one too, so I was told) and my enthusiasm for school was nil. But I opened the A4 sized brown envelope and was shocked: I passed, all 9 GSCEs and I even got an A in English! (After reading this blog you will fully understand why this was a shock.)


My main group of friends were all older than me, and were avid festival goers. The 21st of August was a big day that year, not because of my GCSE results, no, it was the day I was going to my first ever music festival! I Had tickets to see Greenday, The White Stripes and The Darkness at Leeds Festival for the whole weekend. I couldn’t wait!


I piled most of my worldly belongings into a backpack, which consisted of pants, socks, tiny shorts, band t's, a black hoody and some baby wipes, and about 5 packs of super noodles. My friends were bringing camping gear that they had borrowed from friends and family.


Borrowing Kit

I grew up in a working class family. We had everything we needed but we didn't have the money to spend on camping equipment. If you were into camping, or outdoor pursuits, back then it costed far more than it does today. And you didn't have anywhere near the amount of choice you have now. In 2004 tens cost anything from £150 upwards. So borrowing and sharing from friends and family like this, even sleeping bags, was completely normal.


The time we took setting up the tents was pretty minimal, we didn't really care what our set up looked like, we just wanted to get to the music. As long as we had somewhere to crawl into in the early hours we were pretty happy.


Like I said, borrowing kit was the norm and even though I went to a lot of festivals I still didn't invest in the gear. However borrowing came with its own responsibilities and I soon came to realise after a couple of festivals how important it was to look after the stuff you brought with you. It seemed it was just a rule that unless your tent got set on fire you packed it up dry and took it home.


My first festival was such an experience; the amazing bands, the huge elated crowds and even the weather, which was typically British but we didn't really care. I got the festival bug pretty early on, and this is how I spent my summers far into my twenties.


Creamfields 2023

Fast forward (almost 20 years!) to salvaging at Creamfields last year and I am faced with a wall of red, green and blue tents. Over 80% of all the tents taken were left behind.


As I worked for Go Outdoors for 6 years I recognised most of the brands; Hi-Gear, Euro Hike, Regatta, Quetcha etc. However these were not the bulk of what we saw. In volume were brands from Argos, Lidl, Aldi and other supermarkets and low budget stores. When we checked the prices of these tents they started at £30!


Another thing we found strange whilst salvaging, was the sheer amount of stuff that was in and around the tents! It was as if people were living there and then had just evaporated. Blow up beds and sofas, fold up chairs, tables, blankets, sleeping bags, rucksacks and unopened food were just some of the things we found in the hundreds. We, of course, could not make a dent in what needed cleaning up.



No way could we make a difference on our own. Ben and I drove there in my estate car but we could have filled 1000 Transit vans! The salvaging team for Creamfields consisted of 20 people from different charities and organisations and some people were just there for a good rummage.


We were told on the day of salvage that we had to wait for the site to be cleared before going in. We waited 3 hours, but the site had to be safe. We arrived at the "gold" camping site at 3pm. We had until dark to get as much as we could, then the site would be closed and everything left would be bulldozed and sent straight to landfill.


That feeling, of what little impact we could make in the short amount of time with the small amount of resources and space we had, was overwhelming. We had definitely bit off more than we could chew.


Whilst salvaging I couldn't stop thinking about how my camping set up in 2004 compared to the ones in front of me. I think the teenagers of this festival would definitely laugh at how little we had. But stood in that field I didn't feel envious for what these festival goers had, I just felt sad. It felt like so much money had been spent on this one experience that they never planned to do it again. The experience, product, memories all just thrown away and left to go to waste.


Our Purpose

In those few hours salvaging we saved 50 tents and about 30 sleeping bags from landfill. But the biggest gain took from that day was a huge sense of purpose for ReTribe Clothing. We have given ourselves a target to salvage 100,000 tents in our lifetime and to do that we need a tribe. We hope on our next salvaging mission we can call upon you guys and get those transit vans into action!


The product we salvage will be repaired, or repurposed or reused.


Check out our upcycled products available to buy online and the events we are attending over the next few months. Everything is remade in our factory in Sheffield, all from waste otherwise destined for landfill.


(I would love to show you some photos of an awkward 16 year old me at Leeds festivals but, thankfully, I didn't have a digital camera or Facebook then! Haha what a time it was!)

Back to blog