Coyote Nose – The Garbage Myth

As a child, the garbage truck would always terrify me. It was a huge metal brute with a yawning monster mouth in the back that could easily gobble any small boy. I could feel the rumble of the motor in my chest when the filthy behemoth would screech to a halt in front of the house. 

It was the ’60s, so all the garbage cans were metal and the soot-covered garbage men seemed to take pleasure on how loud they could bash them around.

All the broken filth and kitchen muck of our lives would be banged into the waiting jaw that would slowly come down on all things rotten and scrape it back into the belly of the beast. 

Then the sooty garbage men would hop back on the tiny step on the side of the truck, slap the side twice, and the behemoth would lumber toward its next fetid meal. Before long, it would make its way to the end of the block, and the street would return to itself. Even as a kid, I would wonder where it all went.

         “Where does it all go, Mom?” I would ask.

         “To the dump,” was her simple reply. 

That’s all the more anyone needed to know. It was out of our home, out of sight, and certainly out of mind.

Garbage removal has been attached to civic communities since the first cities. In Rome 200 AD, men were appointed to take trash out of the city in carts and toss it into a huge ditch far from the metropolis. In 1350, King Edward III started the ‘English Rakers’ to clear the trash from the streets of London due to the rise of disease. The list goes on as cities formed worldwide. 

Le Wrench taking a rest during Resto.

But throughout history, most of the trash problems were civic. The farm lands had little to no problems at all. Everything was either burned, composted back to the land, fed to the animals, or repaired. There was no plastics or packaging. There was no ‘garbage’. There were just things that were dealt with in respect to the materials they consisted of. 

The very word “garbage” is really just a blanket term for a classification of things that are no longer any use to us. This modern disposable concept was created by having a mindset of waste, made convenient by a door-to-door system of removal. Garbage is a choice. 

But we’ve been sold down the river long ago. There are even present-day companies that are going so far as to use municipal tap water to fill plastic bottles with their name on it for profit — plastic bottles that will quickly become ‘garbage’ and will remain so for centuries. Garbage is the unfortunate by-product of commerce and consumerism. It never had to be.

A dutiful Burner leaves no trace. (Photo by Pmatt Freedman)

Having to cart your own garbage out of Black Rock City at the end of the event flips the waste management script and brings our attention back to what garbage is made of. It requires the participant to stop and actually think things through, knowing that there’s not going to be a place to dump it, or a truck to take the worries away. 

The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach gets replaced with a proactive problem-solving approach. It reboots the original ways of waste management, (composting, re-cycling, reusing, repairing, etc.) and brings the principle of Radical Self-Reliance back to the forefront. You have to make a plan. And if the first timer fails at this, they suffer the consequences and do it better next year. Burning Man takes practice. 

When it comes to the suggestion of placing dumpsters within the limits of Black Rock City, there is one thing that my 23 years of being involved with Playa Restoration has shown me. Trash begets trash. One bag left behind quickly becomes a stack of bags, and then very quickly becomes a mountain of trash. 

Dumpsters in the city and on Gate Road would do the same, and at a rate that would be neither cost effective nor logistically possible to keep up with as tens of thousands exit the city in a span of 48 hours. 

Packing it out has become an art form. (Photo by Jillian Jerat)

In truth, the dumpsters would be exacerbating the very thing they were intending to eradicate. What you resist, you perpetuate. Having the participants of Black Rock City be responsible for their own trash has been a proven method of waste management with a 30-year track record to back it up. 

Even when inexperienced participants sometimes fail to fully secure their trash loads, we have a crew that swiftly sweeps the roadsides post event, and the issue has been steadily decreasing as the participants continue to learn.

“Pack it in, pack it out,” has been the battle cry of BRC since the start. It makes us take a closer look at our own waste habits as we re-examine what the hell garbage is anyway. It’s a fresh look at something that we’ve been taking for granted ever since we first saw the garbage truck monster take out the trash as children. This is a healthy thing. 

Is it the easiest thing? No. But the end solution is a real solution that remedies the cause instead of just sweeping away the symptom. There’s no better teacher than having convenience stripped away. It’s a ‘wake-up-and-smell-the-garbage’ moment that will ripple out through the rest of our world, as we apply these practices to everyday life. 

We will become better Burners. We will become better citizens of the planet. We’ve flipped the script on civic behaviors before. I think most people inherently wish to do good, so good conduct will always go viral. Each one teach one! 

Tony ‘Coyote’ Perez-Banuet

City Superintendent / Safety Lead

Department of Public Works

Black Rock City, NV


Top photo by John Curley

About the author: Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet

Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet

Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet has been coming to the desert to build and strike Black Rock City since 1996. A professional musician for over twenty years, Burning Man culture was an easy shift for him. He co-founded the Department of Public Works of BRC in 1998 and has been the City Superintendent ever since. Known as the “Bard of the Desert”, telling stories around the campfire is among the things he does best. He has been blogging under the moniker of “Coyote Nose” for many years, and he is Burning Man’s first Storytelling Fellow.

60 Comments on “Coyote Nose – The Garbage Myth

  • Pytrbob says:

    Hear hear! Waste expands to fill any space alloted, regardless of it’s a can or a dumpster. The convenience of our modern garbage system has disconnected people from their end-of-life responsibilities to their purchasing choices, and by introducing that convenience on playa would simply be an enabling situation. Source: A decade-plus of festival waste management

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    • Adam Tanner says:

      The problem is that it leaves the playa but then gets strewn across wherever entitled burners leave it.

      When my partner and I turned in our RV last year in Vegas, there was a mountain of trash that was almost all items that could be recycled or be re-used or donated (sleeping bags, coolers, bikes, clothing) that these people just decided to leave in their rented RV for someone else to get rid of.

      Sadly half the time, this stuff gets just tossed into dumpsters that the hotels in Reno have also since the hotels would rather have these dumpsters fill up than have it left in the rooms or on the grounds.

      The real issue is educating people that are traveling from afar and giving them an easy means to donate their items and get rid of their trash once they are off playa. Most of US get how to do that and research it long beforehand, but half these people bought a bike at walmart just before the burn and are now flying home to another place and don’t know (or don’t care) that they are leaving their stuff for someone else to have to take care of.

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      • Crissa says:

        Yeah, there were a couple camps next to us last year that spent days trying to find someone to take their gear – either on the playa or in Reno.

        Because they flew to the US to go to burn. And they’d taken very good care to pack appropriately and be low impact and yet… What do they do with it after? A camp’s worth of gear is expensive to put on an airplane. (Not to mention the carbon footprint!)

        We need to make sure reusing and recycling is a thing that doesn’t just start on the playa.

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  • Just Joe says:

    “Having to cart your own garbage out….. brings our attention back to what garbage is made of”
    THIS is so true and has shaped my way of thinking about sustainability for the last decade plus.
    Going to Burning Man presents challenges and it’s up to _me_ to overcome them. To change this dilutes my experience.

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  • Kurt Gottschalk says:

    In terms of $$$$, how much is figured into the ticket cost? You should create an inspection team that photographs sites/camps before and what needs to be cleaned up/removed to the dump and back charge them.

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    • Motorboat says:

      Hey,

      So there is one issue with this. First, open camping. In these areas we have no idea who was there. You may say, then make every area an assigned area. Ah! But then – even in assigned theme and staff camping areas – people can leave things in other folks camping space. It happens every year.

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      • Kurt says:

        Thanks for the info. Contract with a salvage company to set up multiple locations within BRC, where people can bring the items that aren’t taking home: Sleeping bags, tents, coolers, etc. Allow there expertise to re-use the stuff instead of going to landfills. And it’s there profit, if there is any. If it turns out you cant make $$ on it then maybe it becomes an expense of the event that goes into the cost of the ticket. Still less going to the landfill, and hopefully a lot more available for re-use.

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      • Eagle Eye says:

        I like Kurt’s idea of contracting with a salvage company or a non-profit 2nd hand company. I’m guessing there’s a lot of money in cleaning and reselling items left behind. Has that option been discussed? How can we help?

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    • Tina says:

      BLM thinks their in control of Burning Man. WE ARE THE PEOPLE and they will bow to us. They are scumbags that need to be taught a lesson. There is nothing they can do to stop our party happening at Black Rock. I spit on them!

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  • Hatestrash says:

    Meanwhile Burners instead dump their trash in surrounding communities like Reno. BRC is just passing the buck to those communities.

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  • Deborah Hall says:

    Experiencing the innovation of using way less packaging and carrying everything in and out really woke me up to how I can change everyday behaviours for the better. Bringing a cup everywhere is a great start :))

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  • Angel says:

    Waste begets waste. I’m sure I saw, on the way out of BRC, a place where you paid to have your waste taken. Not ideal but better than dumping on the local roads or in Gerlach etc.

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    • Vergennes says:

      Well, the pay to dispose option turned out to ureliable. There was at least one vendor who ran out of dumpster capacity and took put our trash out on the land. One of the complaints from locals that we are dealing with.

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  • Luna says:

    I could not agree more. Having worked trash crew for multiple events, I’ve witnessed how trash begets more trash. Something on the scale of Burning Man would quickly become a logistical nightmare to the point of impossible to keep up with.

    On the other hand, I’ve also witnessed how MOOPing begets more MOOPing, even in everyday society. It’s a beautiful thing when people see you picking up trash and join in the effort! Let’s keep the spirit educational and responsible. That’s part of what sets Burning Man apart from other events.

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  • Point says:

    I have been to the Playa 8 times, 2009-2013 and 2017-18. In all the years I took home all I brought in a bag, one of them bags one sees issued by Cal Trans for picking up liter. In the town I live I adopted the road I live on and Cal Trans gave me a box of 100 bags, in 4 years I have seven or eight left, they are kind of recyclable except to sunlight they break down in a few months. In 2018 it was the first time I stopped and left my trash at one of the local vendors in recycling and disposable along the artery from the Playa towards Wadsworth. I believe the locals have the trash covered and I pray to be a part of the restoration crew who I understand picks up that left by careless in a hurry folk who do not truly live by the principals of Baker Beach and Burning Man. What makes something pristine is the care those who experience realize what pristine is in their ethic of life.

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  • Toronto says:

    Are there even enough dumpsters in Nevada to meet the requirements? And forget about 10 miles on concrete walls, BMorg would need to lease them from out of state to even get close to 10 miles.

    I wonder if it’s such a good idea that Burners insult BLM on these matters… And if there was still an online community (whoopsie, it’s gone) then Burners to rally together in the thousands to come up with a plan, instead of not caring in any significant numbers.

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    • roissy says:

      All of the dumpers are sold out during the time of the event. I pulled over with a flat at a roadside trash collection and had a pretty long conversation with the two guys running it. They were using a large stock trailer because all of the garbage bins were sold out for the area…

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  • Melmo says:

    LNT is a good principle and practice, but 100,000 self-entitled participants is a new scale of remedial education riding on the backs of the environment and NV communities. More are paying for Coachella Norte, fly across the globe, and they don’t read advisories. It’s also unclear to me if buying trash services off playa, even if advertised by friendly locals, is actually within the capacity of locals to handle.

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  • dirty beach says:

    Walk the California coastline beaches (or anywhere) on July 5th and you’ll see exactly how putting out trash cans only creates a spot to create a mountain of trash – it instantly tells the mind body that someone else will be taking care of this – just start by breaking down most of what you can at home – then have a dedicated camp recycler that will break it down on site – tackle it daily/hourly – anticipate creating physical spaces (in each car) to pack it all the way back home…it’s so simple, just be conscious of trash! – realize that everything you touch is potential trash and eventually does, at one point, become trash! Pack it in, pack it out is your mantra! Learn it! Live it! Love it!

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    • Tonatiuh (Tony) Perez-Banuet says:

      Thank you for your comments! I also get infuriated to see other civic events that fuel the litter entitlement – ever seen the San Francisco streets after Bay to Breakers?

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  • ifellfromthesky says:

    Well, if were going to have to provide dumpsters we should not be telling everyone beforehand…

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  • Geomom says:

    Tony, thank you for eloquently stating what should be obvious. Part of the experience is this very thing – the awareness of how much water we really need, as opposed to squander, and how much waste we produce.

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  • Rita Volkland says:

    Best thing I’ve read in years. Where is away? Thank you so much for articulating my frustration in a concise and entertaining way. I hope BLM is able to hear and comprehend this principle. <3

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  • Dan Miller says:

    So eloquently stated, Tony! In 2000, when Larry Harvey asked me to be DPW clean-up manager, in the deep consideration that it required for me to come back with a ‘yes,’ was, as a manager, I concluded, my crew was no less than the entire population of BRC! Education, mindfulness and full participation, was and is, the only way to manage this beast. Your blog here hits the nail on the head to seal the coffin of where responsibility and accountability truly lay! Folks, pack in it, pack it out. Do not dump YOUR waste irresponsibly! Leave where you’ve been better than when you found it. Also, picking up litter is damn Sexy!

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    • Hellen says:

      But if there’s going to be dumpsters we should use them. Plus, DPW cleans up the rest when they’re not too hungover to get out of bed. It what our tickets pay for.

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      • Tonatiuh (Tony) Perez-Banuet says:

        I invite you to spend a week volunteering on our resto crew – it may broaden your perspective

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      • Hellen says:

        How much do I get paid?

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      • -g- says:

        Hellen, that’s a pretty arrogant and uninformed statement about DPW that you’ve made. Especially since I can guarantee their staff is all out of bed, eaten breakfast and working before you even think about waking up during the event.

        Don’t make shitty assertions when you obviously have no idea what you’re talking about.

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      • Glo says:

        I feel the opposite of Hellen. Wouldn’t it be great if we had mandatory dumpsters and everyone still practiced the leave no trace, pack it in, pack it out mantra! What if BLM made us have trash cans and nobody used them! That would be a message that would be hard to argue with! AND I believe we are capable of that!

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  • Chrisden says:

    About 5 years ago my husband and I took out 3 kids back-country backpacking in the Tetons. We hiked 36 miles over 5 days and had to carry all our gear on our backs. At the end of our hike 5 people had produced 2 quart sized zip-lock bags of trash a lot less than when we are in the default world. It really opened my eyes and made me realize what a monumental problem garbage production truly is. Thanks for the great article.

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  • Kevin says:

    This is a very well thought out article. I would also gently suggest however how OSS is also contributing to the over all problem. It is not just trash out that causes such challenges, but one must look at the entire pipeline on how the goods come in and become trash.

    The easier we make it to bring in supplies by third parties the more our trash problem will grow.

    Want a shower for the campers? No problem, potable water delivery and grey water pumping on demand.

    Want a large village of high paying burners? No problem, ship in trash bins and trash removal.

    Want guests to burn in comfort? No problem, ship in generators, trailers and bikes.

    What is the result of the easing of such services? Water casually squandered and split on Playa. Trash bins overflowing and not kept up. and bikes left on Playa after the burn.

    Sustainability of the event will necessitate drastically curtailing the outside resources that are available. If this is the end large theme camps then so bit it.

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    • Tonatiuh (Tony) Perez-Banuet says:

      Strong food for thought! Appreciate your comments – OSS is on the radar, and continues to evolve – insight like this will only serve to help

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    • Blackjack says:

      Good point, in terms of enabling problematic plug-n-play camps, OSS is a good place to start, along with cracking down on camps having “employees.” It’s not about the fancy stuff camps bring, it’s about whether the manpower to bring it is a group camp effort, and therefore shared responsibility. Without certain OSS services or hired labor, how is one “camp CEO” going to promise everyone else in the camp a luxury experience with no labor? The only option would be how other camps operate: lower dues and increased labor participation expectation. Then bring all the fancy stuff your camp is collectively willing to load and unload.

      I do think there’s a middle ground that requires collective labor and responsibility but uses some OSS to improve efficiency and minimize vehicles. Expanding the container storage and delivery program seems good to me.

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  • Pheeeeeeee says:

    Thanks for this.

    I believe as a practice, and from I’ve experienced in 19 years, those of us with trailers pay a lot more attention to loading in, than packing to load out.

    Prepping for the playa, many of us have notes that have notes and some of us do some rather meticulous planning. And, we pack carefully. Every wisp is tied down.

    By the time The Man burns, we are sleep deprived, brain dusted, protein deficient, hot water wanting & definitely Jonsing for ice cream. I’ll suggest many of us do not pack our trailers for Exodus as carefully as on the way in.

    This can be altered. It’s only consciousness.

    Also, a cargo net on EVERY trailer would be most beneficial.

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  • Blackjack says:

    Thanks, Coyote. I didn’t read this until after I submitted my comment to BLM, but you described my number one concern with the whole EIS proposal. We can deal with extra searches if we have to, the jersey barriers aren’t going to actually happen…

    …but dumpsters are realistic and remove personal responsibility, permanently and possibly irreparably damaging our LNT culture.

    It’s precisely the absence of garbage cans that makes new burners fully and immediately understand the correct way to handle their trash.

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  • G-Bear says:

    Very well written article and helpful comments. What strikes me about the dumpster requirement is that it goes against BLM’s own goals of educating people about caring for public lands through LNT – dumpsters beget more potential trash being brought in and less commitment to LNT. Considering BM’s record of LNT, I would think BLM would publicize it to demonstrate how any event on public land can accomplish LNT. Can BLM see their own folly in imposing an unnecessary (let alone logistically and evironmentally insane) requirement on what should be seen as a ‘role model’ they could hold up for others? Has the BLM staff who wrote the requirement even participated in the post-event clean-up other than to certify it met their current expectations? I sense not. Maybe BLM needs to have a camp where they can come to understand what drives the majority of BMers to obsesses over LNT…could be an enlightening experience for them???

    On a side note…LNT is alive and well, at least in our family. On a recent camping trip with our four adult children, and new grandson, my step-daughter and her husband (both veteran BMers) lead us on a MOOP scan of our camp while our 1-year old grandson observed and cheered us on; the lessons of LNT begin at home!

    We’re all role models, the only question is “What kind?” This will be our first BM and we can’t wait to participate…no MOOP left unfound!!!!

    Peace, Love, OUT!

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  • -g- says:

    Hey Tony… I love how you’ve addressed this. Something we could do, that would probably just require a couple of bodies on gate road at a certain checkpoint during exodus, is possibly provide a few bodies that can check the tied-down loads. 2min per vehicle of a once-over, possibly some quick re-education and demonstration / assistance with properly tying the loads down, and people can be on their way. I feel this would resolve the vast majority of the incidents of trash ending up on the roadside from badly secured loads.

    I feel this way the education is direct, 1 on 1 and personal.

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    • Hedge says:

      When people are in line entering and exiting the event, why not have drones above shouting and flashing public service announcements about trash and moop and poop?

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  • The Last Waltz says:

    BLM already knows how the final EIS is going to read. They have made up their mind about requirements for BRC based on their own opinions. The general public is just providing them with comment material they can laugh at around the office. This whole EIS comment process is bogus, because the final report is already composed, they just have to click “Publish”…and it’s done. They theink they know it all, much more than a bunch of dusty Burners.

    Folks, you had better beg, borrow, or steal your way into Burning Man 2019, as it will probably be the last one. Don’t miss it.

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  • John Gwinner says:

    I used to live on a farm – the amount of garbage was astounding.

    The reason city folk think farms don’t have any garbage is they see the small containers at dump day. What they don’t see is the hidden corners of the farm, where the ground is too rocky to farm, or a creek cuts through, or just an area that doesn’t lend well to machine cultivation.

    That’s where you see the rusted hulks of old farm machinery that is slowly leaching metals into the ground; the piles of old batteries leaching mercury into the ground, the burn piles of stuff that would sear your lungs out if you get too close, etc. And mountains of garbage. Seriously. Small mountains of garbage.

    Farms are nothing BUT garbage. Only city slickers think otherwise.

    The one thing I DO agree with, 1000% however, is pack it in, pack it out. Just a minor quibble with the opening paragraph; everything else is spot on. Even if there are dumpsters, I intend to pack it in and out.

    Except for the porta potty stuff.

    == John ==

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  • Zippo says:

    The BLM has set requirements for a 2020 permit that they know Burning Man can’t comply with. They offer a public comment period because the law says they have to. They appreciate Burning Man’s LNT efforts, but that’s not the point.
    Just as the cops stopped the burns at Baker Beach in 1989 because the event was “getting too big,” now the BLM has clearly decided that they don’t want Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert any more, for some of the same reasons. They’re being a bit disingenuous about it, but their mind is already made up.
    If the BMORG were wise, they’d have a team out looking for a different/better location for the event. There must be a landowner somewhere in the western states willing to lease several hundred acres to a group for a couple of months for a million and a half dollars.
    2019’s theme is ‘metamorphoses’. Everybody go and have a great time. Make it yours, make it glow, make it special, because Burning Man’s going to have to ‘morph’ into something else, somewhere else.

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  • Trancer says:

    Remember, back in 2003 when we had 6 or 8 giant dumpsters on the Esplanade in which we burned all our sofas and suchlike? It was quite a pretty sight! Not very environmentally responsible though, I’m afraid.

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  • Jack Marsh says:

    I am so glad you posted this as I understand this is one of the big issues regarding the new agreement between BLM and Burning Man. Having run and organized many 501(c)3 companies and community organizations in general, the reality of the human race is that there is always a huge gap between “Life in a perfect world” and “Life in the real world.”

    In the perfect world, no one throws trash in port-a-potties, no one steals road signs, no one steals a case of Patron AÑEJO from a camp that has an open bar for the whole Playa all week!

    If we think they can change the behavior of 70,000 to “do the right thing” and pack properly, take out EVERYTHING you brought in, oh, and don’t throw it away somewhere in Reno when no one is looking, we’re kidding ourselves and BLM knows it.

    I encourage BM to not dig their heals in on this one. My guess is taking care of the trash situation would remove one of the biggest *valid* issues of locals and folks in Reno. The cement barriers around the perimeter is truly silly and I’ve got to thing BLM will accept some other solution, however the trash issue is indeed a documented, real issue that BM needs to address even at the expense of bending one of the Principles.

    BM must accept the reality that people are people and won’t always do “the right thing.”

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  • Gerflash says:

    For those of us who live in the spiritual realms, we know that humans were made “in the image of God.” We also know that “God doesn’t make junk” (nor garbage!) So there’s no reason to believe that it’s okay for humans to create junk/garbage either. Nor do we need “help” from the fuzz – we’ve been taking care of business for many years now, and are doing better than the authorities could ever by injecting dumpsters into an environment that doesn’t need even one of them.

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  • Zippo says:

    Just a thought……….
    Remember that last year some group had to close 447 for two days to haul a quarter million pounds of derelict Boeing 747 airliner out to the playa, and called it “ART”, then busted the permit when it got stuck in the mud and they couldn’t get it off in time?
    And the year before some guy decided to run into the Man Pavilion fire and died?
    Maybe the BLM decided that “This thing’s just getting out of control. We’ve got to find a way to end this”, which brings us to the present………..

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  • This is a great way and we are all looking for this thing.

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  • john felch says:

    Imagine a facility close to Reno that was set up to rent Burner Kits to folks who come in from afar. When you get your ticket you also get a chit that allows you to pick from a menu of Items you will need but don’t want to bring all the way from France or Swaziland and don’t want to take back with you. When you get to the depo you pick up your kit , including laundered sleeping bags and other “personal ” items, and pay a fee . When you leave the burn you return the items and , depending on the condition after the event, you receive a partial refund on your original deposit.

    Better yet , have the depot on the Paiute reservation run by the tribe , with all profits going to them.

    Seems to me that would be a win win win deal.

    If folks wanted to bring their own kit half way around the world and not go home with it they could drop it off at the depot and pay a fee to have it accepted depending on its condition.

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  • Paul says:

    Considering BM’s record of LNT, I would think BLM would publicize it to demonstrate how any event on public land can accomplish LNT. Can BLM see their own folly in imposing an unnecessary (let alone logistically and evironmentally insane) requirement on what should be seen as a ‘role model’ they could hold up for others? Has the BLM staff who wrote the requirement even participated in the post-event clean-up other than to certify it met their current expectations? I sense not.

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