But what festival organizers are hoping will change is just how much of that garbage ends up in landfills. In 2010, Lollapalooza kept only 25 percent of its 177 tons of waste out of area dumps.
By comparison, Tennessee-based music festival Bonnaroo, which attracted more than 75,000 people in 2010, diverted 32 percent of its trash that year. Chicago's Pitchfork festival, with a crowd of about 55,000 during a three-day span in 2010, diverted 42 percent of its 24 tons of trash. And two smaller music festivals in Colorado have succeeded in keeping more than 60 percent of their trash out of landfills.
Lollapalooza's organizers say they're not happy with how much waste the festival produces, and hired a new company, Pritchard Events, to improve cleanup. They've also added a composting program for this year's festival, which is expected to draw about 270,000 people over three days.
"We're shooting for a much higher goal this year," said Emily Stengel, Lollapalooza services manager. "No matter what, we want to do (a) significantly higher diversion rate than last year."
Festivalgoers will now be encouraged to throw food waste, plates and cutlery into special composting bins. The new cleanup company will also comb the 124-acre ground for recyclables, taking a second run through for leftover garbage, Stengel said. Lollapalooza contracts with Waste Management to haul the compostable remains, recyclables and trash to its plant and sort through all the goods. Lollapalooza declined to say what it pays for the cleanup or recycling efforts.
In Colorado, Planet Bluegrass hosts two festivals that attract about 28,000 people, and in 2010, diverted 66 percent of the fests' trash with an off-site compost pile and extensive recycling program, officials said.
But part of the problem with a larger festival like Lollapalooza is getting everyone to contribute, said Ben Challis, co-founder of A Greener Festival, an organization in the United Kingdom that works with festivals around the world to reduce waste.
According to his company's research, 10 percent of festival attendees can't be bothered to think about sustainability. Another 10 percent purposely defy recycling efforts, Challis said.
"There are certain parts of society that are completely resistant to going green," Challis said.
Lollapalooza uses more than 200 volunteers to guard recycling bins and monitor compost collections to keep attendees from throwing trash in the wrong spot, which could contaminate the collection. It also pays for training and guidance from Reverb, a nonprofit that works to alleviate the negative effect concerts have on the environment.
The festival provides 700 waste bins outfitted with recycling containers, and hosts a "Rock & Recycle" program, which allows patrons to exchange bottles and cans for organic T-shirts. Lollapalooza also restricts vendors from using plastic foam or plastic bags.
But the festival admits it can do better. Last year, Chicago launched a "Green Permit" initiative, offering reduced fees if the event organizers follow a host of environmental guidelines. Lollapalooza didn't apply for the permit this year. Organizers are considering applying next year, Stengel said.
"They have done a fairly good job," said Brendan Daley, the Chicago Park District's director of green initiatives. "(But) generally speaking, any event can do more to be green."