The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace: Junk and Your Trunk

When is a bus not a bus? Photo BY-NC-ND Chris Dunphy.

It’s getting to be that time! With Burning Man getting closer and closer every day, your thoughts are probably starting to turn to the important things: Costumes! Art! Tents, shade structures, bikes, headlamps, rebar, libations and oh yes, sustenance.

It’s a lot of STUFF to pack for just one week, especially when you have to pack it all out again. But you’ll figure out a way to have it all in Black Rock City — with a little help from The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace!

Today’s edition of the Guide is about managing all that STUFF, and making sure your experience doesn’t go from

Sharon West heads to Black Rock City.
Photo © Laura Agüera.
to THIS!

Trouble on the way home.
Photo BY-NC-SA Qarly Q.


Less is less. Leave room for YOU in your car!

As a community, we have a real junk-in-the-trunk problem. 50,000+ Burners can accumulate a tremendous amount of “supplies.” Before you pack those ten extra water jugs, four backup cantaloupes and 27 tapestry swatches — even if you have room for them in the car — think about how many you will actually need.

Your goal: To have extra space in your vehicle. It’ll come in handy in steps 4 and 5.

A common scenario. Photo BY-NC-SA Adria.


Can’t use it? Don’t bring it! Remove excess packaging before you pack.

One of the easiest ways to save space (and to have less MOOP to deal with at Burning Man) is to take everything out of its packaging as you pack. Lose the plastic, cardboard, peanuts and paper; take the time to fold things neatly; and you can fit much more STUFF into much less space.

Fill a car to the brim with loose beer cans? It’s been done, though that’s sort of against the message here. The point is, you don’t need the cardboard box. UNLESS…

Now that’s how you sort trash. Photo © Tom Schmidt.


Set up your bins the moment you arrive! You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s a use for some of your big boxes and bags: Use them to sort garbage in your camp! Create a trash station in a common area, or near your gray water jugs. Get everyone in camp on board, so they know where to put their unwanted items. This is the absolute best way to get your trash out of camp without a lot of hassle, mess and lost space. For example:

  • Aluminum: Donate to Recycle Camp or drop off (and maybe collect a little cash) at one of the many 24-hour recycling stations on the way home.
  • Plastic: At the end of the week, stomp on it to squash it flat. Drop it off on the way home.
  • Glass: Uh… don’t bring it! Beer, wine, even champagne comes in boxes and cans these days. If you must have glass, bring a sturdy container you can close tight. Drop it off!
  • Burnables: Hey I hear that stuff burns!
  • Wet Trash (food mostly): During the week, keep it in a mesh or paper bag. It will dry out and be easy to pack out! Lighter and less gross, too.
  • Seriously Just Trash: Drop it off at one of the disposal points on the way home.
37 bikes, approx. Photo © cooperis.


Leave extra space on your way to BRC. You’ll need it later!

Here’s where it all comes together: When you’re driving down the highway at full speed with five bikes and a bag of trash strapped precariously to your roof.

Ever been there? Trust me, you don’t want to be. And Burning Man doesn’t want you to be there either. With 50,000+ people leaving Black Rock City in thousands of vehicles, there’s bound to be a little road debris. But when those vehicles are carrying ridiculous loads covered in faux fur and ribbons … you can imagine the result.

Highway garbage is a real problem for the towns along your route home. Spilled trash bags are a serious issue, as are bigger hazards that can bounce into the roadway and cause accidents — or just result in an hour or two of work for a Burning Man volunteer.


Burners don’t let Burners litter!

Yikes. Photo © Jim Laux.

As you leave Black Rock City, make time for one final gift, one last bit of human connection: Look for someone with an unsafe load, and help take some of it off their hands (or at least tie it down securely).

Most people don’t want to strap a full bag of trash to their roof. They just might not have anywhere else to put it. And that’s why The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace encourages bringing less, so you can pack out all your stuff, and maybe help a friend in need.

Remember, less is less. Everything you need is already within you. Except (hopefully) baby wipes.

Next installment of The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace: EXTRA! EXTRA!

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.

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.

17 Comments on “The Burner’s Guide to Leaving No Trace: Junk and Your Trunk

  • I want a mimosa says:

    > champagne comes in boxes and cans these days

    Can someone enlighten me? Never seen it

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  • DustyRusty says:

    When you take stuff to a burn barrel, stand there and watch it burn. make sure it doesn’t blow out of the barrel. Don’t just dump your stuff by the barrel and expect someone else to burn it. Dont put stuff bigger than the barrel in the barrel. And don’t just leave crap by the burn barrel because you don’t want to haul it home.

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  • ryder 6 says:

    High quality wine in tetra paks. They stomp down and are recyclable.

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  • tika says:

    I’m not going to Burning Man this year because I couldn’t get a Utilikilt. FU – Utilikilt, you killed Burning Man for me. Now I’m forced to scalp my ticket for $1,500.

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  • T Keru says:

    psst…hey tika I’ll trade you a tan utilikilt sz 34 (approx) for that ticket…unless you is just trolling heheh ;-)

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  • Mr. Chiff says:

    Shit expands in the desert – plan on it so that when it comes time to pack up, you have space.

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  • The Hun says:

    DustyRusty, ryder 6, Mr. Chiff — you are all absolutely correct! Spread the word to any newbies you meet, please!

    T Keru, sadly I think tika was joking. ;)

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  • Thermal says:

    you can’t just put anything and everything in a burn barrel. Plastics and other things burn toxic smoke (or don’t really burn) and that toxic cloud makes it hell for the people camping near the barrel. I’ve experienced that, it sux to have to breathe in that s**t.

    everyone: learn about burn barrels and at least do the obvious: don’t burn plastic and other toxic crap. Lots of things emit carcinogens when burned. Dont piss off your neighbors.

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  • Robn says:

    I seriously want to start a “tie-down” camp somewhere around “L” on the road to “exodus”. Last year I did the 7 hr exodus (and had a wonderful time, by the way), every other year I left on Tuesday. But after gifting one too many jumps, Ze’Bra, my truck, experienced some brain cell damage. (the mechanic said it was actually had more to do with exodus road bounce and fine dusty stuff). Nevertheless, I got to spend one more night on the playa about a quarter mile from the road – beautiful. Thanks to Ze’bra’s hangover, I got to watch thousands “pulse” by me. AND OH MY GOD. I really don’t think Ze’Bra was the only one with a hangover. One of the craziest things I saw pass by was a van with a bicycle trailer attached to the back. I wondered if it even made it to the road. Bicycle trailers are meant to be towed behind BICYCLES. Besides the fact that this trailer loaded with who knows what was destined to litter the highway, it also could be the thing that crashes through the window of the vehicle behind it when it inevitably detaches from it’s host.

    Spending another night in Gerlach to get my truck fixed (not as pleasant as my star filled night on the playa), I spoke to some of the residents there. One woman who had lived in Gerlach for 50 plus years with whom I sat at the bar said she loved the burning man people and had even been out there as part of the local’s tour thing once. She said what she couldn’t understand is how people make such an issue of “leaving no trace” and then leave a big trace in their little town. I saw all this as we all do. Trash cans in Gerlach overflowing with “our” shit. The road littered with mattresses, bags of trash that have spilled open and emptying their guts all over the place. Sparkle Pony sparkle shit and other glittery goo. It’s disgraceful.

    So, I put this out there. I’ve camped for awhile with Lamplighters, and I camped on my own last year while painting a mural at Center Camp, but if I do get to go to burning man this year (currently don’t have a ticket) I want to create this camp. Now some of you, I’m sure are going to tell me there already is a camp like that out there. So what. We need more of them. Maybe do a bondage tie-down theme. Hope to see ya on the playa.

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  • Reddclover says:

    WE track the playa w/ our pickupsticks and our big basket on the front of our cart. And fill it several times during the event! IT’s SO very SAD :( to see fellow Burners being so careless with their trash. Just goes to show the masses are asses!

    Then again there are the WONDERFUL few who have caught on to our GIG and have helped us pick up the trash. Perhaps you have been awarded one of our MOOP MASTER Metals in the past years?

    WE bring our fugly horse-trailer to carry the trash back out to the real world. (Totally contains the junk so NO fly aways!) I always thought a Great Gift would be to trailer a half dozen trash compactors on generators, roam the streets offering service.

    But Playa Newbies and Forgetters’ alike, Please Please remember: MOOP is #2 of Importance, #1 is WATER. Unless you bring your MAMA to clean up after you, YOU are responsible for your own messes! Please be considerate! I would rather be Dancin than pickin up your trash, but I just can’t leave it if I see it!!

    Bring LESS, you WILL appreciate LESS Hassle having to fumble through your stuff to get what you need. NOR will you have to worry about losing stuff on your way back to reality!

    BTW, look for us on the playa, just beyond the Esplanade and Center Camp, we will have our shop SNAZZY, come pick out your Scarf for style and protection!
    OR Find us on the Playa with our RED cart and pickupsticks, Help us Keep the Playa Beautiful!!!

    Love to all you Playa Siblings!

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  • JOYFUL (JOY BROWN) says:

    I too was ashamed of our fellow burners who littered the highway leaving BRC last year. This year, my most important volunteer activity will be to stop and pick up trash; hopefully some others will feel moved to join me. I plan to leave Tuesday post burn. I also carry a bag with me to pick up moop as I journey around the playa, especially picking up the TP strewn around the porta-potties. It all feels good!

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  • Kimbucha says:

    Like the tie-down camp idea. Tie down straps would be great for gifting. I want to donate tie downs!

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  • Mobius says:

    MOOP’ing maters, hell it’s one of the principles of the Burn. So for you virgins think about every piece of moop that’s in your fingers and don’t let it drop to the playa. If you want to learn some cool things about greening your camp and getting an awesome moop bag for your troubles go to EARTH GUARDIAN camp.

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  • Steve Le Cam says:

    If you must put your trash bags on the roof or on a open trailer. Please double or better triple bag it. The sun makes the black plastis soft. When you accelerate to 40 mph as you hit the asphalt the single layer bag will fail! Plan ahead bring hard containers or lots of bags to tripple pack your trash. Getting real excited Steve-o-reno

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