Shit-Covered Tents And Used Tampons: What It’s Really Like To Clean Up After Glastonbury

Is it really worth all of that just to see Arcade Fire and The Wombles? Photographs by Tom Beard


by Stevie Martin |
Published on

Everyone may have departed Worthy Farm, and yet another Glastonbury, but spare a thought for the litter pickers and cleaners who’ll be descending on the festival to shift around 3,000 tonnes of your crap. Not just yours, obviously. Well, unless you really went to town.

‘Cleaning can be pretty horrific,’ admits serial festival-volunteer and music fanatic Leila, from Cork. ‘I volunteer because I want a free ticket, but then you’ve got to deal with the shite that people leave behind. Some festivals are great. Others I can’t mention are a bit more grim.’

Among the things she’s had to deal with are: high people still in their tents refusing to leave, a tent smeared in human feces, syringes left on the ground and baby wipes stained with unspeakable bodily fluids. ‘You’d pick up what you thought was a scrunched up napkin and a bloodied tampon would fall out, and you’d think, “Is this worth seeing Arcade Fire? Couldn’t I just BUY A TICKET TO SEE ARCADE FIRE?”

'Picking litter out of a mud swamp at Glastonbury was a haunting experience. That was when I found a tent smeared in shite. I thought it was mud and when I got closer, the smell was so horrific I nearly vomited in my mouth.’ Yeah, even Arcade Fire’s not worth that.


Talking of haunting experiences, Jane, who was just out of uni when she volunteered, was once asked if she could help find a woman’s heroin. ‘It was sad, actually – she was scrabbling about in the mud. I was still in uni and pretty naive, so I really did not know how to respond... this had not been part of the training!’ Christ.

‘You’d pick up what you thought was a scrunched up napkin and bloodied tampon would fall out, and you’d think, “Couldn’t I just BUY A TICKET TO SEE ARCADE FIRE?”’

Casey, who has worked on the bar at festivals for the last six years, has also cleaned her fair share of totally gross stuff. ‘While on the bar, I've had to clear up a lot of vomit from all across the bar itself, as well as vomit left in pint pots – which is the classic – as well as the odd questionable piss pot,’ she says.

In terms of cleaning up, while she doesn’t do it herself, she’s seen what the teams have to deal with and it isn’t pretty. ‘I once came across an orange inflatable life boat between four tents which, to my horror, I realised was being used as a communal vomiting area,’ she remembers.

‘I also saw a girl go into a portaloo, and a group of guys started to shake the loo as a prank. They ended up tipping over the entire cubicle and she was covered in four days of a whole campsite’s excrement...’

Sorry, are you eating lunch right now?

It’s not just music festivals that are gross, though. Comedian Suzanna Kempner worked at a hockey festival on the bar from 6am-6pm every day, and then cleaned the field afterwards. ‘I thought I wouldn’t see anything worse than numerous people vomiting purple liquid (snake bite) on to the floor.

'But instead I found a top quality, new-looking sleeping bag left behind,’ she remembers. ‘I said that I might as well take it home but when I opened it up there were two used, full condoms inside it. Not one. Two. The sleeping bag went in the bin with the bottles and cans.’ She got paid £5.50 an hour, which in retrospect probably wasn’t enough to be dealing with other people’s ejaculate.

She got paid £5.50 an hour which, in retrospect probably wasn’t enough to be dealing with other people’s ejaculate

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom – a lot of litter pickers have a grand time, what with the free music and food in return for cleaning some stuff up and saving the world.

‘I’ve worked in the recycling team for a few festivals and it was a joy,’ says Jess, from Surrey. ‘We all got nice accommodation and, apart from the grossness of handling people's leftover cans and food cartons, I never saw anything too disgusting. Also, we got a free meal a day and a free ticket to the festiva, which was worth it.’

Though unpaid, she worked just four hours a day, so it turned out to be a great way to see free music. If you don’t mind recycling beer cans.

Grace similarly had a pretty good time of it when she volunteered at a tonne of festivals over the last few summers. ‘If you're any kind of volunteer, your pass usually gets you let in a day earlier than other campers, when things are still being set up. I used that extra time to pillage the glamping area and “strategically moved” enough stuff to make myself a regular palace,’ she admits.

‘I'm talking blow-up mattresses, plastic welly covers and a wind chime. All returned at the end, of course, and hardly missed...’


Even Leila - who has seen enough to put people off going to festivals as punters, let alone litter-pickers - agrees that it varies wildly and, usually, cleaning up can be a lot of fun. ‘It depends on the weather, and there’s also some luck involved, but there’s a real feeling of togetherness. You’re in it together, and you get to see loads of bands that you’d never be able to afford to see otherwise,’ she adds.

Plus, it’s worth it for the shitty tent, vomit cleaning, portaloo-covered anecdotes! Amiright guys?! Guys?

Follow Stevie on Twitter @5tevieM

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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