Recycle Camp

Recycling is very important to Black Rock City (and every city, really). Naturally, there is a theme camp dedicated to this key component of modern waste reduction.

Recycle Camp – Our Mission

  • Collect, Crush and Recycle as many aluminum cans as possible in a week.
  • Encourage the use of aluminum on the playa.
  • Encourage reusable water/beverage containers vs. the single serving plastic bottle.
  • Practice and Promote the 7 Principles of ‘Leave No Trace’.
  • Teach the seething masses the 6 Noble Tenets of Waste Reduction:
  1. The 6 R’s: Respect – Rethink – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Restore
  2. Prepare, leave sorry-ass packaging at home
  3. Sort your recyclables and trash before you discard them!
  4. Never let it hit the ground
  5. Pack It In, Pack It Out
  6. Create! Supposed “garbage” can be transformed into beautiful works of art!

Recycle Camp is located in Center Camp. During the event, we collect as many aluminum cans as possible. Recycle Camp is run completely by volunteers who live to spread the Recycle Camp mantra to all participants, “Show us your Cans!” Volunteers meander through the city every day riding one of our new, improved and patented tandem bicycle powered Recycle-Trucks. The trucks make it possible to collect 10 times as many cans in each trip as the old shopping cart version. We encourage everyone to come by and help with the efforts. We need people to take them out during the event, spreading the word about Recycle Camp and collecting cans. Join us in recruiting new help throughout the day. Crush some cans. Relax, have a cold beverage and enjoy the camp.

Recycle Camp encourages you to help us collect aluminum cans using your own bike and your own basket. If you wish to help while driving your crazy art car, remember to register with the DMV. All participants may bring their aluminum cans to Recycle Camp, Monday through Sunday 9am to 5pm. While there, you will help us crush your cans and join us in creating recycled art or relax and have a beverage and learn about recycling and sustainability.

Recycle Camp does not collect aluminum foil, glass, plastic, tin, paper, cardboard or any garbage. In fact, we discourage bringing plastic and glass to the playa altogether and we get really mad when people leave us their garbage. Accomplishing our recycling goals depends on reducing the waste stream at the source — this starts with you!!! So please, follow these simple steps, reduce what you bring, separate your aluminum cans and bring them to recycle Camp!!! While you’re at it go ahead and separate out all your recyclables from your garbage that you’re packing out. Each should be dealt with separately.

Recycle Camp wants your cans! Show us your cans! Bring them to us! Ride the “Blue/Duck”, Recycle Camp’s State-Of-The-Art bicycle powered can crushing machine.

Some interesting facts about aluminum and aluminum recycling.

Aluminum is an incredibly energy-rich material. Usually its ore is derived from bauxite, though it can be derived from other sources but at a higher price. We have heard that even the playa could be mined for aluminum — fortunately for us, this would not be cost-effective.

  • Discovered in the 1820s, aluminum is the most abundant metal on earth.
  • In 1954, Olympia, Washington is the first place to offer a deposit on aluminum cans.
  • The U.S. Aluminum Industry begins recycling in 1968, the same year was born.
  • In 1972, 24,000 metric tons of aluminum used beverage containers (UBCs) were recycled. In 1998, the amount increased to over 879,000 metric tons.
  • In 1972, it took about 22 empty, aluminum cans to weigh one pound. Due to advanced technology to use less material and increase durability of aluminum cans, since 2002 it takes about 32 empty aluminum cans to weigh one pound.
  • Nearly 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today.
  • Nearly 60% of the aluminum cans produced are recycled.
  • Every new aluminum can contains more than 50% post consumer recycled aluminum.
  • Every minute of every day, an average of 120,000 aluminum cans are recycled.
  • A used aluminum can will be recycled and back on the grocery shelf as a new can, in as little as 60 days. That’s closed loop recycling at its finest!
  • It takes 90% less energy to manufacture an aluminum can from recycled aluminum.
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on an iPhone.
  • In 2005, 54 billion cans were recycled saving energy equivalent to 15 million barrels of crude oil – America’s entire gas consumption for one day.
  • Tossing away one aluminum can wastes as much energy as pouring out half of that can’s volume of gasoline.
  • Even though aluminum is the most valuable recyclable material, aluminum cans still make it to the landfill. Americans throw away nearly $1 billion worth of aluminum cans each year.
  • Americans throw away enough aluminum every month to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.

One reason aluminum is so widely recycled is that the energy required to recycle it is only a tiny fraction of the energy required to obtain it from ore. Every time you recycle 30 aluminum cans, you have saved the equivalent energy of a gallon of gasoline. In 2019 we collected over 300,000 cans. That’s the equivalent of over 10,000 gallons of gasoline. The market value of those cans was only around $3,000.00, but that is a lot to the Gerlach School.

Recycle Camp History

Recycle Camp was born out of a red-hot desire to curb the large clean-up effort on the playa. During their first visit to Black Rock City in 1995, two participants, Simon and Diane, were hanging around during clean up and asked the inevitable question, “Why isn’t there any recycling around here?”

An old-timer just looked at them and smiled as he said, “If you want to see recycling here, then why don’t you volunteer to do it yourself?” They set out that very day to pull aluminum cans out of a pile. By the end of the day they had made a serious dent in the pile, and felt they had actually made a dent in what participants had left behind. There was no Org.

Two years later, Simon aka Cap’n Crush and Diane aka Agent Orange, came equipped with one shopping cart vehicle. They managed to collect a few hundred cans the night of the opera and the burn, and later during clean up met Harley Bierman-Dubois, Burning Man’s Human Resources Amazon. Harley was beginning to build the Community Services Department, she knew this would be a good addition. Recycle Camp was born in November 1997, and in Black Rock City 1998, became an official Burning Man Theme Camp. Their methods were crude yet effective and they collected some 20,000 cans that year. 

Recycle Camp joined forces with the Earth Guardians in 1999 to further the efforts of educating Black Rock citizens to Leave No Trace. Over 75,000 cans were collected. The cans were delivered to the Gerlach School Principal and the money generated went to the Gerlach School.

Recycle Camp was back in full force in 2000 and set an amazing goal to reach 200,000 cans. We actually collected over 100,000 cans that year, our best effort yet.

In 2001, with seven new and returning Volunteers, we collected over 100,000 cans and helped to fund student activities at the Gerlach School once again.

In 2002, Recycle Camp came under new management. Mr. Blue, a first time volunteer in 2001, took the lead role. With the guidance of Cap’n Crush and the help of a record number of Recyclonauts, 100,000+ cans were collected, crushed, bagged and delivered to Gerlach to be recycled.

In 2003, Recycle Camp took on a new look. The tents were replaced with geodesic domes, one for the kitchen and another for a chill space. We took responsibility for our own shade structure/work space and built an amazing A-Frame structure that was a welcome addition to Center Camp. We had a fantastic group of core Recyclonauts and managed to deliver another 100,000+ cans to Gerlach.

From 2004 to today Recycle Camp continues to be a sustainability leader in Black Rock City, energized by the same participant/volunteer driven hard work that has proven year after year to be able to wrangle a field of burlap bags, to a sea of super sacks, to a dumpster full, make that 4, of aluminum cans from the citizens and get them recycled. Since the beginning, Recycle Camp has collected, crushed and recycled over 3 million cans. We’re going to hit 4 million soon, you can bet on that. What? It’s OK, we’re in Nevada.

Questions or comments? Or if you would like to volunteer, email us at