Burning Man 2009: Evolution. The Burning Man community is stepping up and taking responsibility and ownership of our event and the impact it has on the environment – both in Black Rock City and wherever Burners live – finding sustainable solutions and employing them whenever possible. It’s all about doing everything smarter, and it starts right at home with each one of us.

Our evolution will most certainly be playafied.

Burning Man Year Round

In the four months prior to Burning Man moving its headquarters in April, we found new homes and recycling programs to take all sorts of things that were no longer needed. We diverted approximately 40 cubic yards of discarded materials from landfill in this effort – about half of the total materials discarded from the building we had occupied for seven years. It has long been standard operating procedure at Burning Man Headquarters to re-use or recycle everything possible, so we were committed to the job. It was a challenge, for certain, but worth it in the end.

In October 2009, as part of San Francisco’s program to achieve zero waste, a law was passed requiring all residents and businesses to separate organic waste. At the Burning Man Headquarters we have been doing this for over two years now, this is just one of the many ways we are doing it smarter. Composting is good for our trash, making it less smelly; it’s good for the bottom line, in that it saves us money each month; and it’s good for the wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties who utilize the compost.

On the Playa

In June of 2009, we began talks with a new waste hauling and management vendor for the Burning Man event. A smaller, local, family-owned company that would be more hands-on and work closely with us to determine and better manage our needs. By working more closely with the vendor, we were able to meet our needs as they came up and eliminate guesswork. This allowed us to deliver four fewer containers to the event site initially, make fewer roundtrips from Reno to the event site and eliminate one 30-yard container completely. In 2009, we had a total of 22 containers (approximately 660 cubic yards or 110 tons of material) that went to the landfill. This is a reduction of 30 cubic yards (or 4.5%) compared with the 2008 event. We now have some baseline numbers to work with and we are already working on plans that will help us better understand what exactly is being sent to the landfill and hopefully find ways we can reduce the amount in the future.


This new waste stream management vendor introduced us to a new commercial composting facility that had just opened north of Sparks, NV on Pyramid Lake Hwy. The facility was operating under a special permit from the county as a test. They were so interested in getting organic material from the Burning Man event that they went to the county and asked for the permit to be amended to include our materials. This meant that we had a much closer place to take our organic material, and no longer had to transport it to Full Circle Compost in Carson Valley (an additional 60 miles each way). Full Circle, who we happily worked with for two years, understood and supported our decision to take our materials to the closer facility. We diverted a total of 60.75 cubic yards of materials from the Staff Commissary, the Center Camp Café, Recycle Camp and other infrastructure camps during the 2009 event. This represented approximately 8% of our waste stream.


Black Rock City Recycling had a very successful year in 2009. Recycle Camp collected nearly two tons of aluminum from participants during the event, as aluminum cans are the only thing that is allowed to be left behind in this “pack it in, pack it out” city. Another half ton was collected from Burning Man Staff and infrastructure camps along with enough plastic, glass and cardboard to fill nearly three 30-yard containers. All of the recycling was transported to two separate recycling facilities in Reno and Sparks. From the 2 1/2 tons of aluminum we were able to once again make a sizable donation of $1,500 to the Student Council at The Gerlach School.

The Reno/Sparks Drive-Thru Recycling Project returned again for its third year. This very successful project is a gift to the Burning Man Community. For more information, please see their report.

For the third year running, we set up collection stations to accept participants’ leftover wood at the end of the event, diverting usable wood from being burned in the public burn platforms. The wood that was collected after the 2008 event went to Black Rock Station (the Burning Man Ranch and Production Facility north of the event site) where it was used throughout 2009 on projects to upgrade and improve the properties in and around Gerlach. In 2009 the DPW Special Projects Team led the wood collection effort and more than doubled the amount of wood collected. In the end they had collected, sorted, banded and sent to the Burning Man Ranch – 10 units of plywood, four units of 2x3s, 12 units of 2x4s, seven units of 2×6’s, three units of 2x8s, one unit of 2x10s, one unit of 2x12s and about 300 4×4’s. The yearround staff in Nevada has proposed new projects that will use these reclaimed resources, and the projected materials savings totals $10,000.

At the end of the event, a little-known DPW team called Collexodus (it’s a play on the words “collection” and “exodus”) collected two shipping containers-full of non-perishable food, beverages and other items from participants as they lined up to leave Black Rock City. This is an effort that has been happening for years, and all the collections are sorted and stored at the Black Rock Saloon in Gerlach where they help sustain the DPW crew post-event and the yearround staff through the winter season. We no longer take bottled water because it doesn’t last very long in the desert heat, but we have expanded the collections to include camping gear and clothing.

During the post-event strike, we sent three truckloads of scrap metal to recyclers, including dead vehicles, appliances, and steel remaining from art projects (such as the Man Base) after they burn. Any usable metal is sent to the Ranch for use by the metal shop.

Other key teams that contribute each year to the environmental efforts of the Burning Man Project include the Earth Guardians and Playa Restoration Team. For more information about these teams, please read their respective Afterburn Reports.


In January 2009, Burning Man received a second invitation from Keep California Beautiful to review and implement the litter abatement plan for the Carlsbad Marathon. This time it was a smaller team of just four members of the Playa Restoration crew that traveled to San Diego County and took part in this continuing effort. While there, we noticed that a first phase of permanent drain covers had been installed – quite possibly a direct result of the report we submitted after our 2008 involvement.

Snokoan solar camp and doubledecker bike

Snokoan solar camp and doubledecker bike

Black Rock Solar, in its second full year, continued their mission to “Free the Sun” , installing many new solar arrays throughout Northern Nevada in 2009.

Burners Without Borders is continuously reaching out to groups and individuals around the globe in support of myriad environmental projects.

The Burning Man Regional Network is a great place to connect with Burners in your area that want to do great things to support a healthy environment. There are events and projects happening everywhere. Get connected and get involved.

A sustainable, thriving Burning Man is a powerful meme. Those of us who have chosen to be a part of this community, we have the responsibility of creating it.

Let’s keep burning green.

Submitted by,
Paul Schreer