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!
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
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!