Burning Man 2010: Metropolis: The Life of Cities. A theme that beckons one to examine, the past, the present, and of course the future. Black Rock City hosted a record population of over 51,000 participants in 2010, proof that it is a city that isn’t finished growing. As the city continues to grow, it becomes increasingly important for all participants to work together with us to minimize our collective footprint. For those of us working on the environment front inside the organization, 2010 was a very successful year. The successes of 2010 are feeding the efforts to help the entire organization, including the event, to adopt a “Zero Waste” strategy very soon. The Board is working with two consultants on current strategies and new ventures and in both cases environmental concerns are part of the discussions. In November it was decided to move forward with plans to power the Man and The Man Base on solar power and for installation of a complete renewable energy system on the Burning Man Work Ranch outside of Gerlach.
Where we go from here, is up to all of us.
Burning Man Year Round
Many Burners are surprised when they learn the extent of our year-round operations. Burning Man HQ is home to the whole Burning Man Project; Black Rock City LLC, Black Rock Arts Foundation, Black Rock Solar, Burners Without Borders and The Burning Man Regional Network. With all that is happening, from producing the event in the desert to the special events throughout the year in San Francisco, it is a full-time responsibility to minimize our environmental impact.
In January, thanks to a specific eco-audit calculator made available by our office paper vendor, we were able to learn the results from a change we had made three years prior. Since we began purchasing 100% recycled office paper in March of 2007, we had collectively saved 65 trees, 29,618 gallons of water, 20 million BTUs of energy, 1,798 pounds of solid waste and 6,150 pounds of greenhouse gases. It was exciting to have real tangible results. It’s that easy.
We closed out 2010 with another Recycle Your Life event at the Burning Man Headquarters in December. This was a great time to host this event as many staff members had moved recently and had lots to recycle. Everyone got involved and some even found that they could do their holiday shopping right in the office.
On the Playa
We signed on again with our new waste hauling and management vendor after a successful first year in 2009. In 2010, a plan to closely monitor the waste stream during four phases of the event was implemented and data was gathered that would aid in better planning and management in the coming years. It also resulted in more recyclable materials being diverted than in any other year. The hope is to develop a “Zero Waste” plan and ethos that will allow us to divert as close to 100% of the materials as possible.
We had a total of 25 containers (approximately 750 cubic yards of material) that went to the landfill. This is an increase of 90 cubic yards when compared with the 2009 event. We knew we were going to have some increase going into the event. The Café received a large donation of new “used” carpet to replace old “used” carpet, some that had been in use for as long as 10 years and was becoming a MOOP (Matter Out of Place) issue. The outgoing carpet needed to be dealt with at the end of the event. This is something that we can plan for and does not happen every year.
Something that we can’t plan for is rain. In 2010 we had a sudden rainstorm on the opening Monday afternoon, three hours of rain just before the sun went down. This made the whole city a big mud slick. Many staff camps were reporting that they were going to have to get rid of more items this year than expected due to water and mud “damage”. At first it seemed that this was going to be a really big problem and require a lot of additional resources to handle, but in the end, with only two additional 30 yard containers over the 2009 levels, it was not.
In July, during a Transpo run to Black Rock Station (our work ranch), a stop was made at the commercial composting facility north of Sparks, NV where all the material collected during the 2009 event was taken. We picked up a sample of the final compost product and a full report from a soils testing lab, which showed the material to be of high quality. The 5-gallon sample of the compost was taken to Black Rock Station where it was used for a project that was underway, planting new fruit trees. During the 2010 event, we diverted approximately 90 cubic yards of organic materials from the Staff Commissary, the Center Camp Café, Recycle Camp and other infrastructure camps.
The Reno/Sparks Drive-Thru Recycling Project had a successful fourth year in 2010. This project is a gift to the Burning Man Community, offering Burners a one-stop solution for a litany of recyclables, including aluminum, plastic, steel and other scrap metal, cardboard and even bikes. For more information, please see their report .
Recycle Camp collected around 150,000 aluminum cans from participants … that’s two and a half tons of aluminum. The cans are the only thing that participants are allowed to leave behind during the event, in this “pack it in, pack it out” city. The BRC zero waste crew collected an additional 1,000+ pounds of aluminum and 3,255 pounds of plastic from Burning Man Staff and infrastructure camps, along with enough steel cans, glass bottles and cardboard boxes to fill a 30-yard container. With the exception of the cardboard, which was either composted or burned, the recycling was transported to two separate recycling facilities in Reno and Sparks. From the three tons of aluminum we were able to cover all the costs of transportation and again make a sizable donation of $1,500 to the students of The Gerlach School.
The DPW Special projects Crew set up wood collection stations at the end of the event to accept participants’ leftover wood, diverting usable wood from being burned in the public burn platforms. When they were finished they had collected, sorted, and banded all the standard dimensions of lumber from 2 x 2s to 4 x 8s and all those in between, ranging from 8’ to 20’ in length. There were 2500 2 x 4s alone. The lumber will once again be used throughout the next year for projects at the Burning Man properties in Nevada and for the 2011 Burning Man event.
The DPW Collexadus crew once again collected over two shipping containers-full of non-perishable food, beverages and other items from participants on their way out of Black Rock City. These items are stored at the Black Rock Saloon in Gerlach where they help sustain the DPW crew post-event and the year-round staff through the winter season. Bottled water is not accepted because it doesn’t last very long in the desert heat. We are researching ideas for expanded collections of camping and other festival gear, in collaboration with organizations that distribute these resources at other festivals.
Other key teams that contribute each year to the environmental efforts of the Burning Man Project include the Earth Guardians and the Playa Restoration Team. For more information about these teams, please read their respective Afterburn Reports.
Black Rock Solar expanded their educational programs in 2010 and added eight new solar installations in Northern Nevada by July. And on August 30, NV State Highway 447 was proclaimed to be America’s Solar Highway, with more watts of distributed solar per mile than anywhere in the USA! That’s 451kW along 75 miles of highway, 6 kW per mile! VisitBlack Rock Solar to learn more.
Burners Without Borders continues reaching out to groups and individuals around the world in support of their projects. Do you have an idea to address environmental issues in your community? Visit their website to find out more and to get involved yourself.
The Burning Man Regional Network is growing. Connect with Burners in your area that are doing great things to support a healthy environment through a healthy community. There are events and projects happening everywhere. Get connected and get involved.
Environmental responsibility is every Burner’s responsibility.
Keep Burning Green!