Leave without a trace at Burning Man

Leave without a trace on the playa

Photo By Kat Kerlin

The Black Rock Desert goes from a cracked, silent landscape to a city of about 45,000 people each Labor Day weekend. These people eat, wash dishes, brush their teeth, poop, pee, and otherwise introduce things to the playa that normally would not be there.

Waste Management will not be there to pick up trash. What people bring in, they need to bring out. Yet, every year, bikes are abandoned, trash bags fly out of the backs of trucks and line the highways surrounding the Black Rock, and holes, burn marks and tent stakes tarnish the playa, threatening Black Rock City LLC’s future permit holdings for the festival with the Bureau of Land Management. So when you’re out at Burning Man, clean up after yourself.

Karina O’Connor has been a member of Earth Guardians for the past nine years. The volunteer group does outreach for Burning Man about Leave No Trace, an international code of ethics regarding how to treat the environment when you’re out enjoying it.

“We’ve taken that information and massaged it to fit Burning Man and the Black Rock City,” says O’Connor. Here, she offers some tips for a clean burn.


Plan your trip to Black Rock City so that the least amount of trash is produced.

• Food and water: Refill your canteen from big containers of water rather than use individual plastic bottles. Cook food ahead of time and put it in containers or zip-lock bags rather than cook on the playa, or eat finger foods you don’t need plates for. Stay away from disposable utensils and dining ware.

• The Recycle Camp recycles aluminum but not glass, the shards of which have to be picked up one by one after the event.

• Bring a mesh bag. O’Connor says they’re handy to dry out fruit peels and other food items that would otherwise become stink bombs.

• Renew your energy. Some camps use biodiesel in their generators, others experiment with wind and solar power.

• Bus or carpool. Carpooling opportunities abound on Craigslist and BM’s website. Four rideshare locations in Reno-Sparks are headed to Burning Man: Whole Foods Market (6139 S. Virginia St.), and the Save Marts (formerly Albertsons) at 525 Keystone Ave., 195 W. Plumb Lane, and 10500 N. McCarran Blvd. A one-way Biotour Shuttle that runs on veggie oil goes from the Reno/Tahoe Airport to Burning Man on Aug 25-28 for a $75 donation. Learn more at http://tinyurl.com/5qqlyb.

Leave no trace

• Carry a bag for MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) to deal with your trash and that of others while you’re out and about.

• Tie it down. Well-intended objects can turn into MOOP with a strong gust of wind. Keep potential fly-away things secure. This includes the loads you carry out of the playa once Burning Man ends.

• Cigarette butts are a menace on the playa easily dealt with by carrying a film canister, Altoid tin or the like.

• Glitter, little plastic trinkets and feathers from boas are a pain in the ass to pick up.

• Graywater: This is water left over from washing dishes, showering, brushing your teeth, etc. “The old standby is to have an evaporative pond, which is basically pieces of black plastic that are on the ground with a lip all around it,” says O’Connor. “You’re basically making a shallow black pond to evaporate the water.” Smaller camps could also collect their water in a container and haul it home. Some bigger camps contract with United Site Services—formerly Jonny On the Spot—to pick up their graywater.

• Take at least a couple hours throughout the week to help pick up trash at Black Rock City. If you feel like being part of a volunteer crew, visit the Earth Guardian tent at Center Camp on the Esplanade.• Burning: Don’t burn things that release toxic fumes, such as PVC, carpet, plastic, painted or treated wood. And never burn on an unprotected playa, or it turns it into a hard, nasty surface. If you burn, use a burn blanket or elevate it onto a burn platform.

Disposed to recycle

• Recycle any wood you can. Last year, Burners Without Borders donated 56 bundles of lumber to Habitat for Humanity in Reno.

• Garbage: After separating recylables and compost, you can take your trash to Fernley Sanitation, Lockwood Landfill or Reno Transfer Station, all of which will be open through the Labor Day weekend. For directions and hours, visit http://earthguardians.burningman.com/lnt_practices.htm.

• Recycling: Free, 24-hour, drive-through recycling is available at the previously mentioned Reno Save Mart locations, as well as two in Sparks at 565 East Prater Way and 9750 Pyramid Lake Hwy. They’re accepting plastics (1-5), plastic bags, metals, glass, paper, cardboard, recyclable batteries and—ta da!—bikes. Garbage disposal is also available at $3 per 35-gallon trash bag, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to local environmental and charitable causes and matched up to $1,000.

Whole Foods Market will also have containers in its parking lot to drop off the recyclables named above. It will also have a bin for any food leavings that haven’t been in your mouth—coffee grounds, egg shells and “green matter” (green plant materials).

If all of this seems overwhelming, it’s simpler than it sounds.

“It’s just planning on being somewhere for a week and dealing with your trash,” says O’Connor. “It’s actually a great experiment learning about how much trash you actually create.”