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Coachella 2012: One booth takes plastic (bottles) as currency

April 22, 2012 |  9:00 am

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A group of hipsters are picking up every empty water bottle in their path near a food court. Whenever someone goes to throw one into the recycling bin, someone in the crew reaches their hand out and takes it, placing it in an already overflowing backpack. 

This continues until there’s no more space and they make the short trek to the TRASHed Recycling Center and join the line of dozens of other festival-goers waiting to unload their parcels of crumpled up bottles.

Some are getting fresh water in return; others are opting for something a bit more tangible -– OK, a bit more awesome than water.  

COACHELLA 2012 | Full coverage

TRASHed is the only booth on site that doesn’t take cash or credit cards for its merchandise. Instead, the only currency accepted here is bottles and cans.

“I go to a lot of music festivals like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo and they have this,” San Antonio, Texas, resident Rachel Swedberg said. “But this is different. It’s more challenging, and there are a slew of prizes.”

On a hot day like Saturday, plenty are getting bottles of ice cold water that cost only 10 empty bottles/cans (b/c). 

But Swedberg and her two friends are holding out for the good stuff, which includes a Coachella poster (100 b/c), a neoprene Coachella water bottle (250 b/c) or a T-shirt featuring the "Recyclosaurus" T-Rex –- the 20-foot-high, half robot-half dinosaur pictured above that eats bottles and cans and then processes them out the other end as giant square droppings similar to bales of hay –- for 350 bottles. 

The real high rollers, however, can drop 600 b/c for a VIP shower pass on the campgrounds or get their wristband upgraded to VIP status for 1,000 b/c. But those aiming for the wristband upgrade should hold out and shoot for collecting 2,500 empty bottles to secure the ultimate prize: tickets for next year’s Coachella.  

Swedberg and her crew were dumping off their first bag of the day, which had 353 bottles in it.

“We got that from just one area,” said Jack Train, a friend of Swedberg. “We stood by the trash can and people gave them to us.”

Founded in 2004, the TRASHed campaign is part of L.A.-based nonprofit Global Inheritance’s mission to redefine public opinions of recycling and trash collection.

Global Inheritance is also responsible for the aforementioned dinosaur, and the organization commissioned more than 100 recycling bins to get a face-lift from 50 artists they choose. Before the 65 gallon bins -- one was designed to look like a Lego character, while another resembled R2-D2 -- got to Indio, they held a gallery to showcase the designs. 

“You have such a captive audience at an event of this size. But like any large event, people really aren’t treating the environment they’re on the way they should be, so there’s lots of trash,” said a Global Inheritance employee who wasn't allowed to speak to the media. “We want to give away free stuff at these festivals, and people want it. We found a way to capitalize on that and provide an incentive.”

TRASHed pop-up recycling centers have also been featured at the ESPN summer and winter X Games, the Treasure Island Music Festival, Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, Epicenter Music Festival and the South by Southwest music festival.


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Photo: Recyclosaurus Rex awaits bottles and cans on the first night of the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times