In 2004, Recycle Camp returned for its 9th year on the Playa, its 7th as an official Burning Man Community Service camp. Materials and equipment arrived and the camp began springing up on August 21, along with many other parts of the Center Camp infrastructure. We were in our usual downtown location directly behind the Cafe at 6 o’clock.

Recycle Camp, like most of Black Rock City, is a 100% volunteer camp, and in 2004 we had the largest, most organized early arrival crew ever. We attribute this success to the new early arrival and gate policies. We worked to get the word out that people would not get into Black Rock City early unless they were on the early arrival list, and we found that this communication really made the volunteers jump. Those who love to be there as the city appears piped right up and asked to be part of our team. We had a great solid core crew starting on August 22. The core crew members were joined by some first-timers, and everyone was on the playa by August 25. We had the camp set up by Saturday and began putting together the all-new Monster Can Crusher aka the Blue-Duck.

Designed in December 2003 and built over the next 7 months, the Blue-Duck is a human-powered crushing machine that is larger, noisier, and less forgiving than its predecessor, the Original Crushing Machine. The Blue-Duck also uses bicycle power, but the energy comes from a tandem or bicycle built for two, allowing more people to get involved in the crushing process. Added also were some gears and sprockets and chains all donated from San Francisco bike shops and a gear shop. The crushing mechanism consists of two 36″ by 18″ rolling drums repurposed from lawn rollers and covered in recycled tire tread mats. The hopper on top is made out of recycled sheet metal roofing, so the Blue-Duck crushes approximately 12 cans per second and they are fed into the hopper by the cart-full instead of one at a time. All who worked with us, brought us their cans, or just happened to be walking by were amazed at the awesome power that the Blue-Duck displayed.

In fact, the Blue-Duck is so powerful that it actually shattered two glass beer bottles mistakenly thrown into the hopper. However, the third bottle caused a blowout. The welds on one end of one of the two barrels gave out and the axle was ripped clean off. Our team was put to the test, welders fixing the machine, everyone else doing damage control and taking cans despite having no machine to crush them. Everyone worked together and the machine was fixed and we were back at it, crushing cans. The Blue-Duck will be returning in 2005 with some further modifications and possible additions to add to the can-crushing experience.

Although Recycle Camp is a Burning Man theme camp, it is also a work camp. While our primary goals are educating participants about proper waste management and removal along with gathering and crushing their aluminum cans, we try to have a fun and interactive time doing it. By the end of the event, we had talked with thousands of Black Rock citizens and collected over 90,000 aluminum cans, crushed them, bagged them, and delivered them to Gerlach. A group of high school students and volunteer parents transported the cans to a nearby recycling center. The proceeds, over $700 this year, went into the Gerlach School Student Council Fund. We are proud to again be one of the supporters of the local community through our efforts at Burning Man.

If one problem was worse than others in 2004, it was running out of our signature burlap bags that we use to bag up the crushed cans. On Sunday morning at 10 a.m. we were faced with another crisis to manage. In the true spirit of Burning Man, the Cafe came through with some very large paper bags, which worked out pretty well. Until we found these new bags, we were forced to turn away quite a few large loads of cans. We asked people returning to the Bay Area to take care of the cans themselves if they had room. Fortunately the participants were very understanding, and many were willing and able to transport back their own cans and recycle them back in the default world. Although we believed that we started with 250+ bags, enough for over 125,000 cans, we found that many of them were old, with tears and holes that made them unusable. The good news is that we made a connection with the Man crew and are now recycling our old bags to be dipped in wax and stuffed into the Man to help him burn. And we have already been contacting coffee roasters in the Bay Area to acquire a stock of “New to us” re-sourced burlap bags for 2005.

As citizens of Black Rock City, we strive to be a model camp, a stellar example for everyone. We were again featured on the Earth Guardian Theme Camp Tour this year. We are also a growing camp, and expansion continued in 2004. The crew of volunteers who camped with us became a close family by the end of the week. This connection has carried on beyond the playa, and we are already communicating about new plans for 2005. This interconnecting was the best thing to happen in 2004. We created a camp that made our volunteers feel at home, especially the first-timers, and now they want to come back and make it even better next year. That is a Burning Man success story.

We had many more citizens bringing their cans to us this year. We will continue to push this service in the future, spreading the word throughout the city early in the week that everyone should bring their cans early and often. With the growing population of Black Rock City, this recruiting is the best way to get the cans to us without us getting burned out at the end of the week. We still see an art vehicle becoming a part of this effort in the future. We are designing a new shade/work structure for 2005, to be made of all recycled materials. Plans are also in the works to make some colorful custom dome covers. We continue to set our sights a little higher each year. E-mail us at and be sure to come find us on the playa.

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