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Last Updated: Monday, 25 June 2007, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Doing the dirty work at Glastonbury
By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, at the Glastonbury Festival

Sucking the Glastonbury toilets clean
Everything is sucked out using a hose and a vacuum tank

The basic, often-overflowing Glastonbury toilets are the stuff of legend, like the music and the mud.

And the crews who empty and clean them have the least desirable jobs at the festival.

So what is life like on the front line with the toilet teams? Our candid feature leaves no stone unturned.

At a block of portable toilets, a man in a white waterproof suit charges into one of the makeshift loos with a large green hose.

With his overalls splattered with what I hope is mud, he wrestles his hose as it is shoved into the toilet bowl to suck up the contents.

The man with the hose is Spencer, and he is helped by Darren and tractor driver Justin.

With 177,500 people partying in a field for up to five days, the mass of human waste has to be dealt with somehow.


This trio - the self-proclaimed Not So Solid Crew - are part of the operation to do just that.

They are one of 22 teams who travel the site for 14 hours a day every day sucking up the contents of the toilets with tractor-pulled vacuum tankers, which then take everything to a huge lagoon at the edge of the site.

Not So Solid Crew is written on the tractor's bright yellow wheelguard in mud - or could it be something else?

The Not So Solid Crew: Spencer (left), Justin (in cab) and Darren
The Not So Solid Crew: Spencer (left), Justin (in cab) and Darren

At the toilets, known as polyjohns, Spencer moves from cubicle to cubicle, first sticking his hose into the basin, wiggling it to suck up any stubborn material. He then lifts the whole basin up to tackle the tank beneath the seat.

When we arrive, most are in a half-decent state - but in some, the pile reaches seat level.

The smell lingers but is surprisingly bearable, because they have already been emptied once today and the weather is cool. And thanks to the liberal use of disinfectant.

But they are not always so palatable. The trio empty this block of 50 toilets three times a day - at 5am, lunchtime and again at 5pm.

Darren says: "Five in the morning is the worst one. And Friday night was disgusting.

A typical Glastonbury toilet scene
3,220 toilets in total
540 more than 2005
70 toilet sites
700 metres of urinals
64 female "she-pee" urinals
35 disabled toilets
22 toilet-emptying tractor crews

"I'm a pig farmer normally, so my nostrils are used to a bit of flavour, but not to this extent."

At one point, Darren is called upon to get some tissue for Spencer to wipe away "splashback" from his face.

At another, they come across a cubicle with muddy footprints astride the seat, where someone preferred to squat rather than sit down.

"That's when they miss and make a mess," Darren explains.

It takes about a minute to empty each cubicle - two if they are in a bad state. And although they leave them empty, the Not So Solid Crew do not necessarily leave the toilets clean.

Changing clientele

That is the job of another set of workers, who have an even tougher task as they take a mop and bucket to each toilet in turn amid the mud and crowds.

I used to go to Glastonbury in the early '80s. I can still remember the smell from the toilet blocks
Andy Riches, London

But at least it shows there is a concerted effort to rid the Glastonbury toilets of their soiled reputation.

"The clientele is changing," says infrastructure manager Bob St Barbe, who has been in charge of the lavatories for 12 years.

"It's people that pay money, they want a good experience and we want to do our best to give it to them."

Cleaners prepare to service toilets
Cleaners make their way through the mud with mops and buckets

There are several types of loo for Glastonbury fans to sample. There are the Portaloo-style polyjohns, the "long drops" - with rows of seats over a large trench - as well as urinals and female "she-pee" urinals.

The tankers visit them all and take the contents up to the lagoon, where everything gushes into a long red tank. Here, a machine removes whatever cannot go to the sewage works - beer glasses, wet wipes, clothes, mobile phones, banknotes.

"It's a very good year for pants," reveals Kevin, one of the lagoon workers. "We had a polka dot pair this morning.

"They need to drop more money though. We've only got 5 so far."

Air freshener

The lagoon and toilet crews bring together an unlikely mix of workers - from local farmers to a landscape gardener, an ambulance worker and a trainee barrister.

Steve, 24, who is getting called to the Bar in July, says being part of the toilet team allows him to "pay for bar school, pay for a holiday, have a bit of a laugh and ride around on a tractor".

The "fond memories" of camaraderie outweigh the unpleasantness and make him come back, he says. But another crew member points out that he returns because "you forget how bad it is when you're away".

Waste lagoon
The lagoon holds all the waste until it is shipped off to sewage works

The lagoon itself is a lake up by Worthy Farm, with a fan blowing air freshener to disguise the smell.

The brown-grey sludge it holds does not look too dissimilar from what is swilling around on the rest of the site - although a suspiciously solid and stagnant area where the waste enters suggests this is more than just innocuous mud.

From here, larger tankers take the effluent away to local sewage works. Kevin boasts that they dealt with more than a million litres on Saturday.

Festival fans may take delight in complaining about the facilities - but would be complaining a lot more if it were not for the toilet crews.

It is dirty work, but someone's got to do it.


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