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Respect Reduce Reuse Recycle

Canaan Downs Festival and the Philosophy of Waste

Respect Reduce Reuse Recycle


"…how we express ourselves and how we imagine ourselves.

And what we leave behind to define our passing."

The Canaan Downs Festival philosophy is simple – we are defined by what we leave behind.

For the organisers of the Canaan Downs Festival (CDF), many years spent dancing outdoors to the finest Aotearoa electronic and roots acts, has fostered a spiritual connection to the land that is one of the driving forces behind their commitment to Zero Waste.

For volunteer Waste Educator, Sharon McIver, the influence of the landscape on both the dancers and the musicians inspired her to undertake a Doctorate of Philosophy on outdoor dance events in Aotearoa. Her graduation from the University of Canterbury next week will mark the completion of seven years of research, during which time she attended over sixty events, picking up rubbish at virtually all.

"You name it, I've picked it up," she says. "And it's given me the greatest insight into consumer culture as a whole, of which dance culture is a microcosm."

When Sharon began her research she had no idea that the collection of all 'the little things' left behind by dancers, crew and vendors would become a central theme in her thesis.

"I wanted to argue that through dancing we become more spiritually connected to the land, and as a result, become more environmentally conscious. I still believe that is true for many dancers, but when most of the events were strewn with cigarette butts, broken plastic, and all the other detritus of our consumer driven lifestyles, I realised that our dreams of being an environmentally conscious culture had yet to translate into reality."

Over the years Sharon has learned to carry some essentials when picking up trash – gloves, pliers, and a tent peg (for digging bottle tops out of the ground) – along with the sack that has become her trademark accessory. Yet the positivity of the music and the community spirit has continued to renew her belief that outdoor events, such as the Canaan Downs Festival, can inspire dancers of all ages to respect and care for the whenua.

"Last year's festival was one of the cleanest I've attended, but I still managed to find more than 2500 individual pieces of rubbish after the event. This year we're taking it to a whole new level and getting everyone on board, from the vendors, who will be using biodegradable packaging, to the ticket-holders, who have been asked to think about and reduce the amount of waste they create."

At the festival, Sharon and the other volunteers will take an informal, light-hearted approach to waste education that will encourage all in attendance to think about what their legacy is for Aotearoa.

"We're not going to put people on rubbish duty," she says. "But we're never going to achieve zero waste until every individual becomes aware of what they bring in and what they leave behind. Our throwaway culture has resulted in many people not even realising when they are littering, and that's where the philosophy comes in. When you respect the land as something to be revered, the thought of degrading it by dropping rubbish becomes impossible. Instead, you want to pick it up."

That the CDF is held on the original site of legendary dance event, The Gathering, is another reason why the organisers are so committed to making the event waste free.

"For many of us, Takaka Hill is where we got our first taste of the joys of dancing under the stars alongside thousands of other beautiful, smiling people, and it's an experience that we want to repeat," says Sharon. "There is a misconception that outdoor dance parties are for hippies and drum and bass heads, but really it's about community and acceptance of everyone, no matter what their music tastes. And this year, we've got a whole range of music styles covered, including two of Aotearoa's most popular live acts, Little Bushman and Dimmer."

Running from December 31 to January 3, and with five music zones, a Kids zone, and free camping, the Canaan Downs Festival is the perfect way to welcome in the New Year. And to ensure that more people get to experience the magic during these economically challenging times, we are now offering a special '3 for 2' deal on tickets. So come and join us in celebration of Aotearoa – together we can make a difference.


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