Burning Man Restoration Crew Completes Initial Highway Cleanup

Nevada Department of Transportation calls preliminary results “immaculate.”

Burning Man’s Highway Restoration Crew has completed its initial first-phase cleanup of Highway 447 from Wadsworth to Gerlach, Highway 446 in Nixon, Highway 445 near Pyramid Lake, and County Route 34, the roads that bring event participants to the playa each year. Highway Restoration will continue to conduct repeated sweeps of the roads until the end of Playa Restoration in early October.

Despite work delays from a rainstorm on September 5 and the Plumas Fire in California, which sent smoke pouring into northern Nevada on September 6, the crew completed its initial cleanup by September 8. They collected a total of nearly 600 bags of trash both old trash and a result of event participants not securely their loads properly.

The total also included 300 bags of trash and a couch from an abandoned trash vending operation on Highway 447 near mile marker 49, which Highway Restoration Managers Sansa Asylum, Dirty Bacon, and Velveeta, along with nine volunteers, recovered on September 4. Independent trash vendors offering post-event trash collection along the side of the highway are not associated with the Burning Man event or Burning Man Project.

An unaffiliated trash vendor abandoned their operation after charging people money along Highway 447 near mile marker 49. Here, Highway Restoration Assistant Managers Velveeta and Dirty Bacon prepare to clean up the site. (Photo by Sansa Asylum)

Burning Man Project’s Environment Restoration Manager, Dominic “DA” Tinio says the 600 bags of trash collected by the Highway Restoration Crew represents a 30 to 40 percent reduction in highway trash since 2016.

He attributes this drop to increased efforts encouraging participants to properly secure their load and to use the Leave Nevada Beautiful authorized trash collection sites or to take their waste home with them.

“I am so thankful for our participating Leave Nevada Beautiful vendors for the work that they do helping participants put their trash, recycling, and black/grey water in its right place, ” DA says.

Styrofoam hexayurt pieces that blew off vehicles continued to be a debris problem along the highways following the event. (Photo by Dirty Bacon)

Dawson Overbay, Permit Inspector with the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), drove the highways on September 9 and described them as “immaculate…It’s going really well from the NDOT side of things, and from the Burning Man side of things.”

Overbay is planning to conduct another inspection as the remaining staff operations continue to wind down and leave the playa for the season.

Highway Cleanup was originally founded in 1999 by Taz a.k.a Chris Petrell. Playa Restoration officially took over in 2009, assuming cleanup responsibility for the highways near our home in the Black Rock Desert after the event, and helping to keep the roads safe, clean, and beautiful while aiming to leave a positive impact on neighboring communities.

The Playa Restoration Crew of approximately 175 people is also currently on the Black Rock Desert, working hard to leave no trace of Black Rock City as our time on the playa draws to a close.

At high speeds, poor quality trash bags will tear open and fly out of vehicles. Pro-tip: Use heavy-duty high-quality contractor trash bags and cover your load with a tarp. (Photo by Dirty Bacon)

Tips for Keeping the Highways Clean

  • Plan ahead how you’re going to dispose of your trash properly, and leave yourself enough time to do it.
  • Secure your vehicle’s load. Most highway trash and debris falls off vehicles leaving the playa. Use heavy-duty high-quality contractor trash bags. Cover load with tarp and straps.
  • Use the official Leave Nevada Beautiful list of authorized disposal sites for trash, recycling, and black and gray water. Only bring human waste to sites that accept “hazardous material.”
  • DO NOT use any public trash cans or dumpsters for your event-related waste because the local communities cannot support the needs of even a small portion of our 80,000 participants.
  • Be aware that some unaffiliated independent trash operations along the highway have questionable environmental practices, are not part of our network, and cannot be endorsed.
Leave No Trace. No Matter Out of Place. (Photo by Dirty Bacon)

Top photo: Highway Restoration Crew after cleaning up the abandoned trash vendor operation on 447 at mile marker 49. (Photo by Dirty Bacon)

About the author: Jennifer Martin-Romme

Jennifer Martin-Romme

Jennifer Martin-Romme is a fourth-year Burner and a journalist from Duluth, Minnesota. She is currently reporting from the playa for the 2019 MOOP Map blogpost series. She can be reached at burner_madrina@yahoo.com.

59 Comments on “Burning Man Restoration Crew Completes Initial Highway Cleanup

  • Janice Brown says:

    A big thanks to the crew members who take care of this for us. It made me sad to see the sides of the highway with bags of trash strewn around. I appreciate that the highway crew makes it right again.

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    • Tiedyed Lifesaver says:

      A giant thanks to the crews who stick around and work work work and some more to clean the roads that the few of many litter. 600 bags is amazing to think about.
      I do feel that when people are leaving the Playa. Maybe in the bottle neck exit. We have a crew look at al the exiting vehicles. Stop any with questionable loads ready to litter the highway at 30 plus miles an hour. Stop them, help them or maybe even scan their vehicle pass. Trace it back to the camp they stayed in. Penalize the camp for MOOP on the map. If this were to be done, word would spread quickly. A camp member leaving and stopped for a badly secured load with hurt or camp clean up score. Camp members will pitch in and secure fellow members loads. Stop it before it leaves the Playa.

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  • Will Chase says:

    While people may think they “just pick up trash,” these are the unsung heroes who ensure Burning Man can happen year after year. Without their efforts, we’d have been bounced off the playa long ago. You guys are the best … thank you for your hard work!

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  • The Bishop says:

    Thank you clean up crews !!!!!

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  • Mitzi says:

    big, huge, universe-sized love and thanks to the Resto crews working so hard to achieve this. You all are amazing and i love you.

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  • Simple Solution for a difficult problem.
    Contract reliable Tribes in the area to offer trash disposal near if not onsite for a fee.Everybody wins.

    Shadysteve

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  • SinglePly says:

    Thank you so much for cleaning up our mess! It is so disappointing and really shameful that too many “Burners” are amazingly clueless or just a bunch of fucking assholes and they dump their trash on Piute Native American Lands and Nevada’s highways and cities.

    Go Resto Crew!!! It looks like the weather has presented challenges.

    Also Please See Some Bad Press Here:
    kuer.org
    Trash And Burn: The Mess After Burning Man
    By PAUL BOGER • SEP 9, 2019

    Ugh!

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  • Simon says:

    Is the work/release program over now? When do they go back to jail?

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  • Hatch says:

    The unaffiliated trash vendor that abandoned their operation is savagely cruel.

    How can our community ensure this does not happen in the future? First, we as burners should not be relying on them. Secondly, perhaps we should have a small crew of volunteers patrolling the highway between BRC and Reno Saturday to Monday to see if there are vendors like this, stop to inquire and report them to authorities if they seem suspicious by not knowing answers to where they are taking the trash. This doesn’t seem legal anyway but I don’t know.

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    • Tim Sardon says:

      I was employed as a trash vendor this year. I can tell you for certain that the organization that produces the event was skimming money from the trash vendor funds. We were never paid or given food or water or proper vehicles to collect the trash. Many of us were left by the side of the road with only cheap plastic bags that would break in the wind. Then one of the women stole our cocaine and the last of our Jack and drove off in the middle of the night while it was raining. We had to cover ourselves in plastic bags for 36 hours and then walk back to town. Joe Simmons got heat stroke and we had to drag him back. Then everyone blames us. We’re not doing this Burning Man thing again. Not any one of us ever.

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      • Tim Sardon says:

        I just want to follow-up with another post on the topic because I’m still really pissed off about what happened. .. We were a crew of 4 guys and YES I know cocaine is illegal but we only had 2 grams and it was just for us. Then a woman from the company showed up at dusk who was supposed to take us back to town. This woman, I think her name was Lady Bird or Bee or something, said she was a big-wig at the company. We didn’t care, we just wanted to get back to town. She started doing lines of coke and she basically did an entire gram by herself. Then she went crazy talking yelling about Burning Man and all the people she works with and how everyone sucks… We just wanted to participate and help out however we could. We don’t know who anyone is. Then she grabbed the rest of the coke and grabbed the bottle of Jack and got in her truck and flipped us off while driving away and called us losers. Thanks a lot. My friend got very sick and was in the hospital for a few days due to dehydration and heat stroke. What a great festival!

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      • Scott Eiserman "Oasis" says:

        I’m really sorry this happened to you, that’s unacceptable on many levels. But please don’t judge all of us for the horrible actions of one fucked up individual, for every one of her, there are thousands who truly understand and appreciate how much you guys sacrifice to do this, and how integral you are to the event. If I wasn’t there thousand miles away if happily buy you guys several grams and bottles of Jack to at least replace that. I can understand your frustrations, just please know that the bast silent majority isn’t like this and truly does appreciate your efforts. Thank you

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  • Wovoka says:

    Are “trash vendors” (is that an oxymoron?) licensed to take and dispose of trash? Seems like they’d have to be, and if not, we need to pressure Nevada DOT or whatever department to require licensing, since this is an environmental issue. WONDERFUL WORK YOU FOLKS DO, btw. Cannot wait (but I must) for next year!

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    • Fred Smythe says:

      I had a trash license for 5 years but it expired after I wasn’t able to pass the testing process. That was last winter and my entire house is full of trash, but I’ve made tunnels and I can also put trash bags on the roof. But the HOA is threatening to repo my house because I painted it in dots and I can’t water the lawn because I can’t find the hose because all the trash. I told them to just give me my trash license back and they said NO that I have to go through the program. I have 4 dogs and 2 cats and I don’t know what to do. I’m in Gerlach. Please help

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    • Flouncey says:

      We paid a guy $5 a bag on the way out.

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  • Andy says:

    I’m not sure this person you are referring to was a trash vendor – it sounds like a scammer who never had any intention of doing anything other than leaving the trash. This activity basically steals money from the Pauite tribe members who have operations on the reservation.

    I wonder if someone who remembers them can post – did they have a large trailer? Any legitimate operation will have truck-size dumpsters or trailers on site. If you don’t see one, they’re probably planning to take your money and abandon the garbage.

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  • LadyBee says:

    Tim Sardon – Have we met? I’m just going to take your comment as a well-intended joke. ha ha ha. BTW I don’t have a truck.

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  • Corrine says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

    I wish there wasn’t 600 bags of trash to thank you for.

    600 bags for 70,000 of us means that 0.85% of us aren’t doing it right. On a more positive note, that means that 99.15% of us ARE doing it right.

    So, this is also a THANK YOU for the 99.15% who managed to leave no trace.

    Report comment

  • splat says:

    Tim – that’s some whack shit if you’re not trolling us.

    As for the people that picked up 600 bags of garbage and made it back to town – Big Love and Thank You for your service.

    Report comment

  • JV says:

    The restoration and highway cleanup crews are, to me, the heart and soul of the event. They are indicative of what makes Burning Man a unique gathering of humans.

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  • CeLe says:

    Thanks SO much. I volunteer on Earth Guardians LNT education patrols while on Playa. However, as an older, single woman traveling alone, usually in the dark, I’m scared to pull over to pick up trash on the highways. I’m really grateful for all the amazing crews who stay for days/weeks after the rest of us leave.

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  • Scott Eiserman "Oasis" says:

    I know there’s a recycle camp for crushed cans, does anyone know if there’s any group that drives around on playa to collect them to bring them to that camp? If not I’d be interested in starting one myself next year. Also, and much more importantly in terms of bulk, is there any collection for plastic water bottles? A gallon or two a day times ,80,000 is a crazy amount of recyclable trash that probably mostly gets thrown into general trash bags at week’s end. Does anyone have any experience or knowledge of ways to maybe collect and shred those down , or use a compacter out there for that purpose? Im also going to look into doing that as well. I drive cross country so I already have a lot of time tied up at camp and travel, but I can definitely send plenty of time on playa to try to help reduce the amount left over afterwards. I can be reached at playabound@outlook.com, thanks. Scott aka “Oasis”

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  • Gian-Paul Vidal says:

    Thank you guys for working so tirelessly to have this event leave no trace.

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  • Catcher says:

    What if Burning Man org inspected all vehicles in the gate line before leaving the event, making sure that everything is properly tied down and secured? They could pull cars out of the line if they need to do a better job at securing cargo and trash, and offer assistance and advice right there. It seems like 50 volunteers on Sunday and Monday could save a lot of time spent on garbage pick up afterwards and make a huge dent in the problem.

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    • SinglePly says:

      Catcher, you are right and in fact the Burning Man Event Special Recreation Permit Final Environmental Impact Statement has two relevant mitigation measures that Burning Man is required to comply with:

      Waste, Hazardous or Solid

      WHS-1 – To reduce litter and trash in the PLPT Reservation, along SR 447, and other routes accessing the playa, the proponent as part of its annual Plan of Operations must develop a trash collection plan for the major egress routes from the Event. The plan should explicitly list proponent commitments on when and how often the trash will be collected, and if a team of volunteers or staff will inspect loads upon exit. The trash plan will detail any arrangements with disposal facilities and sites. If monitoring by the BLM, PLPT, or NDOT indicates that the trash situation on Exodus is not ameliorated, then the proponent must develop an alternative plan that is acceptable to BLM. If that amelioration plan is not adequate, then the BLM may require the BRC place a sufficient number of manned dumpsters in the City and along Gate Road before its intersection with CR 34 in the following year. The dumpsters would need to be placed by 12:01 a.m. on the Friday before Labor Day and be kept in place until Exodus is completed. To prevent overflow, BRC would staff the dumpsters and maintain them the entire time they are in place. These steps are intended to reduce adverse impacts in the PLPT Reservation, along SR 447, and in nearby urban areas in surrounding counties.

      Corresponding monitoring measures: NAT-1, PHS-5, WHS-1, WHS-2, WHS-3, WHS-5, and WHS-6

      And:

      WHS-5 – BRC will educate participants on safe hauling methods, such as how to properly tie down materials and safe trailer hauling.

      Corresponding monitoring measures: NAT-1, PHS-5, and WHS-6

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  • Mark McCormack says:

    Thanks rest crew! would it make sense if the bulk of trash is being found in area “X” that people are stationed in that are to note the vehicles that debris is falling off of and to radio ahead for another group of resto’s to stop them as they go through a low speed zone and have them secure their load.

    Or have people observing exodus and radioing ahead to peeps before the black top road to pull those vehicle off to the side and have the owners re secure their load. I know its a swag guess if the load is secure just by a drive by view. .. just a thought or two to throw out there.

    Thanks again resto!

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  • Carlos Waters says:

    The folks that keep on going for the rest from the playa herd, real unsung heros at their best. Thank you one and all for a job well done.

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  • Jürgen Milborn says:

    Without the Restoration Crew, BM would not exist anymore. You are the true heroes.

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  • Austin Vance says:

    Are there any MOOP Map updates? I loved the near-daily updates we received last year and wanted to express that even though I know there are delays due to weather, as an LNT coordinator for a theme camp, I’m anxious for an update! Thank you, resto team, for everything you do!!!

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  • Barker (Bob Bogard) says:

    I am astonished and dismayed that unaffiliated trash collectors simply pretended to take the trash and then just left it all and took the money. How does one locate an authorized trash drop off site? They all looked the same to me. We dropped our trash off with a very organized crew – I doubt they were simply pretending as they were loading it into moveable dumpster containers. I did notice they don’t recycle though – that bummed me out.

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  • Mark Telles says:

    Thank you! Thank you!
    All praise to this crew!!
    I agree, without you BM doesn’t happen.
    I hope you got some of the whiskey and beer I dropped off at exodus!

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  • Gina D says:

    Outstanding! One of my biggest concerns about Burning Man is its environmental footprint with 80,000 humans descending on to the Playa. I’m glad to see this work is undertaken. Sad that some people , who perhaps left the burn, did not take personal responsibility to clear away their trash.

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  • Reebus Caneebus says:

    Tim –

    I feel your pain, man, but I think you’re doing it wrong. Leave the cocaine at home and bring some high-CBD Sativa-strain weed next time, smoke that and then you can really focus on what matters – which is loving each other and picking up trash – that’s what life is all about. Forget about the Jack, too, except maybe as a nightcap.

    On a positive note, I’m super-inspired by the tales of the Resto Team, and hoping that maybe I can join next year. Keep on burnin’!

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    • Tim Sardon says:

      We didn’t even do the cocaine that night because she stole it. We worked hard all day and saved it for after work and no one even touched the Jack all day. Then it was gone and we went into survival mode, basically left to die.

      Everyone is talking about the trash bags left behind by our crews, but we couldn’t take them with us without transportation. When we got back to Gerlach we heard similar stories and cleanup crews that got stranded. No one got paid. I don’t know who the company organizers paid to do all of this because they all had code names. It seems that they hired the wrong people or that they were the wrong people.

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      • ladybee says:

        was that before or after my fingers grew back?

        Report comment

      • Tim Sardon says:

        You established that it wasn’t you, since you have all of your fingers and no tattoo of a mongoose on your face… I doubt you’re the only one on the playa named Lady Blah blah blah.

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      • Tim Sardon says:

        Okay, I’m getting it now. My bro schooled me in on all this code name stuff. So you work for the company and somehow you think it’s funny that 4 men almost died trying to clean up your garbage. It doesn’t matter who the other chick is, she was paid or hired by you and/or your associates with no accountability.

        The only guy we met who didn’t use code name, and who seemed like the only honest dude, was named Paul Addis. I called Burning Man HQ to ask for him and they hung up. I talked to a DPW guy in Gerlach at the bar and the dude tried to hit me in the head with a beer bottle. What kind of operation is this? My bros did get the guy from the bar, tho, and he won’t be holding any beer bottles for a few months.

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  • PleasureSean says:

    I would like to give each and every one of you a big THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. This behavior of littering right after the event is so hard for me to mentally accept when I see it, but to have to pick up each single mistake of trash or assholes acting like assholes and littering on purpose is really Buddha’s work to be so forgiving. Thank you for getting the job done and not letting a very very small number of idiots ruin the beautiful thing that we all build.

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  • Patriautism says:

    Do you know how stupid that sounds? Delays from a rainstorm and smoke from the Plumas fire?Y’all get naked, pedal around in dust storms under direct sun, dance around giant bon fires amid pyrotechnics but a little rain and smoke (from a fire) delayed your clean up? Silly.

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    • Rainstorms and heavy smoke are a hazard because the highway crew works so close to the road. When visibility is that low, they could be hit by a car. (It may be an NDOT requirement that they not work in heavy smoke or rain, but I’d have to look that up to be sure.)

      The Plumas fire smoke was quite thick for a short amount of time on September 6. Thick enough that I couldn’t see to drive and had to wait for the smoke to pass.

      Of course, on the playa, rain is about the only thing that brings work to a standstill, because vehicles can’t get on and off the playa.

      Report comment

  • Big Cheese says:

    Thanks to everyone who stayed behind to help clean up and help insure our future in the Black Rock Desert. Also a huge thank you to the 10s of thousands of burners who responsibly managed their trash! You are awesome beyond words. In the last 19 years that I’ve trek to the desert I’m always impressed with the vast majority of our community in Black Rock City and how we embrace our ethos. However I think the unsung hero ( at least as far as I know) is Taz. Starting this mission to clean up our neighbors highways and byways some 20 years ago is remarkable. Thank you Taz!!!!!❤️

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    • James says:

      I also want to give a special shout out to Aeolus, the God of Wind, who helped anything that could blow away, blow away. Once that trash can’t be seen from the road, it no longer exists and we can party-on next year. Thank you Aeolus!

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  • Chill says:

    Yes, many thanks to the Resto Crew that stays behind to clean up the last remnants of our fellow burners!!! I don’t believe the majority of our burners intentionally throw trash to the side of the road. Most are likely just ill-prepared or unknowledgeable on how to properly strap down a load or are too burned out to put much effort into it.

    Agreed, while vehicles are being pulsed or stopped due to the pre-highway bottleneck, that would be the perfect time to quickly check vehicles for secure loads and giving the occupants enough time to secure the load or shuffle them off to the side to resolve the matter before hitting the highway.

    It seems that future trash vendors will need a permit prominently displayed to validate their ability to “legally” receive garbage so we know which ones to avoid for next year.

    Regarding the highway trash situation, too bad BM has to get bad press by reporters that only report half of the story. Sadly, this “good news” article from Resto Crew isn’t newsworthy enough to make it to the press! We know we do the right thing and will make it even better next year. Thanks again Resto Crew!!!

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  • Tim Fan says:

    Resto is a giant trailer park meth orgy

    Report comment

    • Oh, bullshit.

      Resto does stay in trailers, as well as in bunkhouses, tents, and RVs. And I’m not saying DPW is a convent, but they work WAY, WAY too hard to be lolling around having drug-fueled orgies.

      (How ironic! “It’s a drug-fueled orgy” is what ignorant people say about Burning Man!)

      But, seriously, this is an insult to the crew, who live and work in a challenging environment for one to three months. And for the most part, they manage to stay kind and cheerful. If it were a drug binge, they wouldn’t be able to work as hard as they do nor be able to make the hard work as fun as they do.

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  • Chuckie says:

    I don’t know what’s wrong with you people. Plan ahead unpackaged everything before you go. All my trash for the week fits in a 5 gallon bucket and stays there till I get back. Make one bucket per person in your camp. Put their name on it no sharing, be happy with your one bucket of trash and take it all the way home with you. FYB and your trash too.

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