Trash and burn
Burning Man Exodus and Recycling Network
Burning Man is about getting back to the basics—reconnecting with one’s self and the environment. The festival has a focus on living green. After all, its motto is “leave no trace.”
But on the playa, sometimes that’s easier said than done. Even with Burners picking up after themselves, and with the Playa Restoration crew sweeping up afterward to keep the playa clean, a lack of resources makes it difficult to dispose of trash and recyclables not accepted by the on-site facilities. Nathan Heller helped start EXTRA—the Burning Man Exodus and Recycling Network—to help burners get rid of their waste and other recycling materials. EXTRA places special trash and recycling receptacles at participating businesses located on popular routes Burners take to get home after the festival ends.
“Basically as a participant, Burning Man says to leave no trace,” says Heller. “In order for Burning Man to return every year, one of the stipulations is that the playa has to be clean. There’s only one resource in Black Rock City—the recycle camp, but they only take aluminum. So that is what is highly used by the participants. Other than that, there aren’t any other resources.”
EXTRA was started in 2007, and the theme that year was “The Green Man.” Heller and David Stachofsky, store manager of the West Plumb Lane Save Mart, were conversing about the theme when they came up with the idea for the recycling program.
“We had been talking about humanity’s relationship with the natural environment, and how much that plays into Burning Man,” Heller says. “The Keystone Save Mart is the most popular stop during Burning Man. I had talked with a plastic recycler who was interested in putting some Dumpsters so people could drop off some plastics, and David thought of taking that on. I sort of became the coordinator after that.”
The first year was a hit.
“It was a big success,” he says. “Every Save Mart in the region participated.” Now the program has reduced the number of participating businesses, instead expanding to more locations like Cedarville, Calif.
Heller notes that it would be nice to have a trash and recycling facility on the playa, but a survey conducted with the Bureau of Land Management concluded that it would be a “logistical and environmental disaster,” says Heller.
“It would have to be at one location and have to be outside of the city,” he says. “For that to happen, there would have to be lots of Dumpsters, somehow set up so that when everyone leaves the city they could leave their trash and recyclables. But it would have to be so the trash couldn’t fly out. As of now, it’s just easier and more sustainable to have people drop their stuff off in town.”
EXTRA trades recycled items in for money and donates the funds to local food banks, bicycle programs for kids and Black Rock Solar.
“We knew we had to donate the money,” he says. “It was just a question of where.”
EXTRA will run from Sept. 1-Sept. 5 and is open 24-hours a day. Recycling is free, and trash disposal costs around $3 per 35-gallon trash back. Accepted recyclables include glass, all metals, cardboard, paper, plastics (SPI 1-5), plastic bags, household batteries, nonperishable food and water, and bicycles.