Environment

Earth-lovers in Lederhosen: Oktoberfest goes green

Sixteen days of drunken debauchery at the world's biggest people's party - that's got to make a huge mess. But if you think Oktoberfest is an environmental disaster, think again! It's actually eco-friendly.

Oktoberfest 2014

Munich's Oktoberfest is something of a superlative: It's got nearly 200 rides flashing their lights, clashing music blaring out from multiple speakers, shooting galleries offering plastic roses. Then there are the festival tents - as big as gymnasiums, filled with traditional German Volksmusik and girls in Dierndls dancing atop the long tables.

And of course, the beer: 6 million visitors throw back 8 million liters (17 million pints) of Bavarian brew. The visitors, in various stages of drunkenness, devour half a million chickens and innumerable sausages.

Can such excess be environmentally friendly?

Turns out, it can. Oktoberfest has built up its status as a green event - even in 1997, it received the "Environmental Oscar." It's just that nobody makes a big deal about it.

Organic food, recycled water

It starts with the food: from hens grilled on the spit to pork hock, bratwurst to roasted almonds: all of which are available as organic options.

Woman drinking beer at Oktoberfest (Photo: Andreas Gebert/dpa)

The "Maßkrug" - the one-liter beer mug - is a basic part of Oktoberfest

Schichtl Tavern, for example, offers exclusively organic and regionally raised meat from Hermannsdorfer, a well-respected organic farm. "With meat, it's especially important that it's organic - people seek us out because they know this," said catering head Conny Berke.

Due to the purity law that has governed German beer for nearly 500 years, only non-genetically modified barley, hops and yeast are allowed to be used. And any self-respecting brewery would insist that it's served out of glass or porcelain mugs.

When the mugs are cleaned and rinsed, even the water is reused - to flush the toilets, in five of the 14 festival tents.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

The big breakthrough happened in 1991, when the city administration banned the use of disposable tableware. So instead of paper plates, porcelain returned to the festival tables. This move alone reduced waste by 90 percent.

Before the move, 8,100 tons of waste was produced; by 2014, this figure was 958 tons. Or, translated per Oktoberfest visitor, a mere 200 grams (7 ounces) each.

Hacker beer tent at Oktoberfest (Frank Leonhardt/dpa)

Most drinkers in beer tents don't realize their waste is flushed away with reused grey water

Evi Thiermann, of Munich's waste utility AWM, expressed satisfaction with the result. "We could still improve the separation of recyclable paper from waste," she told DW. Thiermann sees the plastic plate ban as a blessing - otherwise, festival waste would be a big problem.

Tourists could be pleased about all the glass and porcelain for another reason: Oktoberfest mugs make great souvenirs, even if they're not allowed to take them home. You'd just have to have enough sobriety - or at least drunken wits - to smuggle them past security personnel.

Renewable energy

Businesses seeking a stand at Oktoberfest have to fulfill a list of 13 criteria, among them eco-friendliness. This pushes the festival in a green direction, as competition for a spot on the "Wiesn" is fierce.

Rickshaw with driver at Oktoberfest (Photo: DW/Ruth Krause)

Two-passenger rickshaws are pushed with muscle power alone

Hans Spindler, director of event management with the city of Munich, emphasized the importance of environmental protection. "Especially with such a large event - that uses a lot of electricity, produces solid waste and emissions," he told DW. And he admits: It's also good advertising.

Since 2000, all the public areas of the festival - like streetlights and toilets – have been powered with energy from renewable sources. Added to this, 60 percent of the independent fairgrounds people and tent operators have voluntarily switched to renewables as well.

Oktoberfest fairground rides like the freefall tower or "Wilde Maus" rollercoaster generate their shrieks with hydropower from the Munich utility. This is especially worthwhile considering the quantity of electricity used: 3 million kilowatt-hours, enough to power 1,200 Munich households for a year.

And in some cases, no electricity is needed at all: more than 200 bicycle taxis provide Oktoberfest visitors with emissions-free mobility.

Blissfully unaware - of how green it is

Spindler admits that most Wiesn-visitors don't make eco-friendliness their top priority: "For them, what makes this people's party is the location." he said. He added, "Enjoyment and high spirits clearly stand in the foreground." So most stands don't bother to push their environmental credentials.

But even if Oktoberfest partygoers don't care too much about eating their organic meat from reusable plates, that the electricity for their rollercoaster ride is from renewables, or that they get home CO2-free via bicycle rickshaw - the environment benefits, nonetheless.

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