“We will always burn the Man”. This is the last sentence in the Mission Statement of Black Rock City, LLC. In this very statement lies the proof of our desire to be sustainable. We have made a commitment to return to the Black Rock Desert, year after year, to gather and celebrate. With that, we have also made a commitment to respect the desert that we love. We embrace this commitment in our year round lives, to respect the environment always. As Staff and Participants, we are all responsible for our collective footprint. Each year we share ideas and work together to see just how lightly we can tread, and the Man burns.
Burning Man Year Round
This past year was another significant year of change for The Burning Man Project. After 2 ½ years in our Mid-Market location, we moved the Burning Man Headquarters in October 2013 to a new office building in the Mission. We traded 5 floors and secluded offices for 3 floors and open floor plans with very few walls. The move was seamless and we have been settling in ever since. It is an energy efficient office building, utilizing automated lighting and HVAC systems to reduce waste while providing a comfortable working environment. We are planning to have a rooftop garden area for hanging out and also meetings. We are working on plans to have the bees return to our new roof in 2014. Of course we are always looking for ways to reduce our overall environmental footprint while we thrive in our new space and produce Burning Man.
Tips from Working with the BLM
For the environment, BRC and the BLM created an education and mitigation program to teach participants how to protect the playa surface. This interdepartmental collaboration included Black Rock Rangers, BLM scientists, and Earth Guardians. This new program required some intensive cooperation and education, but the intention was achieved. Hundreds of potential grey water spills were stopped, and multiple MOOP parties were had! Each day, BLM scientists and Earth Guardian peers traveled the city, talking to folks who looked like they needed playa protection tips. In most cases, the BLM and Earth Guardians helped the folks clean up the issues, then the Black Rock Rangers followed up to spread the joy and make sure the damage was ceased. Also worth noting: The non-profit group Friends of the Black Rock helped everyday! Special thanks to everyone.
Solar On & Off the Playa
Black Rock Solar (BRS) has been installing solar power for tribes, non-profits and schools across Nevada since our origins at Burning Man in 2007. As of February 2014, we have given away or installed at a very low cost more than 70 arrays totaling over 4 megawatts of power. We’ve also taken hundreds of school kids on fields trips to our arrays to learn about clean energy, and we’ve recently started doing energy efficiency retrofits.
On playa, BRS hangs out on the Esplanade at the Everywhere Pavilion, where the Burning Man outreach groups gather and host events. Every year we organize a Solar Playa International (SPI) cocktail party where we bring together the friends of BRS together with the many Burners who work in the solar world. We also organize an art bus tour of many of the cool solar-powered art pieces and camps.
In 2013 our tour sailed across the playa on the wonderful Monaco Land Frigate. We visited some of the many solar-powered art pieces on open playa as well as innovative eco-camps like the Alternative Energy Zone and HeeBeeGeeBee Healers. We also stopped at Snow Koan Solar’s big photovoltaic array that provided clean, quiet power to the Circle Of Regional Effigies (CORE) projects.
Our contribution to cutting generator noise and air pollution in 2013 was to power the lights for Jerry Snyder’s wonderful Ichthyosaur Puppet, a 50-foot long replica of a reptile that swam the seas above the playa 225 million years ago. We also borrowed a larger solar trailer from Alternative Energy, Inc. in LA to enable the Temple to be completely generator-free for the first time.
We’re delighted to see the exponential growth in the number of solar panels out on the playa each year, from Snow Koan’s big arrays to tiny 1-module systems on the top of RVs (check out our Facebook page for photos of a sample of some of the many solar projects on playa in 2013). It won’t happen next year, or the year after, but the day will surely come when the whole playa is a generator-free zone.
Black Rock Solar Crew on The Playa 2013, photo (submitted) by Patrick “Paddy” McCully
Managing the Waste Stream of a City’s Infrastructure
Management of the waste stream is a priority in the production of Black Rock City and Burning Man. After all, as a matter of principle, we strive both on and off the Playa to Leave No Trace. In 2013 we continued evolving our operations; at the Staff Commissary, the Café, the Outposts at 3:00 and 9:00, the many other remote collections stations, and the Staff sorting station aka the Transfer Station Agency or TSA. The TSA is located at the DPW Depot. The DPW Trash and Recycling Crews managed all of their collections stations throughout Black Rock City and also worked together to manage the TSA for two shifts per day. Staff and department camps brought all of their sorted waste to the TSA for proper disposal, or they sorted it there and learned how to do it right. We diverted a total of 90 cubic yards of compostable organics and 422 cubic yards of recyclables during our time in Gerlach, on the Playa pre- and post-event through to the end of Playa Restoration. The results – we diverted more materials from the landfill than any year ever, we now have five years of actual data to compare:
|10yd Containers of Playa (Soil)||N/A||N/A||1||1||1|
|Total Cubic Yards Playa||N/A||N/A||10||10||10|
|30yd Containers of MSW (Landfill)||22||24||24||19***||26**|
|Total Cubic Yards Landfill||660||720||720||570***||735**|
|30yd Containers of Organics (Compost)||3||3||3||3||3|
|Total Cubic Yards Organics||90||90||90||90||90|
|3/14/20/30yd Containers of Recycling||N/A||6||8||19***||31|
|Total Cubic Yards Recycling||N/A||180||240||354***||480|
*These results do not include Gerlach Operations.
**Includes 2-30yd Playa Restoration containers, which together were a ½ full container (15yds.).
***Data was revised to include 2-30yd. containers of landfill from Gerlach and 8-3yd. containers of glass from the Playa, not previously reported.
DPW Transfer Station 2013, photo by Blue
Our goal is to divert as much of our waste stream as possible away from the landfill. Inevitably there will be landfill waste; the amount depends on a number of factors, including population and weather. In 2013, we sent a total of 26 (30yd.) containers, approximately 735 cubic yards of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) to the landfill. This was an increase of 7 containers when compared to the 2012 event, approximately 135 cubic yards. This can be attributed to an increase of 1 container used at the TSA (population 70,000=bigger city), an increase of 3 containers for United Site Services (the vendor that handles our port-o-potties), an increase of two containers for our Highway Cleanup Crew (to pick up an illegal dump on Hwy 447), and an additional container for our new Busing Project that was started in 2013. One (10yd.) soil container filled with playa was removed during Playa Restoration and went to the landfill; this was the same as in 2012.
In Black Rock City we lead by example and encourage participants to separate all of their compostable organic waste too, as part of our commitment to divert all of our organic materials. In 2013, we diverted another three (30yd.) containers of organic materials from the landfill. Food waste is collected from the Staff Commissary (where thousands of Staff and Volunteers eat three meals a day during the month of operation), the kitchens in Recycle Camp and other Staff infrastructure camps, along with coffee grounds and used cups from the Center Camp Café. Our material is transported to R.T. Donovan, a commercial composting facility north of Sparks, NV, where it is a key ingredient in the recipe for black gold, aka compost.
They are known on the Playa as the Transfer Station Authority, aka the TSA. The DPW transfer station crew is responsible for the full waste stream sorting and five stream recycling collections in Gerlach and in Black Rock City. In 2013 they collected 74 cu. yds of aluminum; 124 cu. yds of plastic; 74 cu. yds of glass; 30 cu. yds of steel and scrap metals; and 118 cu. yds of cardboard. Add it all up and they collected and diverted more materials than any other year on record.
BRC Recycle Camp is the one place in our “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” city that participants are allowed to leave a trace – their aluminum cans that is. Recycle Camp has been collecting cans in Center Camp for 17 years, and in 2013 they collected roughly 190,000 aluminum cans – that’s more than 6,000 pounds of aluminum. With the proceeds from the three tons of aluminum, Recycle Camp was able to cover the transportation expenses and make a sizable donation of $1,200 to the students of The Gerlach K-12 School. To learn more about this Green Model Camp, please see their 2013 Afterburn Report.
The aluminum, plastics and cardboard are transported to Earth First Recycling, North of Reno. The glass, steel and other scrap metals are transported to separate recycling facilities in the Reno/Sparks area.
EXTRA (Exodus Trash & Recycling Program), formally the Reno/Sparks Drive-Thru Recycling Project, returned in 2013. This vital project is a gift to Burners each year. After expanding up to Cedarville, CA in 2012, the program expanded into Pyramid Lake this year. The EXTRA program collects trash and recyclables 24 hours a day during Exodus week. Burners are encouraged to separate their recyclables; aluminum, plastic, glass, steel and other scrap metal, cardboard, bikes and more – everything is accepted (except human waste – that goes to the RV dump).
The project began when we decided to collect useable lengths of wood from participants in 2007, the year of The Green Man. It was the on-Playa leadership of Burners Without Borders that spearheaded the effort, and all the wood collected that first year was donated to Habitat for Humanity. It was the largest single donation of wood to the local Habitat Chapter in their history. In 2013, the DPW Special Projects Crew and the Burn Garden Crew, worked together setting up and monitoring our wood collection stations at the end of the event, diverting usable wood from being burned in the public burn platforms or worse, on the Playa. Due to the logistics, our remote location and the expense of transportation, starting in 2008 and each year since, we have been collecting the wood and storing it at the Burning Man Work Ranch. It gets used throughout the coming year for projects at the Burning Man properties in Nevada and for the next Burning Man Event. It’s best to not bring too much wood, but if you do, donate it instead of burning it.
Collexodus is about gifting, civic responsibility and leaving no trace. The DPW Collexodus crew sets up at the exit roads to collect non-perishable food, beverages and all sorts of items from participants on their way out of Black Rock City. Whatever you can think of, Burners bring too much of it, and the DPW knows that this dusty stuff will likely be thrown away when the participants get home, clean out the cars, and finally get to unpacking. So the DPW are more than happy to help Burners lighten their load. They collect canned foods, electrolytes, paper goods, snacks, socks, and of course beer. The donations are dusted off, organized, and stored in Gerlach. This stuff helps sustain the DPW Playa Restoration Crew post-event and the year round staff throughout the winter season. Anything they don’t use gets donated to the Gerlach School and the Senior Center. This year Gerlach residents were even invited to shop for perishable goods that were left. Sorry, bottled water is still not accepted because it doesn’t last long in the desert heat. No one likes drinking water that tastes like plastic.
The DPW Highway Restoration Crew drives Highways 34 and 447 daily starting on Tuesday after the event ends. The crew consists of about 10 volunteers in NDOT hats and vests picking up MOOP along the roadside for the week after event. Frequently during Exodus, a poorly attached trash bag will fall off a vehicle. Often it’s just that, a bag of trash to pick up. Other times it’s SPLAT! another ugly trail of debris 1/8 of a mile long. We do this because we respect our neighbors in Cedarville, Gerlach, Nixon, Pyramid Lake and Wadsworth. We do it to leave the place better than when we found it. We know we have to Leave No Trace, even off the Playa, it’s incredibly important that folks remember this. Remember to tie down your trash well—even though Highway Restoration Crew has your back.
Other Key Teams
There are many teams that contribute each year to the environmental efforts of the Burning Man Project, including Recycle Camp, the Earth Guardians and the Playa Restoration Team. For more information about these teams, please read their respective Afterburn Reports.
Paul Schreer, Rosalie Barnes, Patrick McCully, Dominic Tinio, Andrew Coslow, Erica Williams