The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace

Photo via

Can you see the impending doom in this photo?

The diver’s fine, of course. It’s that gorgeous city behind her that is endangered. Burning Man may have flourished for 25 years running, but it’s more ephemeral than it seems. At any point, Black Rock City could cease to exist. But thanks to you, me and 50,000 people just like us, it appears year after year. And by following the Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace, we can keep Burning Man alive and on fire for ever.

Burning Man, as you surely know, is a Leave No Trace event. That means it’s everyone’s responsibility to pick up every piece of MOOP — from couches to cigarette butts, lost pairs of pants to abandoned glow sticks. Even if it isn’t yours, if you see it, you pick it up — that’s the way this works.

It works well. We are pretty dang good at it.

Each year, the BLM inspects our site to determine whether we’ve cleaned up after ourselves adequately. And each year, thanks to YOUR efforts and the efforts of the Playa Restoration crew that spends weeks pulling up rebar stakes, we pass.

Cory Roegner of the BLM shows the square used to measure the amount of MOOP found during the inspection. In order to pass, each 1/10-acre inspection site must contain less MOOP than will fit in the small square.

We must pass the annual BLM Debris Inspection for our permit. Too much debris will eventually mean the Bureau of Land Management won’t want us to hold Burning Man in this pristine desert. We also must make sure our neighbors (townships, small businesses, and local governments) are satisfied with our trash cleanup efforts on the roads leading up to and from our event. This is hard, gritty work. We are committed to it. We cannot have the event without it. And much of this work can be prevented by a few simple, mindful actions. And so we are asking you (and your campmates) to help us.

MOOP (and its bedfellows, highway trash and pollution) are unintentional side effects of our collective enthusiasm, and they’re something each and every one of us should take responsibility for. And so I present to you the Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace, a collaborative effort between me, you and those other 50,000.

The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace

The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace is a series of thoughtful actions you can take, from the moment you start packing your car to the moment you hose the last playa mud off its undercarriage. Over the next several months, we’ll dive into all these issues in depth. Here’s the overview to get you started:

  • PRECYCLE – Buy less stuff in bulky packaging, or recycle and get rid of the packaging before you come to the playa. You’re gonna need the extra room on the back end! Read more about it.
  • BRING LESS – Bring less stuff! Less is less! Save gas, save yourself a Tetris headache and save the playa from litter by leaving out that extra, non-sturdy shade structure and seven or eight pillows you don’t NEED need. Read more about it.
  • DON’T LET IT HIT THE GROUND – Cigarette butts, wood chips, nails, screws, specifically. Also single-use water bottles (don’t bring ‘em!), feathers (don’t wear ’em!) and belly dance coins from your blinged-out hips (don’t shake ’em!).
  • MANAGE YER TRASH – Icky, yet necessary. Do it. Water, too. Separate your cans from your hams and let that soapy water evaporate instead of pouring it on the ground. Read more about it.
  • RECYCLE THOSE CANS – Cans = cash for local schools! Cart ’em to Recycle Camp and take a ride on the can crusher. Read more about it.
  • PLAN TO MOOP YOUR CAMP – Don’t let anybody hit the road until you’ve conducted an all-camp line sweep. Make an exit plan that includes time to pick up any MOOP in your area, even if you don’t think it’s yours.
  • DON’T LITTER THE HIGHWAY – Strap your stuff to your head if you have to! Better yet, make it all fit in your car! Read more about it.
  • TRASH & RECYCLING STATIONS – You don’t need to carry all that mass over the mountains, just get it down the road a piece and drop it at one of several facilities that are just waiting for Burners. Check your Survival Guide for details. Read more about it.

As a community, our goal is to make less MOOP and get our trash to the right place! Yes! As long as each of us does our part, Burning Man will continue to take place in the beauty of the Black Rock Desert.

It comes down to you, and me, and those other 50,000. So print out the Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace and show it to your campmates, and prepare to be the best citizen of Black Rock City that you can be, whether you’re coming for your first year or your 15th.

I’ll be stopping by every few weeks to give you the dirty details of how to manage your detritus with style, grace and aplomb. For now, start by reading the 10 Principles, the Leave No Trace page, and the Enviroblog. For a more in-depth look at Burning Man’s LNT attitude, here’s an article we love from WorldSweeper: The Cleanup of Black Rock City: It’s All About the MOOP.

Now I’m off to enjoy the wild beauty of Nevada in the springtime. See you in a few weeks!

Next issue: PRECYCLING!

About the author: The Hun

The Hun

The Hun, also known as J.H. Fearless, has been blogging for Burning Man (and many other outlets) since 2005, which is also the year she joined the BRC DPW on a whim that turned out to be a ten-year commitment. Since then she's won some awards for blogging, built her own creative business, and produced some of the Burning Blog's most popular stories and series. She co-created a grant-funded art piece, "Refoliation," in 2007, and stood next to it watching the Man burn on Monday night during a full lunar eclipse. She considers that, in many ways, to have been the symbolic end of Burning Man that was. The Hun lives in Reno with DPW Shade King, Quiet Earp. You may address her as "The Hun" or "Hun". If you call her "Honey" she reserves the right to cut you.

16 Comments on “The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace

  • some seeing eye says:

    Many placed camps are highly interactive. Interactive = people = moop. So special reaching out in person, throughout the week will be more effective than at a distance, in time and place, encouragements. Maybe the Earth Guardians can help with in person visits daily with camp leaders?

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  • Peace says:

    I’m sure this blog is important, but that photo is amazing.

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  • alaskaglacier says:

    Precycling is a smart thing to do. Flying down to B.Man from Alaska, one gets really creative with what to bring and what not to bring. Fighting the urge to purchase crap you really don’t need becomes a reality once we hit the ground and space really becomes an important commodity. Things that worked well for me for moop and camp trash over the years….
    Purchase a MOOP stick with pinching jaws to demoop the playa. Decorate it to become functional art then use it!! My friend and I had a great time mooping the playa and meeting people along the way.
    Make a small solar dehydrator out of a hunk of silver tarp and a small wooden frame so it looks like a larger cake pan. Stir the veggie rinds and peelings as they dry in the sun and you end up with stuff that is minimal in size and doesn’t stink up your car on the way to the dump. Seperate your evaporation pond from this organic dehydrator, do not mix the two.
    Make a trash cube: Use that empty water jug and poke as much dry wrappings and paper trash in it as you can, poke it down with a good sized wooden dowel to compress it then cap it off. You can cram alot of stuff in those babies!!
    Remember to encourage one another to leave no trace, thank those you see mooping the playa and during the exodus wait offer to help secure one anothers load down on their vehicles without prompting. Exodus is still an important part of B.Man and keeping the highway clean is a leave no trace event in and of its own :)

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  • AsOfTime says:

    What’s crazy is the places to stop and fuel or eat and sleep along the way to and from the event suffer the most from people leaving their trash behind. Most will fill a garbage can full at a filling station or restaurant without recycling at all. Trash the highways and you are just trashing the event.

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  • John Mosley says:

    Thank you for this important message and reminding us all what Leave No Trace means!

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  • The Hun says:

    some seeing eye — That is a great idea, and maybe one you can bring to the Earth Guardians. It’s always hard to get the word out, as you say, from a distance. Every trick we can try is a good one!

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  • The Hun says:

    Peace — YES IT IS

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  • The Hun says:

    alaskaglacier — Those are all EXCELLENT ideas, thank you! I’ll be doing an article soon on trash management, and if you don’t mind, I might throw in one or two of those :)

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  • The Hun says:

    AsOfTime — you hit it right on the nose. I’m going to do a piece on that as well. It’s so important that we try to convince people to stop trashing the towns on the way to and from Burning Man! Hopefully a little awareness will go a long way.

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  • The Hun says:

    John Mosley — You are more than welcome. I’m sure you know plenty about this issue and about Burning Man’s impact on the local communities :) Please chime in at any point if there’s some information that would be good for people to have!

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  • Tomcat - DPW says:

    Funny you guys led off with a photo from Burning Sky. I found a plastic tag that said ‘good for one free plane ride’ during Playa Restoration. Held onto it all year and made sure to bring it back, anticipating how awesome that I’d mooped up a flight over the city. I track down their camp and was massively left down because it they said it had been punched. (I managed a plane ride the next year, properly gifted, and got to fly the plane, so no hard feelings.)

    So The Hun, I know you didn’t like my on-playa late September idea for “Worst sort of gifts to give” featuring all of those wooden clothespins. Those 6 or 7 I found had been spray painted and then had someone’s website address written on them in sharpie — I only found one whole one, the rest were in pieces. (Who the hell clipped them on dancing people to promote their website? Why would you do that?) Perhaps something could be said about gifting things that are likely to end up moop? There’s probably a few paragraphs alone to be said on the etiquette of giving and getting beer cups, cans and bottles, fruit with pits and skins, Food with wrappers…

    Also, please there is one thing that I think is never stressed well enough: The playa itself is not sacred. It’s what we do with it that makes it sacred. It’s actually just dirt, really. Now while no one wants you digging holes in the dirt, you should make an exception to this if you have stuck rebar! Now while twisting it with MOTHERFUCKING VISE GRIPS will get out stuck rebar, and you can ALWAYS CALL OUT FOR MOTHERFUCKING VISE GRIPS when you strike your camp and they will usually come running. But if they don’t, remember it’s just dirt, and you CAN dig it out. But even if you are in terrible weather, and bugging out in the whiteout, you should try to at least scrape a circle in the playa so it’ll be easier to find later. Rebar and tent stakes can be stuck in the playa for years, so NEVER pound them in; twist with vice grips or dig them out or draw a circle!

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  • nikOpeaches says:


    it works so well, it had to be yelled twice. Kudos to Tomcat, he knows his playa resto.

    One strategy that has worked especially well for Center Camp Construction (Oculus) is the use of groundcover. We use billboards or tarps stretched flat and tight, nailed into the ground @ 2′ intervals, and spread over EVERY high traffic area (living/lounge space, lumberyard, directly in front of our shipping container shop). This catches the matter that would normally disappear in a puff of finely ground playa, only to emerge w/ a rake and wood magnet.

    After 6 1/2 weeks of HEAVY use, we sweep up the moop, discard it, then peel up the tarps to find cracked virgin playa. (when I say HEAVY use, imagine a daily DPW heavy equipment rodeo, full production woodshop, cheap beer fueled shenanigans, and a Cafe Kitten heart circle for 40+ days)

    In my personal camp, I stretch tarp under Any area that is shaded and where people gather, it makes erasure much less mind bending than crawling through dunes of fine playa searching for wood bits. (and you don’t lose your precious tiny things that drop out of your hand/pocket/bowl)

    So… Kudos is nice and all… (love ya The Hun). But what strategies/techniques do YOU use to LNT in Black Rock City?

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  • epiphany starlight says:

    ManBabe’s Sex Filth Ave. camp uses tarps on the ground and it makes for a wonderful, relatively clean environment. I was really impressed at what a cohesive space it provided. Definitely the way to go. LNT may be the biggest difference between “festivals” and BM. Thanks for keeping us all informed.

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  • simon of the playa says:

    some seeing eyes is wise.

    perhaps i can be of assistance in that since i know people who know people…

    it’s of the utmost importance to me since i will be working with a large “interactive” camp…

    Also the notion of using the more “well known” interactivators™ to use their platform to broadcast the simple message of “Pick that shit up” on a regular basis, or the participants wont get to hear any more interactivation until they do so…

    just a thought.

    pm me on eplaya if you would like to discuss this more, i plan on implementing it at our interactivation station because i will be out there til thurs. afterward cleaning up, and quite frankly, it’ll make my post burn less hellish, so it’s totally selfish and has nothing to do with any of your eco friendly save the earth la la la bullshit…;-)

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  • little wing says:

    Every morning when I go to the loo from my camp I take a gallon ziplock bag. On the way back I take different streets– and get to meet some neighbors while picking up moop on the way back to our camp. My camp mates have also adopted this practice. Best Moop last year? A bicycle pedal. Still have it. Always carry a ziplock bag when out and about. It’s so easy to just pick up what you see.

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  • CreamPuff says:

    PreCycling is key. Many convenience food packages have added plastic around the rim or a tear strip (think prewashed lettuce boxes or Trader Joe’s nuts/dried fruit bags). Rip all those off beforehand. Check any perishables for stick on labels. Really examine each item. Another area to check for unneeded packaging is toiletries. A lot of make-up items and sunscreen come with plastic wrap. Costumes are a big source of potential moop, sew those buttons and decorations on well, or leave the iffy ones at home for off Playa BM events.

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