Garbage removed from the porta potties managed to fill one 20 yard dumpster before Wednesday of the 2005 event. Most of it consisted of clothes and baby wipes. After a big informational push via BMIR, addition of signage, and word of mouth, folks responded and helped to spread the message. Anyone who remembers Burning Man 2000 knows what happens when porta potty servicing backs up. Fortunately, enough folks seem to understand the seriousness of the situation, and within a day or so of the problem becoming known, a marked difference occurred in the amount of trash being thrown in the potties.
Baby wipes are NOT OK to throw in the potties. While the convenient, cloth-like wipes might seem to be the answer to single-ply woes, folks who use them merely trade their own convenience for that of someone else who ends up having to fish the baby wipes out of the muck. They seriously clog the screening mechanism that the sanitation vendor uses to remove trash from the copious effluent the Black Rock City produces. The processing machine, known as a “masticator” lifts garbage out of the effluent slurry with a conveyor belt and pulls it into a corkscrew shaped device that compacts, filters and grinds it, then deposits it in a waiting dumpster. Baby wipes do not disintegrate the way that single-ply toilet paper does, nor do they shred. They wind about the masticator’s corkscrew mechanism and don’t get pushed out the end as other garbage does. When enough babywipes wrap around the mechanism, they clog up the works and may lead to servicing downtime while the screening mechanism is cleared or, as happened in 2005, repaired. After several such incidents, a team of people had to stand next to the conveyor belt and remove, by hand, the babywipes before they could cause more havoc.
By all means, people can use the wipes if they want, but they must TAKE THEM AWAY when they vanish – Ziploc bags work well for this function. Those who see others about to take baby wipes into the potties should ask them if they’re prepared to pack out the used wipes, as well.
Hand sanitizers worked well again in 2005, and more people seemed to use them. A couple places in the city that could benefited from better coverage than they got, and that’s something planners will work on for 2006.
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Submitted by Matt “HazMatt” Morgan