Porta Potties

In 2002, port-a-potty services were handled much as they were in 2001. We seem to have found a near-optimal placement scheme, allowing convenience for participants as well as efficient and frequent servicing. The potty banks were placed along a circular route so that pumping trucks could move from bank to bank with a minimum of time spent navigating the congested streets of Black Rock City.

This year, more than 360 potties served participants. One bank of 25 units was placed every other block along Mainmast for a total of eight banks. Two more banks were placed out by the Man, and two banks served the walk-in camping area. In addition to these regular banks of potties, many other units were scattered about the city, and a few were placed at remote locations out behind the Man and toward the trash fence.

In 2000, we faced a potty crisis, as participants threw so much trash in the units that fully half of the vendor’s servicing personnel walked off the job, and the Reno waste facility placed us on probation, threatening to discontinue service if the situation did not improve. In response to this threat, we began a massive campaign to educate participants that we could tolerate “no MOOP in the poop.” Service was much improved in 2001 thanks to better servicing logistics and the success of the anti-trash campaign. This year continued the trend, and our potty vendor reported no significant hindrance of servicing due to trash.

Many people have contributed to the continuing effort to keep our potties clean (relatively speaking, of course). The potty discussion list acts as a forum for interested community members to discuss problems and suggest solutions. List members act as an organizational body to coordinate the volunteers who have accepted the challenge of ensuring a quality elimination experience for all. This list was instrumental in generating the “Pooetry” signage that hung on the potties this year and last as well as numerous public service announcements for Black Rock City radio stations.

This year the Heads Project, brought to you by the fine folks at Easter Island Camp, built art installations around the two potty banks on either side of the Man. Five potties from each bank were decorated with huge masks that fit over a single unit each and turned it into a moai (the mysterious rock heads found on Easter Island). The Easter Island folks were also responsible for printing and hanging the “Pooetry” signs this year as well as the mural that covered the back of the café.

This year, a single vendor handled all waste pumping from both port-a-potties and RV holding tanks. RV servicing represents a substantial volume of waste, so the vendor assigned trucks and crews that did nothing else. Servicing could be arranged by signing up at Playa Info or by flagging down one of the pump trucks with an “RV Pumping” sign. In 2001, a vendor representative handled the servicing sign-up at Playa Info, but we received complaints about the hours the representative kept. This year, DPW manned the booth, and service was improved. This representative also fielded any questions or complaints about overall potty servicing and then contacted the vendor as necessary.

Thanks in large part to improved conditions in 2001 compared to 2000, we were able to enter into a two-year contract with our potty services vendor beginning in 2002. This year, the potty vendor was happy to report that we have maintained the level of cleanliness achieved in 2001, and the company looks forward to serving us in 2003. Overall, the level of service that we received in 2002 was comparable to last year and much, much better than in previous years. We have worked with our vendor to improve both the quality of the on-playa potty experience and RV servicing. Looking forward to 2003, we will continue working with our potty vendor to fine-tune waste services for Black Rock City.

Much has improved since 2000. We have moved from crisis mode to a long-term relationship that promises continued satisfaction both for the services vendor and the Burning Man community. As a community, we should congratulate ourselves on a job well done, while acknowledging that the job is never finished. We must remain vigilant and always remember: “If it wasn’t in your body don’t put it in the potty!”

Submitted by,

Matt Morgan aka Hazmatt