My interview with #TrashTag Founder Steven Reinhold
Before any of the Alta Andina founders had heard of #trashtag, we would pick up trash on the trail while out hiking. When we saw the viral sensation around #trashtag globally, we wanted to be a part of the movement. We started our promotion around #trashtag to encourage people to keep sharing photos of their #trashtag experience. When these photos are shared, #trashtag gains momentum and staying power. I had the chance to interview Steven Reinhold, founder of the #trashtag movement, about what it was like to see his creation go viral, and how we can continue this momentum to clean up the planet.
David: Can tell me a little bit about your background growing up? How did you start to connect so deeply with the outdoor space? How did you start working in that space?
Steven: I grew up in North Carolina right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and my love started early for the outdoors just from growing up in such a pretty area. I’ve been into hiking and exploring and snowboarding and that kind of outdoor sports and stuff. So just kind of always had an interest in those.
In the outdoor industry, I was an ambassador for a charity called Big City Mountaineers, they take inner city kids on wilderness mentorship trips. I started out as a fundraiser for them on mountaineering climbs that were fundraising climbs to raise money to provide those kids’ trips.
David: Where did the idea for #trashtag originate?
Steven: It all started as I was out doing one of those fundraising mountaineering events, and I was on a road trip from North Carolina to California. I had a receipt blow out of the window for some very frivolous gear purchase purchases, souvenir tee shirts, silly things like that. I felt terrible about it, and I vowed to pick up a hundred pieces of trash to make up for that piece of litter blowing out the window.
So I’m on this road trip going to four different national parks, spending a couple of days in each one, and I was picking up trash in each park and realizing that like, hey, you know, maybe instead of me bragging about what hike I did or what climb I did, maybe I could use my social media to show that I’m picking up trash in the outdoors. Like maybe I could challenge other people to pick up a hundred pieces of trash, something like that.
Along the way I started realizing that I was kind of Geo tagging these trash pictures and it just kind of popped into my head…what about “#trashtag?”
By the end of the trip, I was in Jackson Hole by the time I picked up my hundredth piece of trash. Right about that time was when the #trashtag idea was really solidified.
The next spot on my trip, the outdoor retailer show, was fresh off picking up all the trash and having the idea for #trashtag. I pitched it to a company that I was an ambassador for and they loved it. It went well for a while. We had pretty good success in three years, about 25,000 pickups.
David: There is a post on your instagram where you talk about the viral spread over just a few days, can you elaborate on that story?
Steven: Seeing it go viral has been really cool. It was neat following what I like to call the viral wormhole, figuring out how it happened. So there was this really like handsome looking dude in Algeria doing a cleanup effort there, calling it like the litter pickup challenge. He posted a picture of himself doing a cleanup before and after, which is basically #trashtag. That picture got re-posted from a tour group in Guatemala, they called it the basura challenge, you know, trash challenge in Spanish.
So then this 50 year old mortgage broker in Arizona sees this post that the Guatemalan tour company made and he reposts it and says, “here’s a good challenge for you bored teens.” He tagged #trashtag to it. All of a sudden that post was the one that went viral.
Since it went viral it’s been pretty wild. I’ve done interviews with people in 25 different countries.
I did an interview with the Vietnam Travel Channel the other day and she was telling me about how it’s the cool thing to do right now on spring break. It’s gone viral amongst teenagers in Vietnam, it’s pretty wild.
It’s just been super cool seeing how your words and your posts and everything can have an effect on the world.
David: Why do you think #trashtag resonated with so many people around the world?
Steven: #trashtag has almost been almost like a galvanizing force for all these different ocean cleanups, river cleanups, wilderness cleanups and urban cleanups. It’s just so simple. The beauty is in the simplicity, it’s only a couple of letters off from hashtag so it can be translated through any language or any kind of social media platform.
David: Where does #trashtag go from here?
Steven: I think the staying power comes from, honestly, the fact that the kids, the youth are the ones doing most of the cleanups. One of the coolest things about #trashtag is that people have already started to equate the #trashtag project with, it’s kind of like we held up a mirror to the pollution problem and now people are already saying, well, what’s next? What do we do to fix that [pollution problem]? #Trashtag is more like an environmental movement instead of just an internet challenge, which I was really hoping because I think it has a little more lasting power that way.
To me, the message here is that individual actions make more of a difference than we may think. Next time you see trash where it shouldn’t be, pick it up. Someone will be impacted by seeing you pick that trash up. The normal thing to do is ignore it and walk on by. Breaking these problematic cultural norms is important and powerful. Spreading this message not only in person, but online, creates that same effect on a massive scale. At Alta Andina, that is why we think the #trashtag movement is unique, important, and here to stay. So whether you’re hiking, at the beach, or just walking the dog, send us your #trashtag photos. No cleanup is too small. As a thank you for helping change the consciousness of the world, and remove harmful trash and plastics from the natural environment, Alta Andina will send you a 10% discount code to use on any of our natural and handcrafted products.