The Pottie Project: Birth of a Movement

The art theme of Burning Man 2000 was “The Body.” Ironically, that year, the collective actions of Burner bodies would almost end our event and send everyone home before the Man Burn.

This was the year of the “POO-apocalypse.” Black Rock City had grown to over 25,000 participants with over 300 porta-potties acting as the sewer system of one of the (temporarily) biggest cities in the state of Nevada.

Burners who would never think of letting a cigarette butt hit the playa had forgotten that Leaving No Trace applied to the porta-potties! The potties were being used for all kinds of sundry purposes! Garbage being left! Gray water being dumped! Beer cans! Bottles! Even a rack of burnt ribs and a previously frozen chicken were dumped in the porta-potties that year!

The situation was so bad that half of our porta-pottie service vendors walked off the job and refused to pump our holy blue boxes. Our potties got worse as the week progressed. Shit pyramids started building as the sewer system of our city completely broke down.

It was not only an unpleasant experience for anyone needing to relieve themselves, it was a public health crisis, and Reno Waste Facilities and the Department of Health placed Black Rock City on probation. If we couldn’t get our shit together in a hurry, Burning Man would have to close, and everyone would be sent home.

DPW started a massive pottie Leave No Trace campaign by going camp to camp reminding everyone that “If it doesn’t come out of your body, it doesn’t go into the pottie!” Burners got the message. Our event was saved! And so the Pottie Project was born.

The Pottie Project

This year, 70,000 participants will take part in our amazing temporary community for a week, and during that time over 1,700 porta-potties will handle over 245 tons of shit and 76 tons of piss! That’s a shit pyramid the same size of eight Boeing 737s! Everything we individually add matters, and it matters in a big way.

Because our sewer system is delicate and because it takes so little to upset the balance of its operations, it matters what we put in the potties. The mission of the Pottie Project is to educate and remind Black Rock City citizens that Leaving No Trace applies to our porta-potties.

Pottie Project volunteers spend their Burn educating participants on the importance of this simple message. And we have fun doing it! Our creative efforts include graphic arts such as pottie posters and signs, performance art in front of the potties, and written art such as poetry and storytelling.

Robbi Dobbs and her “Poo Haiku” has been a staple of our pottie message for 17 years — since the “POO-Apocalypse” of the 2000 Burn. This is one of the longest-running and largest art projects on the playa! Everyone uses a pottie multiple times during the event, which means everyone has seen our art at one point or another.

Our main message is to love your potties! You know those big blue pump trucks you see every morning and throughout the day that have United Site Services written on the side? Those are the demigods of the playa!

These brave warriors pump out and remove over 245 tons of our shit every year. WIth out these blue angels, Burning Man would cease to exist. Show these warriors your love and respect when you see them. Gift them! Smile at them! Tell them thank you every chance you get!

Or you could take a leaf out of Nowhere’s book, the Regional Burn in Spain. At this Burn, each theme camp has a “shit ninja lead” who ensures the nearest porta-pottie is kept clean and well stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Imagine if each of us adopted just one pottie to shower in our Leaving No Trace love. Maybe we’d pick up MOOP around that pottie; maybe we’d create art to remind others to love the potties. Maybe we’d bring extra one-ply toilet paper to Burning Man and make sure our adopted pottie is always stocked. However you express yourself, you will have a positive collective effect on the whole city!

if you know where to look…

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Porta-Pottie Dos! (and Don’ts)

Here are some important ways to love your potties:

  • Love your porta-potties!
  • Love the Dust Warriors of United Site Services!
  • Pee and poo in your porta-potties! (Using the playa to do your business is not only gross and dangerous to others, it can also land you a pretty hefty fine from the BLM.)
  • Decorate and create art for the porta-potties that helps to educate and promote LNT!
  • Create porta-pottie art that DOES NOT become MOOP, destroy the porta-potties or interfere with USS being able to pump and service our porta-potties!
  • Feel free to empty your piss containers at the porta-potties! But DO NOT leave your empty piss containers at the porta-potties.
  • Clean up your pottie-related art project if it becomes MOOP and before the end of the event.

Do Not Leave:

  • Garbage of any kind
  • Flushable wipes
  • Tampons
  • Gray water
  • Shit buckets
  • Piss containers
  • Goat heads

Please spread this simple message to your camps, your villages and your new and returning campmates.

The Pottie Project also has amazing and unique opportunities for Participation, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility and Leave No Trace. Please consider volunteering with the Pottie Project this Burn.

If interested, indicate Pottie Project in the volunteer questionnaire, or contact our volunteer coordinator via pottieproject@gmail.com. You can also join our Facebook Group to learn more about excremental correctness at Burning Man and other venues where porta-potties are provided.

May you always find a freshly pumped pottie when you need one this year! May you be an individual force of positivity for the collective of our Burn!

About the author: Elder Wrong

Elder Wrong is the Porta Pottie Preacher. The Cuddle Pottie is his second attempt at being a cult leader after his failed Army of Shirt Cocking Elders of Latter-Day Saints started at his 2011 Burn. He has been preaching his message of “Love thy Porta-Potties” through the Pottie Project since 2013. A local artist to Phoenix Arizona, Elder Wrong has created burn pieces for Arizona and Southern Nevada Regional Burns. Elder Wrong is now the lead volunteer of the Pottie Project. You can email him or friend him on Facebook.

11 Comments on “The Pottie Project: Birth of a Movement

  • Tourist says:

    Will the BORG provide porta-potties with lockable doors and toilet seats this year or will the quality of the potties continue to worsen with each year?
    As they say “When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” well, when you provide broken potties, expect the worse in return.

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    • Ruth A Talisman says:

      Hi Tourist. Gate doesn’t control the price of tickets. Arctica can’t get your ice back to your camp before it melts. And the Pottie Project doesn’t put on door locks or toilet seats. Please write an email to Burning Man .org. Tell them you’re tired of squatting while you try to hold the door closed. I’m pretty sure BM owns these units. (Please graffitti responsibly.)

      The Porta Pottie Project educates about the evils of wipes. They provide more TP in the wee hours, and they get camps to stock the banks nearby. A million thanks to them.

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    • Elder Wrong says:

      The mission of the Porta Pottie Project is to remind burners that Leave No Trace applies to the potties and if it doesn’t come out of your body it doesn’t go into the Pottie ! However, your post got the rusty gears moving up in my noggin! One of the projects we at the Pottie Project are trying to promote this year is Love Thy Pottie. And one way that YOU might consider participating in Love Thy Pottie is to bring some materials to fix broken locks on the Potties that need that extra TLC! I’m just a humble Preacher of Porta Pottie Jesus but I’m sure YOU could think of some great ways to help those broken locks and show your love for the potties!

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  • Jango says:

    Your figures seem to be amiss. The average human poops 1.1 pound per day yet pees out approx 3.08 pounds. Even with evaporation the amount of pee should at least equal the tonnage of poop.

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  • Ruth A Talisman says:

    I really appreciate the Porta Pottie Team. Thank you for building a strong community of camps that care. Thank you for stocking extra paper and recruiting nearby camps to do the same. It’s a hard and misunderstood job that you do. Thank you.

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    • Elder Wrong says:

      We appreciate you! There are over 70,000 Burners, over 1700 Porta Potties, but only a handful of us humble volunteers. Without the collective efforts of all Burners at Black Rock City, our sanitation system would collapse by the size of it all! Please keep up the good work and remember to love your potties!

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  • Honey Bee says:

    It seems to me that it is not your average Burner who is causing the majority of our Porto Problems. If you are irresponsible enough to get so drunk/altered/whatever that you can’t take a shit without spreading it all over the seat, you should probably skip Burning Man. If you can’t read the Survival Guide and understand that trying to ‘flush’ a frozen chicken is a bad idea, you should probably stay home. For the rest of us, I’ll bet we can do a much better job of Community Effort and Self-Reliance by carrying some 1-ply TP with us when we are out and about, staying sober enough to be conscientious, and putting the damn seat down when we’re done.

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  • robot says:

    Shitty article, thanks!

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  • Nancy Cristina Nazario says:

    The porta-potties are the weak link of Burning Man for sure…each year I’m amazed at how many people who come to burning man can’t manage to relieve themselves in a manner that shows consideration to others.

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  • Sarah Duncan says:

    I attended Burning Man in 2016 – our neighborhood Porta Potties were NOT the problem (we had a porta with a rainforest them that was my particular favorite – thank you to whomever did that!). Best was when a Porta-Potty end-camp provided a “table of hygiene” (waterless dis-infectives, 1 ply, sunscreen, etc. the Potties next to the music venues were the worst! – literally piles of shit on the seat! who does that!?!

    (for the record, I would push these pyramids into the hole, and wipe down the seat with gel disinfectant) It’s piss and shit people – we all do it, deal with your own!

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