Your Checklist for Leaving No Trace in Black Rock City

It’s not glamorous. It may be wild, boundary-pushing, awe-inspiring… sure. But living for eight days in the Black Rock Desert is also humbling. Done well, the work you experience there will push you into new and unexpected discomfort zones.

This is a post in our 2023 Back to Black Rock City series — covering a spread of topics we hope get you excited as you prep to head back to the dust.

We can’t save you from existential, life-changing struggles (nor would we want to). But we can offer up wholesome advice to help your camp succeed in the leave no trace (LNT) department. Yes, it feels good to know that one’s participation in our fair metropolis is bringing us all closer to Burning Man’s 2030 Environmental Sustainability Roadmap. But also, Leaving No Trace is very sexy.

Get excited about Burning Man and sustainability. Join our 2023 Sustainability Report: Year Four Update on July 21 at 11 am PT / 2 pm ET / 8 pm CET.

Managing your waste stream in Black Rock City is a daily practice. Think about taking a holistic approach — get the big picture with this checklist, then focus on the details day by day. By planning ahead and communicating your LNT system to your campers, you can avoid a dusty, messy, MOOPy shitshow when it’s time to leave the Black Rock Desert and go home.

There are some great tools out there to help you take your LNT game to the next level. Our favorite is the Black Rock Sauna Society Camp (BRSS)’s Camp Waste Management User Guide, which they’ve made available to one and all. It gives you very practical tips on how to set up your recycling tent and LNT shifts and offers valuable tips on how to minimize landfill waste and LNT costs. Download it and share it with your crew.

To help you organize and implement your LNT practice, we’ve created a high-level checklist, which follows a start-to-finish trajectory that can be followed by any camp or project.

Step 1: Planning

  1. Designate your camp’s Leave No Trace Lead. Read the BRSS Camp Waste Management User Guide to wrap your mind around a LNT lead’s organizational and day-to-day tasks.
  2. Register for the IDEATE Composting Program. You can bring them all your dried food waste and they’ll take it to a composting facility. Hooo-ray! Read IDEATE’s do’s and don’ts.
  3. Ensure you have enough heavy tarps to cover MOOPy zones such as kitchens, woodworking areas and firewood storage. 
  4. Acquire brightly colored flagging tape or fabric strips to mark your tent stakes, lag bolts and rebar so you can find them again after the event. For the first time ever, tent stakes were BRC’s most common MOOP item in 2022. Let’s not repeat this embarrassing statistic in 2023.
  5. Reduce water usage and plan your greywater system. The more water you use in camp, the more you a) need to bring; and b) need to evaporate or haul out as greywater. Here are handy greywater disposal tips. This is a great evaporation system for small camps.
  6. Print BRSS’s Recycling posters and IDEATE’s Compost Do’s and Don’ts. Bring them with you to hang in your camp’s LNT area or tent.
  7. Reduce your energy consumption and minimize fossil fuel use. George B. Reed III, who develops strategies to get Black Rock City Off of Fossil Fuels, frames it this way: “It is now our time to re-examine the core fundamental meaning of Leaving No Trace, and apply this thinking to tackle the challenge of ‘invisible MOOP’ created by our carbon emissions and the impact of all activities that disrupt the natural carbon lifecycle.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. 

How can your camp get off fossil fuels? Take a moment to calculate your camp or project’s carbon footprint and think about how you can offset your impact.

Then, learn about carbon-free practices from:

  • BLAST (Burner Leadership Achieving Sustainable Theme Camps), a theme camp sustainability rating program.
  • RAT (Renewables for Artists Team), which teaches artists (and anyone) how to implement solar.
Evaporation wheel at Brainy Bar, 2019 (Photo by Philippe Glade)

Step 2: Staging

Think about future you, the one who wishes to struggle less on the flipside of your Black Rock City adventure. There are some super simple things you can do while you shop and stage for your BRC adventure to streamline your waste stream and minimize your impact.

  • Remove and recycle excess packaging from food and supplies before you leave.
  • Precycle by using non-toxic, biodegradable, renewable, reusable and salvaged materials.
  • Bring:
    • The strongest, thickest contractor trash bags you can find.
    • Ratchet straps and bungees to attach trash and things to your vehicle.
    • Empty bins to catch fluid that may drip from your vehicle. 
    • Large buckets with reliable lids to store greywater and soiled playa.
    • A metal trash can with a lid if you plan on having a burn barrel.
    • Mesh bags to store aluminum cans and dry food waste. Check out the BRSS Camp Waste Management User Guide for a simple but effective food waste drying solution.
    • A rake for MOOP sweeping and a shovel to scoop up soiled playa.
(Photo by Kate Beale)

Step 3: Arrival

As soon as you arrive at your camp location:

  1. Our intrepid Playa Restoration Manager, DA, is calling on YOU to MOOP sweep your campsite and the street in front of it when you touch down on playa. You never know what you might find!
  2. Attach fabric or flagging tape to your tent stakes, rebar and lag bolts. As we mentioned before, it was shocking how many participants left their stakes behind in 2022. Not only is it MOOPy, hidden stakes are a hazard for vehicles and humans. Mark your stakes, rebar and lag bolts so you can find them post-burn!
  3. Lay down a tarp before you do woodwork. Tarp the floor of your kitchen and firewood storage areas.
  4. Set up your waste stream system and posters right away so everyone knows where to put trash, recycling, burnables, compost, aluminum cans, used batteries and greywater. 
  5. Train everyone in your camp so they know how your trash, greywater, compost, MOOP sweeps and recycling works. 
Composting seeds and rinds at Organic Fruit and Veggie Bar, 2016 (Photo by Bill Klemens)

Step 4: Burn Week

Remember that LNT lead you volun-told? Every morning, they’ll check your camp’s LNT system. Is recycling spilling into the compost spilling into the greywater (we sure hope not… but it happens)? Entrust your LNT lead to educate errant campmates over and over and over again, if necessary.

Everyone in your camp should:

  • Strap down, put away or anchor anything — large or small — that could blow away.
  • Bring a MOOP bag and pick up MOOP wherever you go all week long.
  • Separate and crush your ALUMINUM cans, store them in mesh bags and take them to Recycle Camp, located in Center Camp at 6:00, Monday through Sunday 9 am to 5 pm.
  • If you’ve registered for IDEATE’s compost program, dry out your compost using that mesh bag you brought, and transport it to IDEATE Monday through Saturday, 4 pm to 6 pm.
  • Recruit people to MOOP sweep your camp and the street in front of it for 15 minutes every day.
Yes we can! Recycle Camp, 2022 (Photo by George Post)

Step 5: Strike

If you made it all the way to this section, you’ll understand why thinking ahead is the REAL playa magic. Here are essential steps for Leaving No Trace when you take down your camp and prepare to leave.

  1. Store all trash in contractor bags — they’re strong and won’t tear as easily.
  2. Make sure every camper takes home at least one bag of trash or recycling.
  3. For those in the IDEATE compost program, drop off your dried compost before 6 pm Saturday.
  4. Get all your crushed aluminum cans to Recycle Camp before 5 pm Sunday! 
  5. New and unused lumber? Sunday through Tuesday, donate it to the Wood Donation Stations or bring it to the Burn Gardens on Esplanade at 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00.
  6. Contain unevaporated greywater in buckets and seal them well for the journey home.
  7. Did you have a burn barrel? Cool it down and shovel all the ash into a metal trash can with a lid. Ash is MOOP and it goes home with you.
  8. MOOP sweep until there’s nothing left but dust. Pick up everything: hair, wood chips, zip ties, little papery bits, fabric…
Chris Gerono sweeping with a magnetic rake (Photo by Jan Philip Safarik)

Step 6: Departure

  1. Account for and remove all tent stakes, lag bolts and rebar. As we already mentioned, these were the number one MOOP from 2022. We know YOU will flag them, find them all, and bring them home.
  2. Pack it out! Because you brought only what you needed and contained your waste appropriately, striking camp was SO much easier! 
  3. Secure your load! Check every vehicle as it leaves to ensure trash and recycling bags are adequately tied down using those extra ratchet straps and bungee cords.
  4. Last humans in camp? MOOP sweep the entire camp area and street one last time. 

It feels SO good, getting out knowing that you left the playa neat and tidy. 

Packing up, 2022 (Photo by Kate Beale)

Step 7: Exodus

In the Exodus lineup, peep at the load on your vehicle; make sure it’s secure. While you’re at it, be a nosy LNT busybody and help friends and strangers whose loads are… disorganized.

Only leave your trash, recycling and greywater at authorized disposal sites. Here is a list of locations in surrounding communities that are ready and willing to take your waste off your hands. Pretty please do not leave your trash in the surrounding small towns or behind businesses in Reno or elsewhere. 

Have time on your hands during or post-Burn? Playa Restoration is assembling 175 of the best of the best of the Black Rock City community to help leave the playa clean, beautiful, and without a trace! They have several opportunities to join depending on your availability. To be considered, fill out the Resto application form. Email with questions.

Yoga stretches during Exodus, 2019 (Photo by Jini Sachse)

Did we tell you that we love you? We do. And the playa loves you too, because you made it to the end of this oh-so-helpful leave no trace article. We’d give you a prize, but you already know that the real prize is a drama- and MOOP-free Exodus. (And an ‘all-clear’ on the MOOP Map.) No sticker or patch could ever bring the same amount of satisfaction. 

We are at a critical turning point, as a community and as an event. While Black Rock City did pass the Bureau of Land Management inspection in 2022, it was a close one.

Leaving No Trace in Black Rock City is YOUR responsibility, as creators and citizens of our dusty metropolis. Ensuring the Black Rock Desert returns to a pristine condition post event requires the Communal effort of each and every citizen — not just at the end of the event, but before and during. 

So there’s your lecture and pep talk. Let’s show the world (and ourselves) what Burners are capable of!

Cover image of  MOOP sweep, 2019 (Photo by Manuel B. Pinto; Graphic design by Deets Shay)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger

Misadventures led Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) to Black Rock City in 2004. She was captivated and hoodwinked into organizing theme camps, rangering and participating in Regional Events. As Communications Strategist, Kirsten works across the organization and global community gathering stories and writing for the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and the annual Dispatch. She went to journalism school in the 1990s and then spent two decades at startups and digital agencies.

One comment on “Your Checklist for Leaving No Trace in Black Rock City

  • Mike McCormack says:

    Glad to see this. I was LNT for a placed art camp and the only thing we got dinged for were some severely rusted screws that had to have been from another year or event based on rust. That being said, the fact we missed it was surprising to me as we had a magnetic rake that we used for the entire camp site. We did the same for the art location on inner playa. I also personally picked up all the MOOP in a larger radius from the art, and I was truly disheartened with how much there was.
    Two points, first with more e-bikes zipping around the inner and outer playa, there is less chance to see the MOOP as you speed by, and less incentive to stop the motorcycle to pick it up. My hunch is the more e-bikes the more MOOP you will find post burn. And my feeling is the advent of e-bikes and the associated MOOP problem is unfairly burdened to the art projects.

    Second, your reliance on the LNT terminology is problematic. I have been actively MOOPING in my community beach park for 2.8 years now. While the LNT ethic is useful, most people assume it is only a personal responsibility and for the most part totally ignore the as important community responsibility of picking up all MOOP that they come across. The BM principle of LNT is deficient in communicating this community MOOP responsibility explicitly. “we clean up after ourselves,” is interpreted by most as “myself.” You need to clearly state the community MOOP responsibility. I am constantly talking to people about LNT. And know from this that they conveniently ignore this aspect, since it is not explicitly stated.
    It’s only going to get worse. I assume you gather statistics on amount of MOOP collected / estimated per year. If it weren’t for camps with the placed art on the Playa, Burning Man would fail on its MOOP objectives and as a result would be spending more valuable cash on post burn workers to pick it up. Please amp up the volume on both the individual and community aspects of the MOOP ethos.

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