Leave No Trace 101
Welcome to the Lovin Oven's Leave No Trace blog series! For our first of many LNT posts, we figured we'd kick things off with a beginner-friendly guide to the what, why, and how of this very important Burning Man philosophy.
What is LNT?
The term Leave No Trace refers to one of Burning Man's 10 Principles:
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
But ultimately it's so much more than this simple definition. It has its roots in outdoorsman culture and it's closely related to catch phrases like "Pack It In, Pack It Out" and "Leave It Better, Leave It Beautiful," which you may have previously encountered on a hike, at a campground or public beach, or even at a music festival.
Burning Man is not the only LNT space or event, but today it is the largest LNT event in North America. It also has probably the most intense system of oversight and enforcement of LNT policy of any space or event. It is perhaps the most important part of Burning Man culture.
At the burn, we use the term MOOP - Matter Out of Place - to refer to any item on the playa surface that does not belong. Unlike some campgrounds and other spaces which operate under a "pack it in, pack it out" philosophy, at Burning Man "natural" or biodegradable matter is still MOOP and cannot be left behind. That includes wood chips, thread, orange peels, and even water. Check out the "Additional Resources" at the end of this post for a list of the most common forms of MOOP found on the playa.
There are both ethical and practical reasons why we Leave No Trace. Burning Man takes place on federal land and the Burning Man Organization must comply with state and federal regulations, including expectations for responsible land use, if we want to continue to have an event there. This is one compelling reason to Leave No Trace - the future of our event depends upon it.
But we at the Lovin Oven, like many burners, are more deeply motivated to Leave No Trace because of the ethical consequences of not doing so. As the event grows, our potential to negatively impact the rare and beautiful landscape of the playa is always increasing. That rare beauty, the arresting silence and vastness of the desert many of us call home, is a reminder of our obligation to respect and care for our awe-inspiring earth. To be mindful of how much trash each of us is responsible for producing every day, every year, for our whole lives.
How much waste is that? Where does it go? Can it ever really be gone? Who deals with my trash once its in the bin? Who pays the consequences for what is left behind? The answers to these questions are sobering. When it comes to MOOP on the playa, the trash we leave behind becomes the responsibility of the Playa Restoration Team. This selfless and passionate group of people line sweeps every inch of the playa, cleaning up after their fellow burners for weeks after the event ends, until truly no trace of MOOP remains.
But in the grand scheme of things, trash leaving the playa and the trash we all create in our day-to-day lives in the default world never goes away. Food and paper may biodegrade, but this process isn't put to good use if we don't compost, and some food waste is not compostable. Lots of plastics are labelled as recyclable, but few people are aware that many of these plastics can only be recycled once. Furthermore, few corporations are in the business of recycling waste from their own products; the United States exports 1/3 of its recyclable waste to foreign countries, further removing individuals from the consequences of their own wastefulness. In 2018, China - the importer of about half of the U.S.'s recyclable waste - announced a ban on foreign waste. We cannot continue to push the issue of trash out of sight and out of mind.
Sooner or later, reusable or not, waste ends up in landfills.
In our oceans.
In the streets of our communities.
Plastics and synthetic fibers take potentially thousands of years to degrade, with the environmental impacts of the microscopic particles they'll inevitably leave behind still unknown. The global culture of waste, driven by so-called "developed" civilizations, is one
of the greatest threats to our earth, and to the survival of the human race.
That is the most important reason why we Leave No Trace.
How to LNT
As an individual
First and foremost, LNT is a matter of personal responsibility. It's important to come prepared with the tools you need to reduce and manage the impact of your own waste on the playa (hellooooo radical self-reliance). Here are some of our key tips for managing your MOOP:
BYOT (Bring Your Own Trash Bag)
Even if your camp has communal trash bins, every burner should bring their own trash bags. Keep (at least) one in your yurt/tent and plan to put any trash that comes from you and your luggage in your trash bag. Prime examples include baby wipes and makeup wipes, tissues, menstrual products, and used batteries. If you packed it in, you have space in your luggage to pack it out!
Don't pack trash!
While we're on the subject of "you packed it in, you pack it out," do yourself a favor by removing as much excess wrapping and packaging as possible from all your newly-purchased playa supplies. Cereal comes in a sealed bag, so ditch the box. Avoid individually wrapped candies or other items if bulk bags are an option. Every piece of trash you bring in has to leave the playa one way or the other. Keep this in mind for your playa gifts too! Super cheapy jewelry and blinky lights are enticing gift ideas for first-time burners, but if your item isn't likely to survive the week, you've pretty much given someone the gift of trash. Not so cool after all.
Carry a gallon ziplock (or reusable cloth bag) for MOOPing on the go
"MOOPing" is the act of checking for and picking up MOOP. MOOPing may be a formal or informal process undertaken by an individual or a group. Lovin' Oven's dusty bakers strive to set an example for others and embody the principle of LNT everywhere we go, not just at camp.
There are no "public" trash receptacles on the playa, except for what may be offered as a gift by participants. Burning Man does not provide trash cans along main roads, at porta potty banks, or out in deep playa. You are responsible for your own waste. Carrying a full-size garbage bag with you on playa is not the most convenient or elegant solution for this, so we recommend the tried-and-true ziplock method. Whether brand-name or generic, go for the freezer variety, which are made from thicker plastic and usually have a double-wide closure that stays sealed.
Even better, a zip-able cloth bag will do the trick with no single-use plastics required. Keep it in your backpack at all times. Use your portable MOOP bag for your own waste and anything you may find on your journey. Dispose of it at camp in your personal trash bag.
As a camp
While individual responsibility for one's own trash is a foundational aspect of being a responsible burner. It's not all up to you alone. As a part of the Lovin Oven, we work together and make a communal effort to manage our waste in the best way possible. Lovin Oven's camp trash philosophy is as follows:
Communal Trash Bins
At the Lovin Oven, we provide communal trash bins, all located in the kitchen area. Many theme camps do not offer any communal bins. This is a luxury that should be respected by our campers and their guests, not to be taken for granted.
All camp trash is carefully sorted into various categories (landfill, burnables, recycling, compost, glass, and more if you can believe it). Utilize the handy signage provided in camp and take an extra moment to be sure you're sorting your garbage properly. We are fortunately able to offload recyclables and compost at other theme camps dedicated to waste management, and to burn some trash in our camp burn barrel and/or the communal burn areas provided by BMorg at the end of the week. Proper sorting is essential for maintaining symbiosis with these waste management resources.
All Lovin Oven Campers should come prepared to pack out at least one bag of communal trash. These can be disposed of at designated locations in Reno for a small fee, even if you are flying out of Reno and/or not driving your own vehicle out. LO campers taking the Burner Express Bus will receive a specially marked trash bag which Burner Express will dispose of on your behalf upon exiting the playa. B.E.B riders will be responsible for bringing this bag to camp and packing one out when they leave. We thank all of our campers for their cooperation with this
Line sweeps are a common and highly effective method for group MOOPing within the confines of camp (or even out on the playa if you're so inclined) and we're likely to do quite a few of them over the course of burn week as well as more extensively during camp breakdown on Monday.
If someone in camp loudly solicits help with a line sweep, get up off your bum and help! With a sufficient number of volunteers, line sweeps are a quick and easy way to manage MOOP that doesn't leave a huge mess to be dealt with at the end of the week. The longer a piece of MOOP is on the ground, the more likely it is to become covered by ever-shifting dust piles, hidden from immediate view; in turn, this will require a lot more crawling on hands and knees, sifting through the sand to find MOOP during teardown.
Even if everyone utilizes their personal and communal trash and stays mindful of what they're dropping, the truth is that there will still be MOOP in camp - it just happens. Especially during the bake and while getting dressed and ready for the day (or night). Help with line sweeps when asked, or enlist help and initiate one yourself if you're noticing a lot of MOOP on the ground.
At this moment, the uninitiated might be wondering why line sweeps and MOOPing are so important if the Playa Resto Team will be coming in right behind us to make sure everything's clean. Besides the issue of personal responsibility and ethics discussed above, this is where another very important practical reason for MOOPing comes into play - the Playa Resto team isn't just cleaning up after us to be nice; each year, every inch of the playa is rated on how clean it was before the Resto Team cleaned it up. A color-coded map of the MOOP situation across the playa is published for all to see (and judge). For theme camps that are granted formal placement on the map, failure to Leave No Trace may jeopardize that camp's placement in the future.