Oktoberfest – The Environmental Oscar Recipient

Have you ever heard of an Environmental Oscar for festivals?

Festivals and celebrations are almost always associated with waste, especially those that serve up food in disposables. One local example is the Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar where drinks are sold in plastic bottles or cups, and the food is packed in Styrofoam boxes. In Singapore, waste from New Year Countdown parties amounts to almost 35,000 kg per year (Loke, 2017).

However, there is one festival in the world that has managed to stay sustainable, even landing the city of Munich a project prize for “Environmental Guidelines Governing Major Events” in 1997 also dubbed the “Environmental Oscar” (Department of Labor and Economic Development, 2017).

The Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer and folk festival that originated in Munich, Germany, attracting close to 6 million visitors per year (Bridge, 2018). Despite its scale, this festival serves food on ceramic plates, beer in 1 litre mugs and uses real cutlery, unlike many other festivals that rely on disposables (Department of Labor and Economic Development, 2017). This is partly due to the ban on disposable tableware from 1991 which has reduced trash from the festival by 90 percent (Krause, 2015).

In this photo, festival goers can be seen dining and drinking beer with reusable crockery

Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

Dirty water from dishwashing is then reused to flush toilets, saving water (Department of Labor and Economic Development, 2017).

Since 2012, Oktoberfest has been powered by only renewable energy, from its food stands to toilets to carnival rides (The Munich Eye News, n.d.). This is a significant amount of energy, given Oktoberfest uses enough power for 1,200 households at 3 million kilowatt hours every year (The Munich Eye News, n.d.).

Rides at the Oktoberfest require a large amount of energy

Image retrieved from flickr

All these green practices make Oktoberfest sound like a dream come true for the environmentally conscious, but just how sustainable is the Oktoberfest, given the 7.7 million litres of beer consumed at Oktoberfest on average (Muenchen.de, 2018)?

I thought it would be interesting to consider the water footprint of beer. Water footprint refers to the total amount of water that goes into producing the product. For beer, this includes the amount of water used to cultivate hops and barley. Although there are no studies on the water footprint of beer produced in Germany, studies on other countries have found the value to range from 60 litres to 300 litres of water per litre of beer (Kaye, 2011). That equates to at least 462 million litres of water behind the beer that is consumed at Oktoberfest!

Nevertheless, beer is still much more sustainable than milk and coffee, which have a water footprint of 1,020 litres per kg and 1040 litres per litre respectively (Hoekstra and Water Footprint Network, 2017).

This is why Oktoberfest deserved that Environmental Oscar.

 

References:

Loke K.F. (1 Jan 2017). After the New Year parties, the big clean-up begins

Retrieved from: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/after-the-new-year-parties-the-big-clean-up-begins-7528472

Bridge A. (17 Sep 2018). Everything you need to know about Oktoberfest – including how to book a last-minute trip

Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/germany/munich/articles/Oktoberfest-Munich-guide/

Krause R. (21 Sep 2015). Earth-lovers in Lederhosen: Oktoberfest goes green

Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/earth-lovers-in-lederhosen-oktoberfest-goes-green/a-18722603

Department of Labor and Economic Development, City of Munich (27 Jul 2017). The ecological Oktoberfest: a successful model

Retrieved from: https://www.muenchen.de/rathaus/dam/jcr:07996923-1393-41e2-9612-3e643ee89ddf/W11_EcologicalOktoberfest2017_ENG.pdf

The Munich Eye News (n.d.). Environmentally friendly Oktoberfest

Retrieved from: https://themunicheye.com/news/Environmentally-friendly-Oktoberfest-1941

Muenchen.de (2018). The Oktoberfest in numbers

Retrieved from: https://www.muenchen.de/veranstaltungen/oktoberfest/schmankerl/wiesn-in-zahlen.html

Kaye L. (16 Aug 2011) Breweries across the world strive to decrease beer’s water footprint

Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/brewing-companies-water-usage-footprint

Hoekstra A. and Water Footprint Network (2017). The global-average water footprint of crop and animal products

Retrieved from: http://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/product-gallery/

6 thoughts on “Oktoberfest – The Environmental Oscar Recipient

  1. Daphne

    Hi Si Hui!

    I have always considered disposables at festivals and events to be a necessary evil, thinking it was impossible to ensure hygiene and collection of reusable cutlery. I was amazed and shocked to learn that Oktoberfest managed to do it! It certainly is a heartening example that brings hope to me and it would be good if others were to adopt it.

    Taking into account your questions about the sustainability of beer, I would like to share an article I found about the environmentally responsible beer brewery https://www.forbes.com/sites/darrendahl/2016/01/27/how-new-belgium-brewing-has-found-sustainable-success/#765c11c286a6, maybe you would like to consider that in your analysis of the sustainability of the beer industry. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Si Hui Post author

      Hi Daphne,

      Thank you for your comment!

      I know what you mean – I was also very surprised to know that it was possible for a festival to rely on reusables completely. I couldn’t believe it until I saw pictures of it for myself! The example of Oktoberfest proves that going disposable-free for large-scale events is possible if we try hard enough.

      Thanks for sharing the article on New Belgium brewery. It is pretty impressive that they are a Platinum certified Zero Waste Business and that they are constantly striving to reduce their water usage and environmental impacts. I think other breweries should definitely look to New Belgium brewery as a role model in sustainability!

      Cheers,
      Si Hui

      Reply
  2. Vinnie

    Hello!!!!
    What an interesting post on the Oktoberfest! I’ve always heard about this festival but never really about the environmental aspects of it. I’ve seen that Singapore has been celebrating the Oktoberfest as well. I was just wondering, are the environmentally friendly practices of the Oktoberfest only practised in Germany? Or is it consistent in every part of the world where it is celebrated?
    Looking forward to your reply 🙂

    – Vinnie

    Reply
    1. Si Hui Post author

      Hi Vinnie,

      I’m glad you found this post interesting!

      That’s a good point you raised. Oktoberfest started as a folk festival in Munich, Germany, but due to its success, there have since been many spin-offs from the original festival. In North America alone, there are approximately 150 versions of the Oktoberfest!

      Unfortunately, the sustainability aspect of the original Oktoberfest is not always replicated in these spin-offs. From researching on the different versions of the Oktoberfest, I found that some offer beer and food in disposables. One example is the Kirkland Oktoberfest in Washington. Regrettably, many of the spin-off Oktoberfest celebrations seem to focus more on the festivities and high spirits of the festival, neglecting the environmental efforts of the original Oktoberfest. This is definitely an area of improvement that organisers should consider.

      I hope this answers your question 🙂

      Cheers,
      Si Hui

      Reply
  3. Joey Chua

    Hello Si Hui!

    They say that everyone is bound to learn something new each day and thanks to you, I have come to know about the Environment Oscar. Having attended the Oktoberfest for the first time 2 years back, I brought along my personal mug to the festival (never mind if I got judged for it) because I thought that they were going to use disposable plastic cups like how all the other festivals normally do which is not what I intended to use. To be really honest, I was shocked when I realized that they provided us with mugs and I was very happy about it. So at that point of time till now, I always have the impression that mugs were always provided, unaware of the ban of disposables back in 1991 that made it switch to mugs instead which is even better! Also, there do not seem to have any qualms about using mugs instead of plastic cups because I think that drinking directly from a mug gives the drinkers a better experience. While it is good that 90% of the trash from Oktoberfest has been reduced ever since the switch to glass mugs, I am curious to know what trash constitutes to the remaining 10%. Can that 10% of the remaining trash be further reduced since Oktoberfest has already managed to reduce up to 90% of its trash despite being such a popular festival? I would love to hear your thoughts about this.

    Cheers,
    Joey

    Reply
    1. Si Hui Post author

      Hi Joey,

      It’s so cool that you went to the Oktoberfest! I would love to attend it one day too. It’s really great that you brought your own mug on your holiday 🙂

      As for your question, although there has been a ban on disposable tableware, food stands still serve finger food like pretzels and nuts on napkins and paper liners. But according to the Department of Labor and Economic Development, all trash is sorted and recycled where possible. I would think much of the waste also comes from food waste which is difficult to eliminate.

      I think that it would be difficult for the food stalls to get rid of the paper liners as it is the most cost-effective way for them to serve finger foods. Thus, in order to further reduce the 10% of waste from Oktoberfest, individuals would have to play an active role by refusing disposable napkins and bringing their own food wraps or containers, for example.

      Cheers,
      Si Hui

      Reply

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