Island Vibe Festival

It’s not often that Green Chief is faced with a complete fail in one of our systems, but 2013’s Island Vibe provided us with one that gave a great opportunity to learn.

2012’s compost pile at the local community Bushcare nursery had contained way too many PLA cups, bowls and plates. As we discovered, these take far longer than a year to decompose in a low maintenance  compost heap. To clarify, low maintenance is a heap that is turned 3 or 4 times annually and in this instance no new materials were to be added. Watering occurred on an ‘as needed’ basis.

The problem occurred three weeks before the festival when limited space dictated that 2012’s compost be used. As it was littered with semi- decomposed cups, these had to be pulled out by hand- an arduous task for an estimated 3000 cups alone! As Bushcare are a group of volunteers who meet just once a week, this was considered to be too much, and although the 7m3 pile had shrunk down to 2.7m3, this all made it’s way to the local landfill. A sad day for all. To make matters seemingly worse, our contact with Bushcare had retired and in her wake introduced a new, inexperienced composter, who wasn’t at all sure this compost arrangement was achievable.

After exploring a few different avenues for organic waste disposal, Green Chief knew we had to make it work. Otherwise landfill would be the fate of our future organics, for years to come. So a plan was devised: No more PLA cups, bowls or plates into the composting stream. And to err on the side of caution, only very limited sugarcane and bamboo products allowed. This bought up another problem. Market stallholders who sell hot or cold drinks currently still do no have a replacement product that is PLA free.We knew that all PLA items would be destined for landfill- yes, they would break down eventually but they would be producing methane, a noxious greenhouse gas. Which meant the message of ‘biodegradable/compostable only’ which is usually relayed to our stallholders had to be changed to ‘plastics only’ to ensure we could at least recycle forks, cups, plates etc. A move that made logistical and systematic sense but ethically, promoting the use of petro-plastics on an island surrounded by sea, just didn’t seem right.

Communication of course was the answer. Explanation to all food stallholders why the new standard compostable PLA products had to be banned. Explanation of a low maintenance composting system to Bushcare, who were very willing and positive. Explanation to patrons why, exactly, their hot and cold drinks were a thorn in the Sustainability departments side. Suffice to say, after a whole lot of talking and a last minute ‘BYO cup’  campaign (backed up with a 50c discount at all drinks bought with a BYO cup) we had a workable solution. And after less than 6 months, we had a perfectly biodegraded compost heap, ready for Bushcare to use and had a set a precedent for reusable cups, rather than single use cups. Truly triumph through failure.

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Coming into its fourth year of partnership with Island Vibe Festival, Green Chief has carefully set about the holistic revitalization of the overall environmental sustainability of an event that’s set in a undeniably beautiful and fragile ecosystem. For the first time an Environmental Risk Assessment was produced for the event, spearheaded by a wonderfully passionate Viber, keen to use his professional knowledge to improve our awareness of the potential for damage through usual event practices. Green Chief hope to provide a template for this assessment for other events to use in an upcoming post.

How inspiring it is to be offered help from the larger festival community, as well as the local community.

North Stradbroke islanders in particular have a ‘can do’ attitude, most noticed in this years composting process- often a tribulation that is difficult to force to fruition as it requires both space and time, both of which many festivals working on a temporary site do not have over the course of a year. Point Lookout Bushcare were willing to house the valuable organic resource, with a longterm view to help in their battle against dune degradation. At the end of the festival 8 cubic meters of organic waste mixed with wood mulch as a starter culture were delivered as a willing team of volunteers piled sugarcane mulch bales (another ‘waste’ product of the festival) into walls. The aim was to create a hot compost, achieved by regular watering and regular turning, to aid the breakdown of PLA cups, bowls and plates. The temperature was monitored over the following months to keep it close to 70+ degrees. The result has been a decrease in size and production of a rich compost, with final turning of the pile happening in the upcoming weeks.

Data collection is often the key to improving sustainability initiatives. After all, without measurement how is it possible to know if improvements have been made? As part of the A Greener Festival awards scheme, electricity and water meters have been decoded and biodiesel usage has been submitted to the Julie’s Bicycle Ig tool to provide an accurate carbon emissions footprint. Data from the transport survey highlighted an increase in car sharing-averaging between 3 and 4 people per car and more people using public transport than ever before. All in all it’s true to say that coordinating the whole event’s sustainability is an honor and a continuous learning experience. Certainly an experience we’d like to be part of at our other regular festivals-environmental sustainability touches every part of an event, if you let it.


After hooking up with the Island Vibe crew in 2010 under the direction of the lovely Heidi O’Sullivan, Green Chief took on the full sustainability contract this year for the much-loved North Stradbroke Island roots and reggae event. It was a wonderful start to the summer season, with ocean dips in between shifts, a stellar festival crew who became instant family, a complement of enthusiastic volunteers and some great music to boot.

As the festival goers camped further up the island, the focus of festival sustainability efforts was on education and engagement. Our roving ‘Butt Hunters’ and carbon offset survey agents helped to crack down on littering smokers and educate the masses on carbon credit options. This complemented a number of conservation-themed market stalls encouraging eco-awareness at the festival. All recycling systems were visible to the audience and the compost pile was interactive. This attracted a mixed response, but enthusiasm outweighed the negatives- people love to get involved and learn. With a bit of tweaking we hope to improve on keeping the audience engaged and informed.

Although we encountered a bit of trash left on the beautiful beach the crowd was generally tidy and willing to do their part, including buying plenty of the reusable Island Vibe cups to use at the bar. We love all the little extra things Island Vibe puts in for a more sustainable event and look forward to more innovations and solutions.


North Stradbroke Island is a stunning location for a festival and it was an honour to leave the site, nestled between Mallaluca swamp and pristine Home Beach, in immaculate condition. Our very own Heidi O’Sullivan had been tasked with the role of Sustainability Co-ordinator, which involved not only organising recycling and waste provisions, but dealing with grey water catchment and storage, collaborating with the Queensland EPA to make the event Butt Free, running a stallholders meeting to educate them on community compostable items as well as a million other little jobs which inevitably delve into all areas of the festival management structure. With 3 months of pre-work Heidi did Green Chief proud and Island Vibe would have been pretty stoked too as the final waste-to-landfill figure came in at around 6m3, a fantastic feat not only by working with a team of dedicated volunteers (some real stars among this years group) but also involving the Local Community Gardens and supplying them with over 4m3 of compost. But the compostable material wasn’t the biggest potential waste Island Vibe donated-there was also a Whale constructed from bamboo that has been re-located to the gardens, with hopes it can be used as a greenhouse in the coming months.

All together the Vibes did the environment proud. I have never been to an event before where after the Main Stage dancefloor cleared only 3 handfuls of rubbish had to be picked up from the floor. It was incredible. I heard that an assessor from the coveted A Greener Festival award was also in attendance and based on all I saw, smelt and felt over the weekend I hope that Island Vibe manages to pick up some accolades for all their hard work towards expanding the environmental consciousness.