5 Dark Things You Learn About Humanity Cleaning Up Bonnaroo
You wouldn't think that picking up people's trash would be a fascinating job, but we've recently found otherwise. It turns out that you learn a lot about humans just based on what they throw away.
So what happens when you get tens of thousands of littering humans all in exactly the same spot, and get them all drunk? Here's a hint: It's pretty gross. We talked to a few people who have the monumental job of cleaning up after concerts and other massive trash-spewing events, and they told us about how ...
People Are Disgusting
Have you ever headed for the toilet during an event, only to see a long-ass line and realize you're going to have to hold it? Well, lots of people, uh, find other solutions:
"You have to look out for those blue plastic bags you get at grocery stores," explained Colin, a concert cleaner in the Midwest. "Anytime you see one tightly wrapped, there is going to be poop in there. Fans don't want to miss anything, and when bathrooms and port-o-potties have long lines, people shit into those things. By the end of a festival, the trash cans have a bunch of these, and parking areas and the stadium have bunches as well. [That] or a Wendy's cup filled with piss."
Or their iced tea. Same difference.
But even more common than that? The condoms. "Yeah, we found a lot of condoms. During concerts they were everywhere, especially in the toilet stalls. And not all were empty when we found them." That's right; the lines to the port-o-potties are long because there are people fucking in there. And of course, what would you do with your jizz-filled condom afterward, other than toss it aside for the cleaning staff to find? "The new cleaners make a big deal of this," says Barbara, an event cleaner from the Chicagoland area. "But honestly, after a while, it just becomes normal. Gross, but normal."
Inside lies more abandoned babies than in a Dickens orphanage.
Then there's far less gross but strangely common refuse, like tons of tons of ... business cards? "I cannot begin to tell you how many of those we pick up," Barbara says. So we hate to say it, but the guy you met at the Weezer show who seemed really into your vegan aerosol juice cleansing startup was probably only being polite.
One Concert Creates Literally Tons Of Trash
Super Bowls generate over 400 tons of garbage. If you can't visualize 400 tons, picture about 300 compact cars. Or 23.4 million Solo cups. Now consider that the Olympics pour out up to 13,000 tons.
Brazil is clearly getting a head start on the inevitable.
Jesse is an overnight cleaner at the Calgary Stampede. That event's 500 tons in non-recyclables is enough to put a serious strain on local landfills. He estimated that he pulls 50 pounds a night, so with 60 people working each night, that's about a ton of trash in the six hours spent sweeping up all the crap the other cleanup people didn't take care of during the day. Add in all the stuff that the food stalls and trucks take care of themselves, and you've got a big enough wave of trash to give Oscar the Grouch a hard-on.
Why do you think you only get to see him from the waist up?
This was the theme across every source who spoke to us. The amount of trash humans generate during an event is astounding. "We have people going to [empty the] barrels every ten minutes," says Colin. "That's how fast they fill ... By the end of three days, if you let some overfill, you cannot see the grass on the field -- it's become a proto-landfill." And that's not counting what goes on outside these venues. Trash can accumulate out of their jurisdiction, costing cities a ton in cleanup costs every time they host an event.
But here's the thing: Nobody who has paid outrageous ticket prices wants to A) worry too much about what to do with their own trash or B) see a bunch of trash lying around, even if it's the waste they themselves created themselves five minutes ago. So ...
Sneaking The Trash Out Becomes A Frantic, Never-Ending Process
No one wants to be reminded of how much destruction humanity can unleash simply by watching a Coolio concert or two teams of men kicking a ball around. Colin says, "We sneak out trash at 4 or 5 a.m. after piling it up all day outside the stadium, away from all the fans. During a soccer game, we get maybe 10 bags for an entire game. At the concerts, we get 10 bags every hour. People don't mind seeing a bag changed now and then, but they do mind piles of trash forming."
Even if they paid $100 to hear it.
So while chugging eight beers may have been the only way to make it through John Mayer's decision to "just jam for a bit," everyone involved was unwittingly contributing to a garbage truck conga line that removes all the evidence of their shame from under the cover of darkness. Many events, such as Coachella or Lollapalooza, can last for days, but when hungover revelers stumble in each morning, the place needs to be clean enough for Mr. Clean's nitpicking grandmother to eat off the floor. But that's a tall order -- here's Bonnaroo shortly before being declared a Superfund site:
A dozen second-stage acts could be buried under there, and nobody would know.
Jessie's overnight shifts would begin at 10:00 p.m. and continue until 4:00 in the morning, which is not a lot of time to dispose of the leavings of several thousand people, all of whom had a craving for deep-fried food and whatever other substance could make the pain of their lives go away. Barbara's overnight turnaround was even tighter: "We had one concert not let out until 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and another event was set to start there at 6 a.m. Even with getting in extra people to get all the trash out, we barely made it for the next day." Hopefully, they got all the condoms.
To make this work, most places either contract out or get local temporary help. But in some cases, they get homeless people to do it for next to nothing. "We get the homeless to come in and work nights. I'm one of the dozen or so full-time waste staff here, so we have them come in the loading dock where they can't be seen by people leaving. In the past, we had so many coming in that we had to turn them away."
"You guys love going through garbage, right? What better job could there be for you?"
It's fine to have homeless people pick through trash, but we wouldn't want some paying customer to see one. Ew.
So at this point, you're starting to find out that ...
The Job Is Surprisingly Complicated
There's a reason that "Do you want to grow up to be a garbage man?" is a convenient go-to threat to kids who don't do well in school. It sounds disgusting, and the implication is that those types of jobs only go to people who aren't the most intellectually inclined. The job, however, is much more complex. Especially if you're trying to pick up in the middle of festivities.
For starters, there's the matter of hustling through a venue while not getting in the way of mobs of people whose biggest priority is to shout "BRO!" while drunkenly stumbling towards the nearest bush in which to puke. If that sounds like a walk in the park, we'd like to point out that the park looks something like this:
Also, you're the bush.
With receptacles filling up within minutes, it becomes a frantic, disgusting juggling act. The operation takes a whole lot more organization than you'd expect, all to keep the revelers from drowning in their own filth. "It's not random, we have set patterns -- a circle around a certain area, a square path in a section," Barbara told us. "Think of four squares together. That center point where they all touch will have four teams go through, but they can't all get there at once, because once they go around, it can be trashed quickly. So we stagger them so no team is in the same area at the same time. My supervisor actually timed us during a live event. It took 20 minutes to go around a certain square of stands with sweeping and emptying thrown in. He had it so that every five minutes, one of us would hit that center square and be even."
"Just 15 more to go ..."
It might sound like a lot of needless work. Why are trash collectors working with the precision of nuclear missile guards? Well, as Colin explained it, when the timing is off, the garbage situation quickly turns from carefully controlled and aesthetically pleasing to the epicenter of an overflowing trash pit belching bile straight from the depths of spring break Hell.
"Everyone has their little section to cover, but we have radios to alert others when we see trash buildup in their areas," said Colin. "People who think this is easy have never tried it. You start off fine, but you then call about one can being filled up, only to get a call about one in your area. And it goes on and on like that all day. Without us, with so much coming in and nothing coming out, it would easily turn into a landfill."
All this happened while some attendant bent down briefly to tie their shoe.
And as we mentioned, part of the job is to remain invisible, because trash is gross and no one wants to think about it. As Barbara told us, "No one wants to see us. People don't want to know how it happens." We don't want to know what happens to the hot dog wrapper we throw away any more than we want to see the slaughterhouse where the hot dog came from. That seems like modern civilization in a nutshell -- we want good things to appear in our hand and the unwanted aftermath to vanish, and to never have to think about either.
Hey, speaking of which ...
Recycling Is Only Kind Of Catching On
If there's one environmental initiative humans have gotten semi-serious about, aside from making eco-disaster movies, it's recycling. The Stampede makes a point of having separate recycling bins next to the trash cans. David said that large events are also stepping up in the States. Coachella, Bonnaroo, and others have programs to reduce trash. Events like Burning Man, with a "Leave No Trace" policy and volunteers who spend months after the event making sure all trash has been removed, represent an attractive alternative to the "garbage everywhere!" philosophy of most festivals. But doing things like Burning Man would require everyone agreeing to clean up after themselves. And that's not going to happen.
Take only pictures, leave only bunny ears, police tape, and shitloads of cigarettes.
After all, the national recycling rate in the United States hovers around 24 percent, and many huge events reflect this dismal commitment to the environment. "No one recycles," laments Barbara. "We don't even have the bins for them here."
Besides keeping an angry Mother Nature from unleashing rabid weasels on them, recycling can save stadiums $50,000 a year, simply through getting non-recyclables down to manageable levels. So why don't they do it? Many cities don't have recycling centers, and even if they do, it takes too much time.
"Plastic in one bin, and paper in another? Fuck that. Into the ocean you all go."
And even when it's available, in some areas, recycling is such a foreign concept to the public that people seem genuinely uncertain as to how to approach the bins, as though they're rare wild animals which they thought were only native to San Francisco. "When we put up recycle bins a year ago at another arena I work at," said Barbara, "most of it still went into the trash, and most of the stuff in the recycle bin was normal trash." And condoms, presumably.
Evan V. Symon is the Interview Finder at Cracked. If you have an awesome experience or job you would like to see as an article, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org! Mark Hill has an awesome website which you should check out.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Horrifying Things Only Garbagemen Know About Your Town and We Hoard Your Stuff: 5 Truths Of Professional Recycling.
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