It seemed like a good idea to meander throughout the grounds and do everyone a public service by literally picking up their recyclable garbage. Others, though, had their eyes on bigger prizes, like a Coachella sweatshirt (800 water bottles) or even VIP upgrades (1800 water bottles!) for this year and the entry to a raffled to win wristbands to next year's extravaganza.
As Walter Sopchak so eloquently put it in The Big Lebowski, "This isn't 'Nam. There are rules." That held true for this competition as well. There was no dumpster diving, which on top of being gross, was a grounds for disqualification. Only items on the field were fair game. The same goes for the separation between garbage collected in the campgrounds versus the venue. No crossing the streams.
While grabbing the first batch of bottles and cans early in the day seemed like a friendly competition between attendees, the official cleaning crew -- sporting the purple recycle symbol shirts -- weren't feeling us. These are the people who you'd see with a stick picking up the trash, and as one awkward incident with one of these guys demonstrated, if you try to get near one of their recyclables in plain sight, they'll suddenly turn into Walter White a la season 5 in Breaking Bad. Once the code of respect to yield to these people was understood, suddenly, it seemed like the bottles were plentiful.
By the time 6 p.m. rolled around, water bottles and beer/Red Bull cans started popping up all over the grounds. It really accelerated the recycling process and even destroyed my first bag due to the all the fluid and residue left in the bag. It didn't phase me at the time--after all, I did real want that t-shirt. But as the afternoon turned into early evening, it dawned on me how gross the field became as the more fucked up people were getting. Not too long after, bottles that seemed difficult to uncover a few hours earlier, all of a sudden were in plain sight.
Instead, I took home one free ferris wheel ticket, which was the reward for 100 bottles. Once all accounts were settled, it was difficult not to notice the sheer volume of recyclable garbage spread throughout the venue. As much as I'd sweated over these plastic containers today, I realized I'd barely made a dent. As Earth Day rolls around on April 22, Coachella definitely made bottle-plucking capitalists like me see just how much of a mess a festival like this can leave behind. Maybe next time, I will actually go for that t-shirt--for the good of the planet.
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