A Semi-Hyperbolic, Rapid-Fire Crash Course in MOOP

This post is part of the Consider Your Impact series

Here’s kind of a mind-blowing thought: there is a finite amount of matter in the universe. Yep, while things might be out of sight and out of mind, the reality is that nothing ever disappears, it just changes form, or moves somewhere else. It’s kind of wonderful if you think about it — nothing is ever really created or destroyed. Cool, right?

The problem is the parts that aren’t where they belong.

At Burning Man, we call that MOOP, or “Matter Out Of Place”, and if you wonder why it’s such a hot topic, it’s because if we fail to Leave No Trace of what was Black Rock City, we will no longer be allowed to hold the Burning Man event on the Black Rock Desert. That would suck. You want Burning Man to keep going, right? Right.

So we MOOP, and we talk about MOOP ad infinitum — to the point of absurdity, you could say. I mean hell, MOOP has become a noun (stuff), two different verbs (pick stuff up / drop stuff), an adjective (stuff prone to becoming MOOP), and I’m sure somebody somewhere has figured out how to use it as an adverb (MOOPily?).

I MOOP, you MOOP, we all MOOP. This is how we win. (Photo by Claudia Rose)

But that’s how Burning Man has become the largest and most successful Leave No Trace event in the world: we keep ourselves and others in check (hopefully kindly) on the MOOP front, and we share the hows, whats and whys with newcomers so we can continue our (pretty damn stellar) run of successfully leaving no trace of Black Rock City. We MOOP (see? verb) our MOOP (noun) and other people’s MOOPY (adjective) stuff. Because unless we’re all MOOPing really well, we are screwed.

And so, with that semi-hyperbolic call to arms, here’s a rapid-fire crash course in dealing with your MOOP. Ready? Deep breath, here we go …


Before you depart for the playa, take some time, plan ahead and pre-MOOP yourself. Pre-cycle by disposing (properly) of all excess packaging you don’t need. Look through your stuff and leave behind anything that could fall apart, sluff off or disintegrate in the arid desert heat, like styrofoam coolers, splintery wood, loose sequins, or outfits that shed.

Consider your gifting! Instead of giving people things that could be broken, dropped or discarded, pick something else. Tell a joke, help randos set up their dome, whatever. Devise a comprehensive trash system for your camp, including greywater management.

Make sure your vehicle isn’t leaking fluids. Bring the cleaning gear you’ll need, like a magnet rake to pick up metal bits, rakes, trash cans, garbage bags, and a vacuum (if you’re a Sisyphian masochist).

$teven Ra$pa as the Dust Devil (Photo by Rick Loomis)

Lastly, designate an LNT czar(ina) for your camp or art project, whose responsibility is to oversee and coordinate your LNT efforts. Because they will be your best friend.

Headed to Black Rock City

This should really go without saying, but don’t litter anywhere en route to the playa. Period. If you’ve got crap secured to the top of your vehicle, make sure it’s really secured crap, and check that crap at every stop.

Like the sign on Gate Road says: pack it in, pack it out! (Photo by Susan Becker)

On playa

Pack it in, pack it out. Every. Damn. Thing. Never let it hit the ground. Pick up stuff that you see on the ground, even if it’s not yours. Batten down your camp at all times, in case the wind picks up (and it will), and regularly clean up all the random crap that inevitably accumulates. Put down a tarp or filter fabric in your camp to catch stuff before it gets ground into the playa. (Top 10 MOOP Pro Tips here).

Oh yeah, and greywater is MOOP, so you can’t dump dishwater or spit out your toothpaste onto the playa (unless you LIKE being cited by the Bureau of Land Management). Same with oil from your car, so pop a piece of cardboard underneath to catch drips. So is fuel (which represents a whopping 70% of all MOOP issues), so have a secondary fuel containment system if you’re storing fuel cans in your camp.

If you’re cutting wood, do it over a tarp (wood chips, splinters and sawdust are some of the most common MOOP culprits, cuz they’re a bitch to see against playa taupe). Be like Larry, and ash your cigarette and pop yer butts into a repurposed mint tin. Elevate your burn barrels at least six inches off the playa surface to prevent burn scars. Never dig a hole more than six inches wide and two feet deep.

(Photo by unknown)

Never put anything in the potties that isn’t single-ply toilet paper or that which didn’t pass through your body. And speaking of your butt, in the name of all that’s holy, don’t poop on the playa … a little pre-planning can avoid that … ahem … eventuality. Don’t abandon your bike on playa, take it with you.

Line sweepin’ (Photo by Jamen Percy)

Lastly, channel your inner OCD and MOOP the hell out of your camp at the end of the event, including multiple thorough line sweeps, yanking out all that buried rebar, and spending at least two hours MOOPing the open playa (because Communal Effort). If you have any trouble with any of this, ask a neighbor for help. It beats the alternative.

Like, MOOPing for REALS. (Photo by Jamen Percy)

On the Way Back (to Your Other) Home

Though this is the chronological tail end of our list, it’s by far the most important part, folks. Ready? LEAVE NO TRACE DOESN’T END AT THE EDGE OF THE PLAYA. We are responsible for all the trash that ends up on the roads and in the nearby towns surrounding Black Rock City. So, most importantly…

Secure your load to your vehicle. Then double-check it. If you find yourself stopped on Gate Road during Exodus, check it there (Gate Road’s washboard bounces stuff loose). Stopping for gas? Check it again. Stopping along the highway? Check it again. Seriously. (Back in the day, yours truly tragically lost a particularly awesome American flag jacket that flew out of a bin he swore was securely fastened to his roof. The wind is real).

Secure your load, folks … don’t let this happen to you. (Photo by Aurora Sain)

And as tempting as it may be (and I feel ya here, believe me), never ever ever ever dump any of your trash anywhere except the official, authorized dumping locations. Ever. Not at a rest stop, not along the roadside, not behind a 7-11 when you think nobody’s watching. Because guess what? PEOPLE ARE NOT STUPID AND CAN TELL WHAT TRASH CAME FROM BURNING MAN. And then? Our entire reputation gets trashed.

One of many legit places to dispose of your garbage, while helping the local economy. (Photo by Rick from Fernley)

Go Forth

We have been afforded the grand privilege of participating in Burning Man (and yes, it’s a privilege). The least we can do is ensure we don’t screw things up for others in the process. That starts with everybody being conscious of and dealing with their MOOP.

Some of this stuff is super easy to do, and some of it is hard. Sorry, nobody said Burning Man was easy. If you don’t want to deal, go to a non-LNT festival … I hear the headliners are gonna be GREAT this year. Hey, this could be you, kickin’ it in the post-coital glow of one of those festivals …

This could be you, kickin’ it in the post-coital glow of a typical festival. (Photo by Tone Deaf)

Or if that’s not your scene, come be a part of this instead …

Sunrise in Black Rock City, 2018. (Photo by Mattias Löw)

It’s up to you. We’ll see you on playa.

Top photo: MOOP marker made of MOOP (Photo by Lung Liu)

This post is part of our ‘Consider Your Impact’ series, where we’re telling stories that explore our community’s known and lesser-known effects on not just the Black Rock Desert itself, but the world around us as well. We hope it will raise awareness and inspire you to, well, consider your impact. Hence the name.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

9 Comments on “A Semi-Hyperbolic, Rapid-Fire Crash Course in MOOP

  • Stump Grumpy says:

    The sparklepony Moopily rode home from Mayan Warrior, shedding feathers from their headdress.

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  • Randy says:

    I don’t really worry about moop because DPW cleans everything up later. They build the city so they can clean it up, too.

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  • Will Chase says:

    Randy, your comment violated Burning Man’s comment posting guidelines, and so it was removed. Unlike on playa, here we don’t have the benefit of looking somebody in the eye when we insult them, so that’s our alternative method to keep things civil around here. You’re welcome to rephrase your thought in a way that doesn’t violate the guidelines.

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  • G / halfdef says:

    It is not my moop or your moop when it hits the playa. It becomes OUR moop. We all are communally responsible for it.

    I have found that when raking loose playa, lots of stuff turns up, BUT, if a second pass with the rake is done at 90 degrees to the first, lots more stuff turns up. The first pass lines up stuff that escapes the rake, but it gets up to be caught by the second pass.

    And hey!!!! What happened to Ra$pa’s beard??? WTF??

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