Playa Foot

PLAYA FOOT is a malady unique to the Black Rock Desert caused by the alkali dust that makes up the desert. It is, in essence, a chemical burn. The most common cause of playa foot is exposure of your feet to the desert floor by not wearing socks and closed shoes. While this malady is not serious, it is uncomfortable. The good news is that you may easily care for this yourself.

PLAYA CARE:

  • Wash your feet well to remove all the playa dust that is embedded in the cracks of your skin. This may require soaking them in a basin of water. Many people recommend adding a small amount of vinegar to the water to neutralize the alkali. 1/4 vinegar and 3/4 water is a good mix.
  • After washing your feet, dry them well and look to make sure you have gotten all the playa dust off of them.
  • If available, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to the soles of you feet. This isn’t absolutely necessary and should only be done if you can keep your feet covered with socks and shoes or boots.
  • Keep your feet covered with socks and closed shoes or boots. Failure to do so will only allow your feet to get worse from the accumulation of more dust on your feet.
  • Continue to wash your feet a couple times a day to allow them to heal well.

PREVENTION:

  • Keep your feel covered as much as possible
  • Wash your feet well each day and apply a moisturizing skin lotion before climbing into bed, and before putting on your socks and shoes for another day of playa life.

SEEK IMMEDIATE TREATMENT IF:

  • You see any signs of infection (redness, swelling, increasing pain, red streaks running up your legs)
  • You develop a fever
  • Your feet become so sore that you are no longer able to walk on them

Emergency Contact

This page contains info about two kinds of emergency contact: how to contact people on playa about an off-playa emergency, and how to “call 911” inside Black Rock City.

Sending Emergency Messages to People on Playa

Q: What if friends or family at home need to reach me for an emergency?
A: Unfortunately, given the nature of the event, finding a participant on the playa is usually quite challenging. Cell phones don’t work, and people don’t generally have satellite phones. There is but limited internet access. Now add the fact that addresses on the playa are inexact even if you do know where you’re camping ahead of time, and finding a person’s camp can become very difficult. Preparation will help you stay in touch in an emergency.

Q: How can friends or family send me a message?
A: Emergency messages should be sent to 911@burningman.org. The message will be passed to the Black Rock Rangers, who will do their best to deliver it. We will also make the message available at Playa Info in Center Camp, so if you’re awaiting news or expecting emergency transmissions, you might want to plan to check in each day.

Q: What details should be included in an emergency message?
A: The message should include first and last name, as well as any known nickname that you might go by around camp. It should also include the name of your theme camp or other affiliation (volunteer team, etc.), and its location if known, along with your vehicle make/license plate and any other unique features that will help with the search (such as, “camp has a 20 foot inflatable duck,” etc.)

Q: What can prevent me from getting the message?
A: Just a few of the variables that can get in the way: your camp relocates, or nobody’s ever in camp when we come seek you out; your camp spot is obscured from view by other camps; the 20 foot inflatable duck deflates due to a leak; there are three camps with 20-foot inflatable ducks, and none of the neighbors know anyone named “Chris” because you have been introducing yourself all week as “Captain Underpants, Lord of the Duck People!” You get the picture.

In other words, you’re heading to the middle of the desert, and there is no guarantee that we’ll be able to deliver a message in an emergency; it’s important to weigh that before you leave home. If you are awaiting news, you can actively check in at Playa Info, and in truly dire circumstances, you can find a ride into Gerlach to use the pay phone there.

Any further questions can be addressed to 911@burningman.org.

“911” Service in Black Rock City
If you have an emergency in Black Rock City, the fastest way to get help is to flag down a Black Rock Ranger, a member of law enforcement, any other event staff or volunteer with a radio or send someone to fetch help at a Ranger Outpost or ESD Station. Cell service in BRC is spotty at best, and if you are able to connect via 911, it will take time for them to contact law enforcement on the playa.

That said, there is a way to directly call for help since ESD’s on-site emergency dispatch center monitors a designated emergency call for help since ESD’s on-site emergency dispatch center monitors a designated emergency channel on the license-free MURS (Multi User Radio Service) radio band.

MURS is a service similar to FRS (Family Radio Service, the frequencies that Motorola Talkabouts and similar inexpensive radios use) though MURS operates at a higher power output for greater range. FRS channels are extremely overcrowded, and they’re used by thousands of participants during the event. Reasons to choose MURS:

  • If you’re part of a large Theme Camp, it’s a good investment to have a MURS radio around to call ESD emergency dispatch for your group, especially if you have members who have known health issues or the risk of injury is of special concern.
  • Large art projects working out on the open playa will be able to get help faster.
  • Camps that are on the outer-rings of the city are far from a Emergency Services station don’t have to send runners for help when an emergency arises.
  • The other four channels on MURS can be a great way to communicate among your campmates.
  • It’s the only way for the public to contact Black Rock City’s emergency dispatch directly.

To call ESD on a MURS radio: Set your MURS radio to channel 5 (154.600 MHz, CTCSS/PL 97.4) to reach the Black Rock City Emergency Services Dispatch.

PLEASE NOTE: Each brand has its own labeling system, so please refer to your user manual to see how CTCSS/PL 97.4 is labeled. Using any other “privacy codes” on channel 5 will interfere with ESD. Instead limit your personal use to channels 1-4.

FOR ALL MURS USERS: We ask that all Burning Man participants respect that channel 5 will be used for official use only. While the other MURS channels are fine for personal use, we want to stress that channel 5 on MURS please be kept open for emergencies and not used for any other purpose.

If you don’t want to buy a radio for this purpose, you can contact your local two-way radio rental service in your area and inquire about renting a VHF radio for this purpose (and they would program it for you as part of the rental, making configuring the radio hassle free if you’re not tech savvy).

If you have further questions, please contact us for more information.

Rebar Safety

Rebar 101

Each year the majority of the injuries at Burning Man can be traced to collisions with rebar. These steel rods have become the tent stake of choice because they are relatively cheap and hold up against the playa winds better than standard-issue tent stakes.

Most rebar injuries result from stubbing a toe, piercing a foot or otherwise impaling a body part on the exposed metal. Injuries generally happen at times of low visibility, such as in the dark and massive dust storms.

The solution? Covering the exposed end of the rebar with a tennis ball, doll head, plastic bottle or other padding will help prevent injuries is a step in the right direction, but the best way to prevent injury is to HAMMER THAT SUCKER ALL THE WAY IN! However, before doing so, you have to make sure you are equipped to pull it out again. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Use a length of pipe to fit over the end of the rebar to bend it into a “J” before you hammer it in. Not only will this remove sharp ends that could hurt people, it will give you good attachment for guy lines and something you can grab when you’re trying to pull it out.
  • Bring a crowbar, pipe or something to pull it out with. The keyword here is LEVERAGE. Think Archemides, a fulcrum and moving the world.
  • Use vise grips or crow bar to twist the metal a rotation or two, tap it a few times on the side with a hammer, and it should pull straight out. If you’re still having trouble, remember: your car is stronger than you. Don’t forget work gloves.
  • Stubborn rebar can be coaxed out of the ground by pouring some water into the hole. Wiggle the rebar around a bit to get the water all the way down the length of the metal. Sometimes, this is all it takes to do the trick.
  • Whatever you do, DON’T leave the rebar behind, stuck in the ground. This is a Leave No Trace event, and part of the fun is the improvisation and community that comes from solving problems like getting that bastard out. If you can’t get it out, ask someone to help you. Adapt. Be dogged and tenacious. Don’t let it win.
  • Remember that guy lines are almost as dangerous as rebar. You don’t want to “clothesline” an unwary cyclist. Make guy lines more visible by sliding a short length (3- or 4-foot) of PVC over the line before driving peg into the ground. It CLEARLY marks both the line and the location of the peg, EVEN ON THE DARKEST NIGHT. When used with candy-caned rebar, it makes securing your structure fairly safe. (Thanks to Ray Leslie for this suggestion!)
  • You can also attach bright tape, ribbon or glow sticks. In a perfect world, guy lines would be marked with EL wire or Christmas lights to prevent people from clothes lining themselves in the dark, but do what you can.

For more detail, go to Securing Your Desert Structure

Recycling

Recycling in Black Rock City

Any city worth its weight in aluminum cans or two by fours has a recycling program, and Black Rock City is no exception. For a decade now, recycling has been a part of life on the playa; even though our mantra has always been “Pack it in, Pack it out” because “There is no garbage or recycling in Black Rock City.” In truth, that mantra means we must take responsibility for our own trash, including recycling — and some resources do exist to help participants keep their recyclables out of the landfill.

Burning Man, for many people, has become not so much the way they spend their lives for one week out of the year, but rather a way of thinking and acting all year round. The process of leaving no trace should be started before one even leaves their home for the desert, and should in fact carry over into one’s daily life, because the entire planet on which we live deserves to be treated with the same sense of reverence as the playa.

Landfills across the world are quickly filling up and more and more of our precious land is being taken to house the millions of tons of trash that our race accumulates every year. Studies have shown that 25-50% of this refuse is material that need not be filling up these landfills, as it is recyclable. Recycling is cheap and easy, and the benefits are immeasurable. By taking the time to minimize the amount of material that is brought onto the playa (see Trash Minimization), one can minimize the possibility of accidentally having something hit the ground. Additionally, citizens of Black Rock City are encouraged to separate and recycle their waste and to dispose of the trash and recyclable materials appropriately.

Tips and Hints

  1. Create a plan and implement it.

    Figure out the who, what, where and how before you get on the playa.

  2. A Place For Everything!

    Bring appropriate containers for all different kinds of recyclables. Burlap bags are great for collecting aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles, since they let air through.

  3. What Is This?

    Label your separate containers boldly so that, even in the dark, your fellow camp mates can easily find the burlap bag for the aluminum beer cans.

  4. The Elephant In The Room

    Set up a convenient location for your separation station. Call it something creative like that and people with talk about it and use it. Try to stick with one central location rather than multiple spots. This helps reinforce the importance of reducing how much trash we create in the first place.

  5. Stay On Top Of It!

    Manage your separation station daily. Make sure things are being properly separated. Aluminum — Steel — Glass — Plastic — Paper/Cardboard — Organics – and finally trash.

  6. Show us Your Cans!

    Take all of your aluminum cans to Recycle Camp. There you can help them crush and bag the cans. Then the cans will be delivered to Gerlach where the School organizes to get the cans recycled and they get to keep the deposit money.

  7. Got Wood?

    Instead of burning all of your leftover, used-for-a-week, perfectly good wood, why not recycle it?  Burners without Borders will be back in force this year once again recycling all usable lumber and building materials, and they need your help!

    Starting Sunday, they will have recycling stations set up near 3, 6, and 9 on the Esplanade. They expect to be open from 10am-9pm, both Sunday and Monday. There you can drop off your usable lumber (full size pieces of 2 x 4, 4 x 4, and plywood only, please; no scraps), as well as certain building materials (pipes, conduit, wiring, tools, and other re-useful non-liquid hardware items). Got some time to kill after the Burn? Help them organize, clean & sort donations!

    You can participate even before the event: make sure to design your camp and art so that it can be easily recycled. They’ll be looking for full lengths of 2 x 4, 4 x 4, and full sheets of plywood, so before you lop off that little end piece, ask yourself if you really need to? And when you’re building, use screws instead of nails — they hold better, go in easier, and also make structures easier to disassemble.

  8. Off-playa Recycling!

    There are several convenient locations throughout the region to responsibly dispose of all of your recyclables, trash, and gray water, and many of them are open 24 hours. Find them here in the Survival Guide.

For More Information on these and other tips:

Contact Blue of Recycle Camp at recycle@burningman.com
and Burners without Borders at www.burnerswithoutborders.org

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is there recycling in Black Rock City?
    The answer is no and yes. There is no recycling service in Black Rock City, just as there is no garbage service. No recycling stations, no trash cans. We ask our participants to “Pack it in, Pack it out” and “Leave No Trace”. The one exception to this rule is Recycle Camp, where you can take your aluminum cans only. They collect, crush & bag as many cans as possible in a week and then donate them to the Gerlach School. There the school organizes to recycle them and the school gets to keep the deposit money.
  2. Where do I take my plastic water bottles?
    Pack them out. There is still no camp that collects plastic in Black Rock City. Until there is, it is best to have you carry it home with you and recycle it there, or to dispose of them at various recycling locations to be found listed here in the Survival Guide.
  3. Why can’t I recycle glass in Black Rock City?
    The truth is we discourage people from bringing glass to the playa in the first place. It is heavy and typically takes up more room in your car.  It is also dangerous when it breaks, especially when it gets thrown in a fire. It makes for an annoying mess to clean up that takes hours. If you must bring it, Pack it Out.
  4. I have left over wood I don’t want to haul back home. Where can I take it? Can I burn it?
    Well, you could burn it but that wouldn’t be very smart. The smart thing to do would be to recycle it. Take it to one of the Burners without Borders wood recycling sites at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock along the Esplanade. Help BWB volunteers pull some nails, sort the wood and stack it in neat piles. You’ll feel good and your wood will have a future.
  5. Now that I am recycling, what about composting?
    There’s a whole page devoted to composting, check it out. (see Composting)

Resource Links

  1. Aluminum cans may be brought to Recycle Camp. You can volunteer to help them and ask questions at recycle@burningman.com
  2. There are several 24-hour locations in all directions to responsibly dispose of your recyclables as well as trash and gray water to be found here in the Survival Guide.

Send Us Your Ideas

Do you have information that would benefit others by being shared on this page? Send it to environment@burningman.com and we will review it for inclusion here!

Playa First Aid Kit

Download the first edition of the ESD Playa First Aid Manual.

Here is a list of some of the basic things everyone should have on hand in their First Aid kit on the playa. Should an injury be serious or require more advanced care, the Emergency Services Department is there to help. Otherwise, the list below should see you through most minor injuries.

Packaged in an airtight container (Ziploc, Rubbermaid, etc):

  • A box of assorted sizes of adhesive bandages, aka “Band-aids”
  • 1 roll adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • Moleskin
  • 1” and 2” Coban or similar self-adhesive bandage wrap (works better than “Band-aids” and tape in the dust!)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Antiseptic wipe packets
  • Aloe vera gel for minor burns and sunburn
  • Benadryl for minor allergic reactions, itching and a sleep aid too
  • Antacid (such as Maalox)
  • Anti-diarrheal medication (such as Immodium)
  • Laxative (such as Ex-Lax)
  • Saline eye wash solution
  • Breathing barrier (with one-way valve) ⟵ for mouth to mouth…let’s try to avoid this
  • Instant cold compress or zip lock bags to put ice in
  • Non-latex gloves (size: large)
  • Hydrocortisone ointment
  • Bandage scissors or Medic shears
  • 1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • One box sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches)
  • One box sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • Oral thermometer (non-mercury/nonglass)
  • Triangular bandages
  • Tweezers
  • Chapstick
  • Sunscreen
  • Vinegar (to mix 1:4 with water for Playa Foot prevention).

Make a small kit out of the above supplies to have in your pack, along with your map and water bottle. (Have this in a small zip-lock, or just stuff it all into one of the exam gloves.)

  • Moleskin
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Sunscreen and lip balm with SPF
  • I pair exam gloves

Optional items for a camp-sized first aid kit

  • Finger cots- these are great for keeping the dirt and grime out of wounds. Use them in conjunction with a dressing.
  • Alcohol wipes- use these to remove grease from around a wound before applying Benzoin. You can also use them to sanitize things.
  • Tincture of Benzoin- this comes in individually wrapped packages. They are swabs that you wipe on the skin around a wound (after cleaning said wound) to help the bandages stick.
  • Steri-strips- these are better than butterfly bandages for keeping wounds closed; use in conjunction with the Benzoin mentioned above.
  • Magnifying glass- to look for slivers and little tiny things.
  • Afrin- for nose bleeds

Any further questions can be addressed to 911@burningman.org.

Trash Minimization

Are you familiar with the Wayback Funk? It’s when you’re driving home from the playa with a stinking bag of trash in your car, and you’re reeking all the way back to civilization.

The funk begins to rise as soon as you start to drive and it gets worse the further you go, even when the funk is in the trunk. After all, there’s really nothing but a piece of cardboard between your trunk and the rest of your car, and it can get mighty hot back there.

Some people cannot abide the Wayback Funk. Last night they may have been wild primal beings, fearless and carefree and jumping over fires, but this morning they are deeply offended by the Funk. The odor of their own rotting history consumes them, enrages them, makes them mad. Where is my garbage disposal, my trash compactor, my sweet pine cleaner? Desperate, not thinking clearly, they jettison their bags in all the wrong places: in portajohns, at neighbor’s camps, near overflowing dumpsters and rumors of dumpsters, even along the side of the road; anything to be free of the Funk.

If this sounds like you, then roll down your windows and DEAL with it. With a little knowledge, and a little motivation, you too can limit your solid waste to a few compact, well-sealed bags that smell no worse than you do.

Gnostic Grocery Shopping

A successful garbage-reduction campaign begins in the supermarket. I mean your local store, not the one in Reno. While it may make sense to stock up on water and other heavy freight after you’ve cleared the mountains, there are a lot of good reasons to buy the bulk of your groceries at home, the day before you depart.

First, you’ll be able to do all your trimming and prep work at home, which not only simplifies cooking on the playa but also frees you from a particularly harsh source of Funk: animal bones and fat. Let’s face it: if you’re going to cut something off and throw it away, it makes sense to do it before you leave home, instead of buying that chicken bone a round-trip ticket to the Black Rock Desert. Moreover, it gives you a chance to jettison excess packaging and repack some of your perishable goods.

The fine line between food and garbage gets particularly thin on the playa. If Food plus Heat times Time equals Funk, then the only way you’re going to prevent excess stinkiness is to eat all your perishables before they head south.

When selecting menu items for playa dining, it’s important to keep the “long view” toward any particular food. Are you sure everyone in your party will like it? Are the portions appropriately sized? When dealing with foods with high Funk quotients, like meat and cheese, risk assessment is crucial. Before you put an item in your shopping cart, perform this simple exercise: briefly imagine what it’s going to smell like when it’s been out in the sun too long. Fill your mind with that smell. If it makes you gag, put it back. It’s that simple.

Also, don’t make the mistake of bringing too much food; excess always equals garbage. If you’re like most people, your appetite will dry up after a day or two in the sun. It’s a natural consequence of putting your body in such an arid, inhospitable environment. Based on an informal survey of many playa-goers over the years, the average appetite loss seems to be on the order of 35 to 50 percent.

For planning purposes, that means you only need 2/3 of the food that you think you’ll need, and everything else is dumb waste. If you wind up with an excess of canned or dried food, no big deal; you can just haul it home, dust it off, and pull it out again next year. But when it comes to perishables, excess really bites.

Bottom line: don’t bother taking more than two days’ worth of fresh bread, fresh fruit, or fresh produce to the playa; they won’t last any longer than that no matter what you do. There’s no way you can win on this one: if you pack them in plastic, the greenhouse effect will steam them into mush. If you pack them in paper, they’ll be croutons in no time. In the high desert, perishables truly live up to their name.

When it comes to packaging, choose aluminum over plastic, and plastic over glass. Aluminum can be recycled in camp, plastic can be crushed flat, and glass is just a big pain in the butt. My only exception here is in the realm of alcoholic beverages, where glass seems to redeem itself despite a tendency to split the seams of cheap trash bags and slice up the occasional foot.While beer is available in cans, good beer is not. Likewise, wine-in-the-box may be an efficient use of packaging, but it also reminds us of how very easy it is to take this whole trash-reduction thing too seriously.

Here are a few more tips for your shopping basket:

  • Bring water in 1-gallon jugs instead of those 2.5 gallon “suitcases” — they’re easier to use, and much easier to cram into a trash bag. They’re also refillable, where suitcases are not.
  • Forget the watermelon; you’re not going to eat it. Every year, people leave a mountain of watermelons behind, and they never get eaten. I will never understand this.
  • Ask any miner: canned food is good food!

Purposefully Packing Provisions

After you get all your food and beverages home, it’s time to remove and discard all the excess packaging. For instance, your cereal’s already in a bag — why do you need a box as well? Buy a truckload of high-quality, “freezer strength” ziploc bags. Double-bag all your trimmed meats and freeze them solid — that way they’ll serve double duty as ice in your cooler (for style points, freeze in a marinade, then go straight to the grill when thawed). Bag everything you can bag, and freeze everything you can freeze, including fruit juices and plastic bottles of water. At our house, this strategy gives us an annual excuse to purge the freezer. We throw away all the year-old toaster waffles and fill it up with stuff we’re going to take out to the desert.

Pre-cooked and partially-cooked meals are well-suited to the relaxed pace of playa living — but only if you can find the time to cook before you leave (good luck!). One year I managed to smoke a bunch of game hens before I left, and that turned out to be a good move. We worked the birds into a variety of meals, or just gnawed on them cold when we were too lazy to light the campstove (which, come to think of it, was pretty often).

While you’re packing, please don’t forget to bring a flat-bladed shovel for scraping food accidents off the playa and two boxes of high-quality plastic trash bags. Be advised, a cheap bag can be worse than no bag at all. If it fails during a windstorm, or at 60 mph on the back of a Reno-bound truck, you’ve got an environmental catastrophe on your hands. Use a good quality bag, or better yet two, and make sure it’s tied off at all times to something reasonably sturdy, like a car door handle or a main tent support. We buy drawstring-top bags in the “tall kitchen” size, which we’ve found to be a lot easier to work with than the larger, 30-gallon size. Drawstrings help keep the trash in the bag, and make it a cinch to tie down.

Don’t air your grievances often; gravity does its job and keeps objects anchored to the playa in the expected fashion. But violent weather can arrive suddenly, at any time, and change that perception in an instant. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by clear skies and limp flags; the wind and rain are always on their way.

I’ve heard it suggested that a good way to reduce the funk factor is to spread one’s garbage out on plastic and let it dry in the sun before rebagging it and driving it out. While this can reduce the stench dramatically, a sudden storm could make you wish you’d left it in the bag. Better to separate the recyclables from the yuck as you go, and minimize the latter through good planning.

Waste Not, Rot Not

Camping leftovers are always nasty, and on the playa it’s even worse. If you choose not to finish your plate, where’s all that tasty organic goodness going to go? You might:

  • Persuade someone else to eat it
  • Scrape it into a trash bag
  • Fling it under a car and forget about it

The first approach is of course the best (after all, Burning Man is about giving, isn’t it?), but if no one has the stomach to deal with your half-eaten bratwurst, it’s going to have to go somewhere else. If you put it in the trash, someone is going to be mighty unhappy on the drive home — hopefully you. Don’t even think about ditching anything under my car (or anyone else’s, for that matter). Are you sure you don’t want to just take a few more bites and finish your plate? You can’t hide your leftovers in the bushes, because there are no bushes. If you pour anything out onto the playa, it just sits there.

The simplest answer here is to only cook what you can eat, and to eat every scrap of what you cook. And if this sage advice fails? The only sensible way to deal with leftovers and kitchen slop is to bring a bucket with a tight-fitting lid and use that for all your wet garbage.

When it comes to the perishables in your ice chest, keep in mind that your only ally in that endless entropic race between “food” and “garbage” is our old friend Ice. If you let the ice melt, then your deli drawer is going to go septic faster than you can say “ham.”

I May Be Trash But My Trash Don’t Stink

Reducing your trash, sorting out the recyclables, keeping bags under control: these are all pretty simple tasks if you think about it. I guarantee it will make for a better camping experience, and help lighten our group footprint in the process.

Don’t Get Sick

A few tips for staying healthy on the playa while you attend Burning Man.

Use hand sanitizer:
Use the hand sanitizer after using the porta-potties. Apply it faithfully and liberally. If a station is empty, locate a Black Rock Ranger and let them know so it can be re-stocked.

Running after the water trucks:
DO NOT run after water trucks that are spraying water on roads for dust control to cool down or bathe. The water in these vehicles is full of bacteria and could make you sick. The playa gets very slick when water is applied to it and falling is another risk.

Regarding food:
Drink only bottled water or water that you know the origin of. Do not accept water from camps that you have doubts about, and do not share water bottles and canteens with other people.

Keep the refrigerated food in your camp colder than 41 degrees at all time. Restock the ice frequently and use a thermometer to make sure it is staying cold. If it becomes warm, bacteria will begin to grow and multiply and you will get sick as a result of eating it. This precaution applies to cut fruits such as melon as well.

If you are heating food, bring it to a full rolling boil or use a stem thermometer to make sure it gets to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not undercook fish, chicken or other raw foods of an animal origin. They are especially dangerous. Do not hold any food out of temperature more than 3 hours. Bacteria numbers by that time will be such that food borne illness will be very likely.

Keep the food surfaces in your camp as clean as you can. Wash your dishes in soapy water and rinse them in water that has 2 teaspoons of bleach added for every gallon of water. Dirty dishes can breed bacteria and make you ill.

Be cautious about where you eat and drink. While sharing is a great part of the Burning Man experience, food sharing has inherent risks associated with it. Be very careful about eating a food that you are offered if you are not sure that it has been prepared safely. Food sharing camps that are permitted by the Nevada State Health Division have been inspected and meet the minimum standards for cleanliness and food safety. They are on the playa every day. If you are unsure about a food sharing venue, ask them and they will try and assist you.

Giving food away, or trading for food is the same as a restaurant in the eyes of the Health Division, and permits and cooking standards will be enforced. Nevada State Health Division (NSHD) policy on communal kitchens is as follows: Any camp that is serving meals on a large scale (to 125 or more fellow campers at every meal consistently) must also obtain a permit. Go to http://health.nv.gov/BFHS_EHS.htm, and scroll down to the flame icon for specific “Temporary Food Information for Burning Man”.

If you exhibit symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, high fever, jaundice and malaise, you may be carrying a viral pathogen that is highly contagious to others. Seek medical attention immediately and do not prepare or handle food.

Regarding the sun:
The sun is not your friend on the playa. It is a brutal source of radiation that can make you very sick and ruin your playa experience. Use hats, shades, sunscreens and shelters to minimize your dose!

Regarding sex:
Use protection and proper hygiene. You know, like always.

Health help on the playa:
If you have other health questions, members of the Nevada State Health Division, Bureau of Health Protection Services will be on the playa. They are happy to help your time at Burning Man be fun and healthy. You will know them by the Nevada State Health Division logo on their shirts.

Trash and Recycling

Burning Man is the largest Leave No Trace Event in the world

There are no trash cans at Burning Man. All participants are required to remove their own trash and garbage from the playa. Except for tire tracks and footprints, our policy is to leave the desert as the profoundly barren and empty corner of the world that it is. All Black Rock City citizens are expected to participate in our clean-up effort. Moreover, Leave No Trace should extend beyond the playa, all the way to your home.

We’ve compiled information about managing your various forms of trash on playa:

Reduce Trash

Trash is not something most of us think about. We live in a society where men come in the wee hours of the morning and take it all away. It is only when you have to live with your garbage for a week, without the opportunity to take it out, that you realize how much garbage 21st Century Homo Sapiens produce. Below you will find several tips for helping you reduce your trash before you even come to the playa.

One useful strategy is to try to reduce the weight, volume, and odor of the trash that your camp generates. Leave all unnecessary packaging at home. Choose cans over bottles, and reusable containers over both. Prepare food in sensible quantities that your group can finish at a single sitting — leftovers will quickly become a liability.

Bring plenty of trash bags, and take care that your trash doesn’t blow away. Consider bringing a waste container with a tight-fitting lid, and secure it so it doesn’t topple over. When onsite, separate recyclable items.

For those that find themselves with leftover aluminum cans, we encourage you to take them to Recycle Camp in Center Camp. Some of this material will be recycled into art.

To summarize:

  • Leave unnecessary packaging at home.
  • Choose crushable cans over plastic and glass, and crushable plastic over glass.
  • NEW FOR 2004! Bring a reusable mug or cup for coffee and beverages from the Center Camp Cafe.
  • Aluminum cans can be brought to Recycle Camp. You can volunteer to help them at recycle@burningman.com
  • Use a pail with tight-fitting lid for wet garbage. Wet stinks, dry doesn’t. If you choose to dry out the garbage, make sure it’s secure from wind.
  • Separate burnables from recyclable and wet materials.
  • Avoid disposable utensils and paper products. Too much trash is a bigger problem than too much gray water.
  • Onsite, prepare ONLY what you and friends will eat.
  • Avoid handing out paper announcements.
  • Do NOT burn carpets — the fumes are toxic.
  • Do some food prep at home when possible (no round-trip tickets to Black Rock City for your chicken bones).
  • Store cigarette butts in a candy tin.
  • Do NOT throw bottles into fires, and don’t leave them lying around just because you’re done and can’t find a trash bag. Carry it away with you, or find an appropriate receptacle.
  • Absolutely do not throw ANY trash of any kind into the porta-potties. This includes “organic” materials and others that “decompose” over time in a large public septic system. Putting anything but human waste and TP into the potties clogs the pumping mechanisms and makes it all but impossible for our waste vendor to maintain potties during the event. We’re already on probation with the Truckee/Tahoe Sanitation District over trash in our waste, which threatens the survival of the event. “If it wasn’t in your body, don’t put it in the potty!”

Most importantly of all, don’t be a litter bug. Leaving No Trace is much easier if you don’t let it hit the ground in the first place!

Lighter, Better Smelling Trash

Are you familiar with the Wayback Funk? It’s when you’re driving home from the playa with a stinking bag of trash in your car, and you’re reeking all the way back to civilization.

The funk begins to rise as soon as you start to drive and it gets worse the further you go, even when the funk is in the trunk. After all, there’s really nothing but a piece of cardboard between your trunk and the rest of your car, and it can get mighty hot back there.

Some people cannot abide the Wayback Funk. Last night they may have been wild primal beings, fearless and carefree and jumping over fires, but this morning they are deeply offended by the Funk. The odor of their own rotting history consumes them, enrages them, makes them mad. Where is my garbage disposal, my trash compactor, my sweet pine cleaner? Desperate, not thinking clearly, they jettison their bags in all the wrong places: in portajohns, at neighbor’s camps, near overflowing dumpsters and rumors of dumpsters, even along the side of the road; anything to be free of the Funk.

If this sounds like you, then roll down your windows and DEAL with it. With a little knowledge, and a little motivation, you too can limit your solid waste to a few compact, well-sealed bags that smell no worse than you do.

Gnostic Grocery Shopping

A successful garbage-reduction campaign begins in the supermarket. I mean your local store, not the one in Reno. While it may make sense to stock up on water and other heavy freight after you’ve cleared the mountains, there are a lot of good reasons to buy the bulk of your groceries at home, the day before you depart.

First, you’ll be able to do all your trimming and prep work at home, which not only simplifies cooking on the playa but also frees you from a particularly harsh source of Funk: animal bones and fat. Let’s face it: if you’re going to cut something off and throw it away, it makes sense to do it before you leave home, instead of buying that chicken bone a round-trip ticket to the Black Rock Desert. Moreover, it gives you a chance to jettison excess packaging and repack some of your perishable goods.

The fine line between food and garbage gets particularly thin on the playa. If Food plus Heat times Time equals Funk, then the only way you’re going to prevent excess stinkiness is to eat all your perishables before they head south.

When selecting menu items for playa dining, it’s important to keep the “long view” toward any particular food. Are you sure everyone in your party will like it? Are the portions appropriately sized? When dealing with foods with high Funk quotients, like meat and cheese, risk assessment is crucial. Before you put an item in your shopping cart, perform this simple exercise: briefly imagine what it’s going to smell like when it’s been out in the sun too long. Fill your mind with that smell. If it makes you gag, put it back. It’s that simple.

Also, don’t make the mistake of bringing too much food; excess always equals garbage. If you’re like most people, your appetite will dry up after a day or two in the sun. It’s a natural consequence of putting your body in such an arid, inhospitable environment. Based on an informal survey of many playa-goers over the years, the average appetite loss seems to be on the order of 35 to 50 percent.

For planning purposes, that means you only need 2/3 of the food that you think you’ll need, and everything else is dumb waste. If you wind up with an excess of canned or dried food, no big deal; you can just haul it home, dust it off, and pull it out again next year. But when it comes to perishables, excess really bites.

Bottom line: don’t bother taking more than two days’ worth of fresh bread, fresh fruit, or fresh produce to the playa; they won’t last any longer than that no matter what you do. There’s no way you can win on this one: if you pack them in plastic, the greenhouse effect will steam them into mush. If you pack them in paper, they’ll be croutons in no time. In the high desert, perishables truly live up to their name.

When it comes to packaging, choose aluminum over plastic, and plastic over glass. Aluminum can be recycled in camp, plastic can be crushed flat, and glass is just a big pain in the butt. My only exception here is in the realm of alcoholic beverages, where glass seems to redeem itself despite a tendency to split the seams of cheap trash bags and slice up the occasional foot.While beer is available in cans, good beer is not. Likewise, wine-in-the-box may be an efficient use of packaging, but it also reminds us of how very easy it is to take this whole trash-reduction thing too seriously.

Here are a few more tips for your shopping basket:

  • Bring water in 1-gallon jugs instead of those 2.5 gallon “suitcases” — they’re easier to use, and much easier to cram into a trash bag. They’re also refillable, where suitcases are not.
  • Forget the watermelon; you’re not going to eat it. Every year, people leave a mountain of watermelons behind, and they never get eaten. I will never understand this.
  • Ask any miner: canned food is good food!

Purposefully Packing Provisions

After you get all your food and beverages home, it’s time to remove and discard all the excess packaging. For instance, your cereal’s already in a bag — why do you need a box as well? Buy a truckload of high-quality, “freezer strength” ziploc bags. Double-bag all your trimmed meats and freeze them solid — that way they’ll serve double duty as ice in your cooler (for style points, freeze in a marinade, then go straight to the grill when thawed). Bag everything you can bag, and freeze everything you can freeze, including fruit juices and plastic bottles of water. At our house, this strategy gives us an annual excuse to purge the freezer. We throw away all the year-old toaster waffles and fill it up with stuff we’re going to take out to the desert.

Pre-cooked and partially-cooked meals are well-suited to the relaxed pace of playa living — but only if you can find the time to cook before you leave (good luck!). One year I managed to smoke a bunch of game hens before I left, and that turned out to be a good move. We worked the birds into a variety of meals, or just gnawed on them cold when we were too lazy to light the campstove (which, come to think of it, was pretty often).

While you’re packing, please don’t forget to bring a flat-bladed shovel for scraping food accidents off the playa and two boxes of high-quality plastic trash bags. Be advised, a cheap bag can be worse than no bag at all. If it fails during a windstorm, or at 60 mph on the back of a Reno-bound truck, you’ve got an environmental catastrophe on your hands. Use a good quality bag, or better yet two, and make sure it’s tied off at all times to something reasonably sturdy, like a car door handle or a main tent support. We buy drawstring-top bags in the “tall kitchen” size, which we’ve found to be a lot easier to work with than the larger, 30-gallon size. Drawstrings help keep the trash in the bag, and make it a cinch to tie down.

Don’t air your grievances often; gravity does its job and keeps objects anchored to the playa in the expected fashion. But violent weather can arrive suddenly, at any time, and change that perception in an instant. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by clear skies and limp flags; the wind and rain are always on their way.

I’ve heard it suggested that a good way to reduce the funk factor is to spread one’s garbage out on plastic and let it dry in the sun before rebagging it and driving it out. While this can reduce the stench dramatically, a sudden storm could make you wish you’d left it in the bag. Better to separate the recyclables from the yuck as you go, and minimize the latter through good planning.

Waste Not, Rot Not

Camping leftovers are always nasty, and on the playa it’s even worse. If you choose not to finish your plate, where’s all that tasty organic goodness going to go? You might:

  • Persuade someone else to eat it
  • Scrape it into a trash bag
  • Fling it under a car and forget about it

The first approach is of course the best (after all, Burning Man is about giving, isn’t it?), but if no one has the stomach to deal with your half-eaten bratwurst, it’s going to have to go somewhere else. If you put it in the trash, someone is going to be mighty unhappy on the drive home — hopefully you. Don’t even think about ditching anything under my car (or anyone else’s, for that matter). Are you sure you don’t want to just take a few more bites and finish your plate? You can’t hide your leftovers in the bushes, because there are no bushes. If you pour anything out onto the playa, it just sits there.

The simplest answer here is to only cook what you can eat, and to eat every scrap of what you cook. And if this sage advice fails? The only sensible way to deal with leftovers and kitchen slop is to bring a bucket with a tight-fitting lid and use that for all your wet garbage.

When it comes to the perishables in your ice chest, keep in mind that your only ally in that endless entropic race between “food” and “garbage” is our old friend Ice. If you let the ice melt, then your deli drawer is going to go septic faster than you can say “ham.”

I May Be Trash But My Trash Don’t Stink

Reducing your trash, sorting out the recyclables, keeping bags under control: these are all pretty simple tasks if you think about it. I guarantee it will make for a better camping experience, and help lighten our group footprint in the process.

Finally, do NOT discard refuse along the highway or in neighboring towns. Not only is litter irresponsible and costly in terms of energy, time, and money for others, it is also illegal and reflects very badly on Burning Man. If you have to portage garbage on top of your vehicle, make sure it is double-bagged and strapped down securely. Only dump your trash and recycling in authorized dumping locations!

Remember: LEAVE NO TRACE!

Burning Stuff

So You Want to Burn on the Playa?

You’re going to Burning Man this year, and you’ve decided to create something — a shelter, art installation, or whatever. Like most people, you are working with materials at hand or those freely or cheaply obtainable. And, like some, you’ve decided that your piece probably won’t make the trip back with you because you plan to burn it during the week. You’re tired, blissed out, in a hurry to leave, and your truck is looking awfully full. Besides, it is called BURNING Man, right? Truth is, the most efficient policy is to haul your piece out. Putting your structure back on the truck is much less time-consuming than waiting for it to burn in the Burn platform, for the ashes to cool, and to then remove them. Taking your art with you also helps reduce the amount of toxins produced. If you absolutely must burn your art before you leave, there are a few things you should know, including how to burn the environmentally-friendly way, and the health issues inherent in burning.

Tips and Hints

  1. Do NOT Burn Toxic Materials

    Most importantly, do not burn materials that are toxic. That includes painted materials, plastics, PVC, couches, rugs, carpets, or decorative items. Treated plywood is NOT ok to burn, nor is composite board. Learn more below in the Frequently Asked Questions.

  2. Offset Your Burn With Carbon Credits

    You can offset the environmental emissions of your burn by calculating its emissions, and purchasing carbon offsets in the form of carbon credits. Learn more at www.coolingman.org.

  3. Do NOT Burn on the Playa Surface

    Never burn directly on the playa! Fires built on the playa surface create a burn scar or patch of discolored, hardened playa sediment that, unaided, take years to fully recover. The process of manually restoring them requires many hours of picking out residue by hand (mainly shattered bottles, nails and screws), breaking up the fire-hardened layer and returning the following year (after the rainy season) for further treatment. There are many dozens of these from past years events that we are still working on; it is our goal to not make any new ones! The ash and soot, which may be dispersed by the wind or leached by water, will contain toxic contaminants. These toxins will then be leached from any ash remaining at the site. This could lead to the contamination of surface water or ground water, and unquestionably to soil contamination. To burn without leaving ashes or a burn scar, fires must be elevated, staked down, attended and cleaned up. Learn to build a burn platform.

  4. Use the Public Burn Platforms

    If you are creating a large piece that is impractical to elevate or insulate from the playa, you might consider dismantling it instead and burn a symbolic portion at one of the public burn platforms, which are located at the ends of each of the city’s radial streets, across the Esplanade.

Frequently Asked Questions

What toxins are produced when you burn?

Burning building materials like PVC, rebar, and plastic, or old couches and decorative objects can pose a serious environmental and health risk as they burn.In order to get a good idea of the toxins produced when items like these are burned, we looked at the production of toxins from accidental construction fires and open burning of household wastes.According to a study done by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, open household waste fires burn at low temperatures and can result in particulate emissions, heavy metal vapors, acid gases and other pollutants. Most are highly toxic and some can cause cancer.

Unlike incinerated waste, fire in a barrel or pile does not burn hot enough to destroy the poisonous substances released by burning materials. Since there are no safeguards to capture the toxins released in the smoke, they are released in a concentrated form at ground level where they are easily inhaled. A study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that each pound of garbage burned in a barrel emits 40 times more particulates than if that same pound of garbage was burned in a high-temperature incinerator with air pollution controls.

Another chief concern is the production of dioxin and furan. Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known to man; burning common household trash at low temperatures can form these compounds, both of which are carcinogenic. Benzopyrene is another potent carcinogen produced by low temperature fires. Open fire smoke contains 70 parts per million of carcinogenic benzopyrenes, about 350 times higher than cigarette smoke. Studies of construction fires point to another major hazard of playa burning.

PVC — the playa construction material of choice — is highly dangerous to both personal health and the environment when burned. PVC is one of the worst offenders when it comes to toxic substances. PVC can emit highly corrosive and toxic hydrogen chloride when burned. It is also is a source of dioxin and phosgene gas when burned at temperatures below complete combustion. Coincidentally, phosgene, an odorless gas that can damage the lungs, is one of the substances used in chemical warfare. Samples of soot taken from fires in PVC-containing buildings that have burned have been found to contain dioxins in very high concentrations. The soot, however, represents only a small part of the problem: more than 90 of the dioxins produced in a structural fire are found in the gaseous phase and escape into the atmosphere. For these reasons, PVC should never be burned. Please make sure anything to be burned is PVC-free.

What items are safe to burn?

In reality, there are no materials that are safe to burn. Everything emits a wide range of toxins, some more directly lethal than others. Even plain, untreated wood contains over 100 different chemicals or compounds when burned. Some of these compounds are extremely poisonous and carcinogenic. Cancer of the skin in chimney sweeps was linked to soot as early as 1775.If you do intend on burning an item, there are some materials that should definitely be avoided. Some of these are:

  • PVC
  • tires
  • glues
  • treated lumber
  • plastics
  • railway ties
  • drywall
  • rubber
  • asphalt
  • paint, especially lead based and oil based paints — use water based whenever possible
  • fuel and petroleum lubricants
  • tar paper

What can I burn then?

If you are going to burn an item, hopefully it was constructed with that purpose (and the list above) in mind. Don’t burn anything that is toxic. It is dangerous to you, your neighbor and the environment. Strip out any carpeting, plastic, large pieces of furniture and decorative items before burning to minimize the amount of toxins released.If you plan on burning, use our burn pyres. Bring a shovel and adequate containers to haul your ash and debris out with you.

Resource Links

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Do you have information that would benefit others by being shared on this page? Send it to environment@burningman.com and we will review it for inclusion here!

Building Stuff

Materials? What’s That?

In this context, we’re referring mainly to building materials, and to a lesser extent anything else that’s not food (costuming, accessories, gifts). What you’ll use to build your shade structure, your camp’s dance or chill space, your art, or your mutant vehicle does have an ecological impact, even if it doesn’t immediately become trash post-event. The greenest among us may trot blithely to a big box hardware giant to pick up a pallet of the most eco-unfriendly virgin-forest lumber because it’s what’s on sale. Why not re-think that? There are options that are not only more responsible, but cheaper too!

Tips and Hints

  1. Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

    Using used materials in your art is hella eco-friendly, and often hella cheap! In the resource link section below you can find information on used materials and environmentally conscious paints, stains, and flooring.

    When costuming, instead of buying brand new fabric, raid secondhand shops for clothing that can be torn apart and repurposed, or just “adjusted”. Some ghastly drapes might become your new favorite thai wrap pants!

    Secondhand shops, as well as sidewalk/garage sales are great places to look for cheap accessories, bikes, furniture, or footwear.

  2. Build it so you can re-build it

    In the old days, a brick road left unused for too long would become the brick wall of an animal pen or the foundation for someone’s house. These days, we’re more likely to haul exactly the same number of virgin two by fours out to the playa every year, build nearly the same thing with them, then throw them onto a burn pile.

    Why not use screws instead of nails? Or bolts instead of screws? Why not pack out those two by fours and let them be re-born, on-playa or off-, as a new structure? Plan ahead to make your reuse easier and you’ll save energy, money, time and, to some extent, your ecosystem.

  3. Build with environmentally responsible materials

    If you choose to use new materials, there are still some choices that more environmentally friendly than others. Many hardware stores carry “green” products. Check out http://www.planithardware.com for directories of retailers that carry green construction products.

  4. Avoid materials that release toxins as they burn

    In addition to painted wood, plywood, and particle/composite board, DO NOT use or burn pressure treated lumber. Typically, though not always, it has staple-like impregnation marks in it, and if it’s new it may have a greenish tint. Not only is the smoke from certain types of pressure-treated lumber harmful to inhale, the ash is as well.

    Most plastic items and non-natural fibers will release toxins if burned — yes, that includes your grandfather’s lime green polyester leisure suit that you wanted to burn on the playa after wearing it for five days straight. Pack those items out for future re-use or recycling

Frequently Asked Question

  • How do I build my structure with eco-safe materials? Using used materials is generally a greener approach than using virgin stuff, unless you’re going to burn it, in which case the toxins issue has to be considered. In the resource link section below you can find information on used materials and environmentally conscious paints, stains, and flooring. If you’ll be using virgin materials, look for products that have been rated as eco-friendlier. You can check with http://www.planithardware.com for hardware stores that carry greener goods. It’s also a good idea to ask your hardware store worker about eco-friendlier options.

Resource Links

Used Materials


Resources for recycling/reused information include the following (most municipalities have their own recycling coordinators that can direct residents to local resources):

The above URLs will have some but probably not all of the following used building materials dealers:

These local organizations sell inexpensive donated materials for art projects:

The Build it Green Product and Service Directory also provides some useful information:

Here’s even more sources for cheap and free stuff:

And, wouldn’t want to leave out the online exchanges:

Paint, Finishes, and Flooring

  • Buyer’s Guide to Paints – http://www.greenhomeguide.comThis buyer’s guide lists and reviews low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints. Use it to find the best paint for your specific situation.
  • Buyer’s Guide to Stains – http://www.greenhomeguide.comThis buyer’s guide summarizes the environmental pros and cons and durability of the three major categories of wood stains: natural oil, acrylic or urethane, and water-based. Use it to find the best stain for your specific situation.
  • Buyer’s Guide to Clear Finishes – http://www.greenhomeguide.comThis buyer’s guide compares and contrasts clear finishes on their environmental and health qualities, and includes selection tips.Use it to find the best clear coating for your specific situation.
  • There is an excellent store in Berkeley for low-toxicity paints and coatings called Eco-Home Improvement. http://www.ecohomeimprovement.com
  • For a comprehensive, 9 county Bay Area directory of suppliers for environmentally friendly flooring materials an products, visit Build It Green’s AccessGreen Directory – http://www.builditgreen.org/guide

Send Us Your Ideas


Do you have information that would benefit others by being shared on this page? Email environment@burningman.com and we will review it for inclusion here!

Transportation

We probably don’t have to tell you about the global impact of automobile emissions, and their contribution to the accumulation of greenhouse gases and the like, right? Nor do we have to tell you that greater than 95% of participants take automobiles (whether that’s a car, truck, or RV) to the playa, because other viable options are significantly limited. And some folks fly into the Black Rock City airport, which method has its own emissions issues, of course.

While we can’t tell you to buy an electric or hybrid vehicle, we can certainly suggest it. And we’re not gonna ask you to ride your bike or walk to the playa.

Our goal here is to give you some ideas about how to rethink and reduce your transportation impact getting to and from, and around on the playa. Hopefully these are some ideas you can take with you back into the default world, too.

Tips and Hints


Here are some tips for reducing your environmental impact as you get to, from and around the playa.

  1. Rideshare!

    Visit our rideshare board to offer or ask for a ride to or from the playa. Lots of people use it, and it totally works.

  2. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game…

    If you’re bringing a lot of stuff (like, major amounts of stuff) to the playa, consider truck-, flat-bed-, semi-, or van-pooling with others who are doing the same. You can consolidate your loads, and bring a lot more to and from the playa, while expending a lot less gas, emissions and money. Meet up with folks on the eplaya or on the rideshare board, or through your local regional contact.

  3. One word. “Hybrids”

    Consider buying or renting an electric or hybrid car (we did say we could suggest it).

  4. Tour de Playa

    People have ridden (and still ride) their bikes to the playa. It’s by no means for the faint of heart, riding in that harsh environment on a nasty dangerous road, but we do know brave souls who do it, bless their hearts.

  5. Here comes the sun

    If you’re doing an art car (that only has to hit speeds of 5mph, remember), consider converting it to use solar power.

  6. It’s people.

    And of course, when you’re getting around the playa, bike bike bike. Or walk.

  7. Don’t be a drip.

    If you drive your car to the playa, when you’ve parked it, secure a piece of cardboard, a tarp or something else that will catch any errant oil drips, which are toxic to the environment (obviously), and can seep into the groundwater (Yes, there’s water under there. The playa often becomes a lake during the winter).

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I rideshare or carpool to the playa? Why yes you can. Visit our rideshare board to post a ride to offer, or needed.
  2. I’m flying into Reno from out of town. How do I get to the playa from there? People have been crazy enough to take cabs from the Reno Airport. If you do that, at least find other Burners lurking around the airport to share the ride. Many people rent cars. You can also jump on the rideshare board to post a ride needed from the Reno airport on the day you land. It works! You can also do the same for getting back to the airport after the event, but if you don’t meet at least a dozen people during the event who are heading to Reno and are willing to take you along, you weren’t paying attention. We also operate a Burner Express bus service from Reno.
  3. Are there buses that go to the playa? The last we checked, MUNI doesn’t have a bus line that goes out to the playa. Luckily, the Green Tortoise heads up to the playa every year with a biodiesel bus full of socially conscious travelers, and you can climb aboard and share the ride. You should also check into our Burner Express bus service from Reno and San Francisco.
  4. What is the deal with biodiesel? Biodiesel is a fuel for engines that’s made without petroleum (you know, that nasty black oil that everyone’s always fighting over), so it burns “clean”, with little or none of the smoggy, smelly emissions we’re used to. It’s generally made from vegetable oil or animal fat, like leftover French fry oil, or soy oil. It’s a cheap, clean-burning alternative to fossil fuels that can be used in any diesel engine. Traditional gasoline engines cannot be converted to run on biodiesel — gas engines are physically and chemically different from diesel engines. However, diesel engines (like on older German cars or many trucks) can easily use biodiesel or biodiesel blends, sometimes without any work at all. Visit Greasecar or Golden Fuel Systems to learn about DIY kits (around $600) for converting your car to biodiesel. More and more filling stations are providing biodiesel, as it becomes more popular.
  5. I ride my bike on playa. I’m cool, right? Well, yes and no. Bikes are by far the transportation of choice on the playa, but at the end of the event, way too many people abandon their bikes, which is just thoughtlessly wasteful. It means you have to buy another playa bike for the next year, and you’re needlessly adding more waste to the landfill. Bring your bike to the playa, take care of it, and bring it back home with you, then fix it up so you can bring it again next year. Then yes, you’re cool.

Resource Links

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Do you have information that would benefit others by being shared on this page? Send it to environment@burningman.com and we will review it for inclusion here!

On-Playa Tips

By now you’ve probably gathered that this Burning Man thing isn’t as easy as it looks. So many things to bring, remember and purchase. How’s a body to cope with all this intense preparation?

Fear not. Below is a compilation of some handy-dandy tips gleaned from the wisdom of seasoned Burners. Heed their advice, and your playa experience will go much more smoothly.

Better Living

I LOVE my inflatable mattress. A double-size mattress fills the tent perfectly, with room left at the foot for unscented baby wipes, lotion, some clothing and miscellany. Keep a couple of plastic snap-top “shoeboxes” filled with various necessities (flashlights, batteries, walkman, camera, film, hard candy, etc. in one, sunscreen, 1st aid kit, lip balm, etc. in the other) under my tent’s vestibule with my boots, a couple of bottles of water, mug…

Pitch a second tent, aka closet, for everything else. AND keep clothes in giant Tupperware-type bins so they don’t get all dusty. Make everything easy to find by throwing undies & socks in ziplocks. Hell, throw nearly everything in giant ziplocks. There is nothing worse that grabbing your “clean” towel and finding it covered in playa dust.

Another good thing to have is a ground sheet for your tent; make sure it doesn’t extend out from the sides and act as a water collection device, though. Chez Heloise stayed dry during the downpours in 1998.

And tent stakes… DO NOT FORGET to cover any rebar used as stakes with rebar caps, empty plastic bottles, stuffed animals, SOMETHING. Be careful while doing that; a good friend sustained a major gash on his shin while in the process of covering his rebar.

For a no-mud, no-mess playa shower, Pepper Mouser suggests:

Bring a shallow crate (like a painting would be shipped in) about three feet square. Line it with slit open garbage bags so it will hold water and used it as a pan/pad under the solar shower. It caught the shower water that then evaporated during the day. No muddy spot in camp. No soapy water (gray water) dumped on the playa. The crate somehow later caught fire.

This year I plan to bring a larger one that I can also drain the coolers in. (I know some people talk about recycling their cooler water but mine always seems so dirty and slimy.)

List of good things to have:

  • Camelback or similar (for portable hydration)
  • dust mask (for storms)
  • aloe gel (for sunburn)
  • gloves and shovel/rake (for cleanup)
  • bungees (for shade structure)
  • duct tape (for everything!)
  • flag for camp
  • breezy cot or chaise for day
  • lantern
  • ziplock bags, ziplock bags, ziplock bags (I only wish they made them in a 5-gallon size)
  • every camp should have a full-length mirror

Food and Coolers:

  • Elevate your ice chest above the ground a few inches, even if it’s in the shade
  • 2 smaller coolers work better than the 104-qt. monstrosity
  • make tabouli and other re-hydratable foods in a ziplock bag instead of bowl
  • milk crates used as stacking storage — keeps things from flying around; put cutting board on top for work surface

Necessities:

  • wonderful colored plastic wineglass instead of disposable; makes it easier to find your drink and creates zero trash
  • pitcher for mixing margaritas
  • cocktail shaker
  • wash basin
  • mesh bag for drying dishes
  • more ziplock bags
  • A reusable mug or cup for coffee and beverages at the Center Camp Café

Food tip o’ the day: hard-boiled eggs. Nutritious and compact; cook ’em and peel ’em before you go and throw them in some Tupperware, and you have a great meal with no mess! And Miso soup to keep the salt content in the body up.


 

Health & Wellbeing

Start hydrating now! Practice for the desert! Your body and skin will thank you.

Heloise has become a pedicure enthusiast. Getting a good one before you hit the playa makes it much easier to maintain your feet. And there is nothing better than starting the day with your Personal Playa Partner for mutual foot massage with lotion and clean socks. Really. The Body Shop makes a peppermint foot lotion that rocks my world.

Playa Foot
(From Greg Rodenberg)

Going barefoot on the playa is not a good idea. But it happens, and often, the result is “Playa Foot,” a painful drying, cracking, rash caused by prolonged contact with the alkali lakebed.

Nothing seems to better prevent, or relieve, Playa Foot better than a liberal coating of Dr. Bronner’s Soap. Use it straight from the bottle; once a day to prevent Playa Foot or several times daily to cure it. Most cases heal up within a day or two after treatment begins.

Contact Lens
(From Wally Glenn)

Bring a back-up pair. Then bring a back-up pair for the back-up pair. You can get extended wear disposables for a reasonable price from your eye doctor, or if you have a recent prescription, walk into Costco and buy disposables.

Bring a bottle or two of rewetting drops. Try Similsan, a homeopathic allergen-free product from Switzerland found at many eye docs or drug stores. Unlike Visine, it doesn’t constrict the blood vessels which ends up making the problem of red eyes even worse. Similsan can really help with the dust build up. Then again, so does rinsing your eyes with solution. The Playa creates some nasty eye boogers.

Bring a full bottle of lens solution and a back-up bottle of lens solution just in case one leaks or gets misplaced.


 

Clothing and Miscellany

Heloise LOVES skirts. Especially men in skirts (And particularly bearded redheads in kilts, but that’s another webpage…) Gentlemen, come over to the breeze side. Loose cotton skirts, sarongs, simple fabric wrapped at will. Super comfy and air-friendly.

Long beautiful lengths of fabric can be worn as saris, sarongs, turbans and scarves.

Pajamas are comfy and provide great protection from the sun, both tops and bottoms. And there are all kinds! Go to your local Asian center or Chinatown for silk lusciousness, cotton comfort or satin gleam vivid colors. Hit the thrifts and vintage stores for old cotton or satin.

And then there’s lingerie. Yum. Great colors, fabrics that flow with the breeze and tons of fun. Who said that peignoirs had to remain in the honeymoon suite? Dead sexy.

Find your local “Chinatown” for fabulous outfits, fabric, umbrellas, hats, etc. Clothing hints — some of Heloise’s Favorite Things:

  • rubber Birkenstock clogs/shoes that won’t get trashed by the alkali
  • several pairs of cotton bike-style shorts
  • small long-strapped bag instead of fanny pack
  • sarongs; skirt, dress, turban, Interplanetary towel
  • hiking boots (light ones just don’t have enough support)
  • long sleeve cotton PJs (provide great protection from sun)
  • comfy, loose shorts
  • warm tops & sweatshirts for night
  • POCKETS ON EVERYTHING
  • cotton bras
  • long-sleeved lightweight shirts (100% cotton SPF)
  • Chinese PJ’s in bright colors
  • Chippewa steel-toe boots
  • clean socks & undies (stored in ziplock bags)
  • bandana square-dance skirt with the “Seven Year Itch” movement whenever the wind blows
  • The Big-Assed Shade Hat
  • parasols

Leave the turkey feather boas at home this year and go for marabou! (Picking those damned feathers out of the playa at clean-up is a major pain.)

More playa necessities!!

  • lip balm-on-a-string (just put an “O” screw in the top)
  • water bottle holder
  • goggles
  • respirator or particle/dust mask
  • headlamp flashlight
  • clean towels (sealed in ziplocks)
  • AA batteries, lots of ’em
  • rig some kind of basket on your bike

Decorate EVERYTHING but keep the principles of Leave No Trace in mind when choosing your adhesive so you’re not spending all your time picking up that trail of googly-eyes that have fallen off your one-of-a-kind parasol.

Potable Water

Here are some important drinking water safety points to keep in mind, and an overview of what is available in the Reno area.

The bottom line: 1.5 gallons of water per day per person.

Now a few words of caution:

First, on using used containers: even if the container is rated as “food grade” and you thoroughly clean and disinfect it, there is still a high probability that there will remain a taste from the previous contents. Keep in mind that if your water tastes crappy, you will be less likely to drink it and will risk dehydration (which can lead to serious injury, even death). It is highly recommended that if you do bring water in used containers that you use that as utility water for cleaning and bathing, running mister systems, and such, and keep your drinking (and cooking) water only in new containers.

Second, never use garbage bags to store drinking water. The lining of garbage bags is usually impregnated with chemicals that retard spoilage and suppress odors, and are not safe for human consumption.

Third, keep your water bottles out of direct sunlight and away from strong odors. Sunlight is energetic enough to cause chemical reactions in the bottle’s plastic, imparting unpleasant odors and tastes to the water. Also, if there is anything in the water, like bacteria or algae, the sunlight will foster growth, which could cause illness as well as bad taste. Keep in mind that the “milk jug” style plastic (polyethylene) breaths, allowing outside air to reach your water. Do not store your bottles near any chemicals or other things with strong odors — don’t store in a box next to a bag of onions unless you like onion flavored water!

And lastly, store your empty bottles with the caps loose or off. The desert heat can make the air in the bottle expand and alter the bottle’s shape (round bottom or ruined handles) and can even split the seams.

Public Pools and Showers

Public pools and public showers are not permitted in Black Rock City. Water for private use that entails full body contact or consumption must be potable and come from Nevada State Health Division approved water sources such as water stores and supermarkets (see below). In other words, don’t fill your water from a gas station water hose.

Where to get water in Reno, Sparks and Gerlach?

Gerlach General Improvement District
330 Short Drive, Gerlach – 775-557-2601 – map

2019 hours:

Monday 8/19 — Wednesday 8/21 9am–6pm
Thursday 8/22 9am–8pm
Friday 8/23 through Sunday 8/25 8am–midnight
Monday 8/26 & Tuesday 8/27 9am–8pm
Wednesday 8/28 & Thursday 8/29 9am–6pm
Water is $0.50/gallon for first 100 gallons, $0.45/gallon for second 100 gallons and $0.40 for any amount over 200 gallons.

Selling containers, which includes the water:
5 gallon container and water — $20
6 and 7 gallon container and water — $25
15 gallon container and water — $45

The Gerlach GID (the local governing body of Gerlach) will be selling potable water to fill up RVs and water tanks of any size, with the funds going to support the town of Gerlach. Look out for directional signs just as you enter town on Main Street, the station is located in front of the town’s Community Center. Rates are 50 cents per gallon up to 100 gallons, 45 cents per gallon between 100 and 200 gallons, and 40 cents per gallon for above 200 gallons. 6 and 7—gallon water containers also available (free water with purchase of container). Cash only, but ATM is onsite.

Reno and Sparks

Reno and Sparks lay in a basin known as the Truckee Meadows, an area of former wetlands through which the Truckee River flows. So lots of great water here! There are currently four establishments dotting throughout the Truckee Meadows devoted exclusively to water, one in Gerlach, and one just for water delivery to the playa.

Simply Water 
1070 Gentry Way, Reno — 775-337-8111 — map
Open Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-3pm, but will have special (8am-8pm) hours for Burning Man – call ahead for possible after-hours appointments. Located right next to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and just off US-395. Simply Water’s purified water is 40 cents per gallon, and they are able to fill any-sized container – including RV’s. They also stock a wide variety of bottles and jugs in sizes ranging from 1/2 liter to 5-gallon.

Fresca Waterhouse
1196 Rock Boulevard, Sparks — 775-358-9893 — map
Open daily 10am-6pm, open 9am-9pm from Aug. 22-Aug. 30. Call ahead for possible after-hours appointment. Very accommodating, Fresca Waterhouse provides water purified by reverse-osmosis at 40 cents per gallon to fill also sizes, including RV’s.  15, 30, and 55-gallon water barrels are also available.  Water bottle sizes available up to 7 gallons, and they also have collapsable/reusable bottles, spigots, caps, and pumps.   Two vending machines also operating 24 hours.

Red Rock Spring Water
1145 Icehouse Avenue, Reno — 775-331-5908 — map
Open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, extended or weekend hours by appointment. Red Rock provides naturally-filtered spring water drawn from the Red Rock Spring 30 miles north of Reno. Which means it is higher-quality, tastier, and perhaps healthier water than what you may find elsewhere. Water is $7.50 per 5 gallons. 3 and 5-gallon containers can also be purchased and returned for a $8 deposit/refund. BPA-free bottles as well as spigots and pumps are also available, and you can fill up your RV with tap water. Red Rock also provides delivery of water of only 50 bottles and up to participants/theme camps as well as pickup of their empty containers in Black Rock City. If interested in delivery, send an email to dan@redrockwater.com.

Spring Water Depot
895 South Center Street, Reno — 775-843-7852
925 W Williams, Fallon
100 Douglas St,  Dayton
Bring your own sanitized containers, fill up 24-7, well lit at night. Spring Water and Distilled water is .50 per gallon. Website is www.watervendingreno.com. Sells 3- and 5-gallon bottles on request.

Finally, there is another company in the Reno area that provides regular and only potable-water delivery service to camps and RVs in Black Rock City:

MECO Water  
Sparks — 775-722-1515 — 775-771-0720
Highly recommended you make reservations for water delivery through filling out the form on their website before you head out to the playa. Or you can send an email to meco-reno@live.com or call them.


For Water Containers larger than 5 gallons, such as barrels, you can find them at Twin City Surplus, Fresca Waterhouse, some of the Save Mart Supermarkets, and at the Sportsman’s Warehouse.

Twin City Surplus  
1675 East 4th St — 775-323-5630 — map 
Open Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 10am-4pm. Also known as “The Big Red Barn,” Twin City Surplus is located in the center of the Reno-Sparks area, near I-80 and US-395. They try to keep 20, 30 and 55-gallon sizes – both new and used “food grade” containers – in stock for Burning Man. As they are a surplus store, their prices and stock on-hand vary. By the way, they also have just about every kind of camping and adventure gear and military surplus you can imagine – tents, tarps and parachutes are a specialty. From I-80 take the east 4th Street exit (#16) and turn right going west on 4th Street. Twin City will be down about ¾ mile on your right.

Fresca Waterhouse
1196 Rock Boulevard, Sparks — 775-358-9893 — map
Open 9am-9pm during Burning Man, call ahead for possible after-hours appointment.

Save Mart Supermarkets

  • 555 Keystone Avenue — 775-786-2150 — map
  • 565 East Prater Way — 775-359-9060 — map

All open 24/7 during Burning Man. Carrying 15 and 55-gallon water barrels, spigots and pumps, as well as bulk water in 2.5 and 5-gallon sizes.

Sportsman’s Warehouse 
3306 Kietzke Ln — 775-828-1500 — map 
Open Mon-Sat 9am-10pm, Sun 10am-9pm.  Sportsman’s near US-395 in southwest Reno carries water barrels in 15, 30, and 55-gallon sizes, as well as water pumps.

Finally, there is also a great alternative to plastic bottled water called BIOTA. It comes in a corn-based bottle that has all the characteristics of plastic but will biodegrade in 80 days without any harmful effects to the environment. Although studies on the leaching properties of toxics from plastics (i.e. PET) may be inconclusive at this time, we know that BIOTA’s corn-based bottle is 100% safe, especially when used/reused under extreme conditions. BIOTA is available in 12oz., 1/2 liter, and full liter sizes at many natural and health food stores throughout California and Nevada including: Rainbow Grocery, Whole Foods, Raley’s, New Leaf Community Markets and Better Nutrition stores. For a complete listing of locations, visit the BIOTA website.

And for further resource options in Reno-Sparks, visit our Reno pages.

Gray Water Disposal

What is Gray Water? Gray water is water that has been used for cooking, washing, dishwashing, or bathing and contains soap, detergent, food scraps, or food residue.

Why is it a problem? It’s hard to make it disappear. Almost anywhere else in the world, a campsite is near absorbent soil (filled with microbial activity, and usually with plants) where it is safe and decent to dump gray water. But it’s different on the playa, on dried clay, striving to avoid contaminating our surroundings.

Don’t dump it! Dumping large amounts of untreated water on the playa introduces contaminants and can turn the clay into instant slippery, sticky mud. This can make walking nasty for your neighbors, and violates Burning Man’s contract with our landlord, the Bureau of Land Management. You could get a citation and a fine.

Don’t put it in the Potty! Each potty serves 40 to 50 people, and can handle only pee, poop, and special toilet paper — absolutely nothing else. Toilets are for black water, not gray water.

Tips and Hints


So what does work? There are several acceptable ways to dispose of gray water; pick one that’s right for you.

    1. Contract a removal service: Large camps may contract at least a month in advance with United Site Services for removal of gray water in multi-hundred-gallon containers. Contact United Site Services at 1-775-826-5646, in Reno. USS does not deliver fresh water. For delivery of fresh water in volume, contact Meco in Reno at 775-475-2602. Have USS empty your RV tanks on-playa. You can flag down a USS truck, one that isn’t busy servicing potties, and ask them to send a pumper to your RV location. It’ll cost you $60 or more.
    2. Pack it out: You can accumulate your gray water and pack it out when you leave, perhaps reusing your resealable freshwater containers. Caution: once you put gray water in them, your containers should never be used for anything else. Watch out for single-use containers that require you to stab an air-hole in them; they would leak graywater during the return trip. You’ll need to have a funnel and bottles which are both re-fillable and disposable, so plan ahead. While you store your gray water, you’ll need to keep it chlorinated (explained below). Take it all the way home, or to a dumping station along the way. Haul to RV Dump Station. Several RV parks and truck stops are listed below. Dumping tanks costs around 5-10 dollars.
    3. Install an evapotron in your camp: Evapotrons are Burner-built devices for evaporating gray water in the playa’s intensely dry air. The Pumped Cascade design is powered by sunlight on a solar cell; the Gray-B-Gon is powered by a small windmill. Either design can meet the disposal needs of ten or more people.
    4. Share an evapotron. Camps with evapotrons usually have excess capacity, and often will help neighbors dispose of gray water. Ask first, of course.
    5. DO NOT USE evaporation ponds (yesterday’s technology). Evaporation ponds — black plastic sheeting laid on the playa, over a rim of two-by-fours on edge — were the earliest evaporative devices invented for the Playa, but we cannot recommend them.Ponds take an enormous amount of space to make a shallow layer of water, they’re hard to make perfectly level, and they eventually fill with mud. Pond evaporative performance relies on a sunlight-absorbing black surface, and playa dust gradually disables it. Then you have to pump out the pond, and clean or reline it.
      Failed evap pond

      Your pond may attract slip-and-slide buckaroos, whose antics can tear up the plastic surface. Many other mishaps can cause pinhole leaks, which eventually make large muddy patches on the Playa. Even if it never leaks, it will probably spill when you try to empty it. At the end of the event, you have a very nasty mess of stuff to take home in your vehicle. And it didn’t even get rid of that much gray water.

    6. Be a sanitation expert. A very few Burners are experts in water sanitation, and in past years have brought and used professional-level water-purification systems; yesterday’s shower becomes today’s fresh coffee. If you are an expert, you know it. But beware trying out an advanced technology if you’re not an experienced professional. More than one camp has discovered that (for example) their flocculation tank pH was off, so they had no gray water disposal at all.

  1. Dump station tips Remember these tips from www.rvdumps.com when emptying your gray water holding tanks:
    • Use a heavy-duty sewer hose about 6 to 8 feet long to make handling easier.
    • Carry an extra garden hose for rinsing in case the dump station doesn’t have one. Store this in an area where it won’t come into contact with your drinking water hose.
    • Never use your fresh water hose for rinsing sewer hoses or the dump station area.
    • Wear protective rubber gloves and avoid touching the outside of the gloves.
    • If others are waiting to use the dump station, skip the tank flushing and hose rinsing steps. Pull away from the dump station and then add some water and chemicals to the holding tanks.
    • Never put anything other than the contents of your holding tanks into the dump station.
    • Leave the dump station area cleaner than you found it.

    Dump Station Abuse

    (also from www.rvdumps.com)

    For years RVers have been pulling into Interstate rest areas and other areas with free dump stations to empty their holding tanks. But because of abuse, many states are removing dump stations from their rest areas, and campground owners and others view their dump stations as an expensive maintenance headache due to abuse of the facilities. Dump station abuse amounts to folks leaving a mess or putting things into the dump drain that just don’t belong there. Remember: somebody has to clean up the mess or clean out the drain. Dump station abuse causes aggravation, creates a health hazard, and costs money. You can do your part to ensure RVers and campers will continue to have free and clean dump stations by following the simple tips mentioned above.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How dangerous is gray water? What can I do about it? Gray water is inherently unsanitary. It may contain bacteria, fungi, viruses, or other life. Gray water left to stand untreated in the desert warmth eventually becomes black water as microbial populations increase. To disinfect gray water, and suppress funky aromas, mix in Concentrated Clorox Regular Bleach or other chlorine-based bleach periodically. For some antibiotic-resistant pathogens, chlorine bleach is the only reliable killer. The active ingredient in chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite, a powerful disinfectant that decomposes into water and salt. Age, sunlight, warmth, and gray water impurities (including playa dust) all increase the rate of decomposition, soon exhausting the disinfecting power. Make sure your bleach is newly purchased, not left over from last year.
  2. How much bleach do I need to disinfect? The following rule will help compensate for all these uncertainties. Use the No-Measure Rule of Thumb for Disinfecting: Follow Your Nose.Loosen the cap of your bleach jug one-half turn: no farther, or it may come off. Using your thumb to restrain the cap, tip the jug over your gray water and dribble for about two seconds per gallon. Slosh or stir to mix, and half an hour later, sniff. If it doesn’t have a strong chlorine tang (like a public swimming pool) dribble in more bleach and check it again later. Make this a morning and evening habit.When buying chlorine bleach, check the label for the concentration of sodium hypochlorite. Concentrated Clorox Regular Bleach has about 9%. If another brand has 6%, it should cost two-thirds as much and you’ll need to add 1.5 times as much. Scented products are always lower in hypochlorite. Bleach has a limited shelf life, and this year’s leftover jug won’t last until next year. Disclaimer: We are not sanitation experts, but an expert at Clorox Corp reviewed this text. Following the guidelines above is not guaranteed to fully disinfect your water.
  3. How can I reduce my gray water? The easiest gray water to dispose of is the gray water you don’t produce. If you bring less water, you will use less; but bring at least a gallon and a half per day per person, mostly for drinking.Use waterless disinfectant lotion (available at drugstores) to sanitize your hands before you handle food. For dish or bath soap, go ecofriendly with Campsuds. For general cleaning, try Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds. In your kitchen area, set up a low-volume water spray over a basin, for dishwashing and hand cleaning. A personal spray bottle, like the Cool Blast, is a good starting point.Bring several small hand towels (say three per person); use one towel end on clean dishes and the other end to wipe your hands and face clean. You’ll need remarkably little water to wash up with. Wipe out dishes with paper towels rather than washing, or before washing. Save a dish; eat from the cookpot. Lick out the cookpot, or scrape and rinse it with clean water, then think “This soup is thin but wholesome” and drink it. Save up your cooler’s ice-melt water to refill your solar shower bag. When you shower, first get wet and turn the water off; then soap up and scrub down, then turn the water back on to rinse off. Or shower with a friend, and trade off controlling and directing the water supply.Hard core: take a sponge bath instead. It’s possible to wash your body clean with a pint of water, soap and a washrag.

For More Information:

Contact: Earth Guardians, earthguardians@burningman.com

Communal Kitchens

Are you planning to go to Burning Man with a group? Even a small one? edensomberg@yahoo.com, a Burning Man veteran, has created some guidelines to help groups build a communal kitchen and plan group meals. Also included are meal suggestions and shopping lists for foods and supplies. May you be nourished!

Group Planning

At your first planning meeting, your group will need to make some basic decisions about eating. If you’ve been to Burning Man before, you’ll know that most people feel satisfied eating much less than they normally would and tend to consume a lot more water. My group committed to serving two meals a day, and snacks at teatime and in the evening. We laminated a week-long calendar and penciled in lines for “chef” and “helpers” and “clean up,” allowing people to sign up for shifts. We kept the calendar on a clipboard with the suggested meals and recipes.

Following are some good questions to ask when planning group meals:

  • Are we all comfortable eating the same foods?
  • Is there anyone that has special dietary needs?
  • Can we agree on how we’re going to share the shopping, costs, transportation, set-up, cooking, clean up, and trash?
  • Can we bring enough water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking?

Costs

An easy way to calculate how much each person should pay is to charge each person $10 for food per day. This should also cover water and supplies.

Health Regulations

This will not apply to most of you, but it’s still good to know the rules. No one wants to see any communal kitchen get shut down or have problems. Giving food away, or trading for food is the same as a restaurant in the eyes of the Health Division, and permits and cooking standards will be enforced. Nevada State Health Division (NSHD) policy on communal kitchens is as follows: Any camp that is serving meals on a large scale (to 125 or more fellow campers at every meal consistently) must also obtain a permit. More information on obtaining that permit can be found on the Nevada State Health Division website.

Water

The following water calculation worked best for my camp: one 2.5-gallon container of water per person per day, used for cooking, cleaning, and washing

If you’ve got a small enough group, have each person bring the water they require, and ask that everyone donate one gallon to the kitchen for each day they will be there.

If you have a large group, I recommend arranging to pick up water from one of the filtered water companies in Reno (you’ll have to leave a small deposit on the bottles). Always err on bringing more water than you think you’ll need, and recycle as much water as possible.

Kitchen Set-Up

Even for a small group of people, having a well set up kitchen can not only make for a pleasurable place to cook and eat, but also serve as a communal gathering place.

I would recommend that each person in camp bring their own silverware and dishes, which can be labeled with a sharpie or masking tape. Plastic tablecloths are excellent if you’ve got a way to secure them to the table (duct tape works in a pinch here). If you have a small group, bring chairs to have a family-style dinner, or bring a bunch of blankets and pillows.

As for building the kitchen structure, my group brought a “carport” that you can buy at Costco. This is 8 poles with a triangular, sloping top that has a fitted tarp on it. Make sure that whatever structure you use has poles with decent heft, as thinner aluminum poles may bend or break. We tied down all of the corners to rebar for extra support.

Our “walls” were constructed out of old curtains and hooks, which attached to the horizontal poles and were affixed to the vertical poles as well. Two of the side spaces were left open for ventilation. For wind and dust protection, you should have the three sides around your stoves covered, but make sure they’re tied down and not a fire hazard. Have a fire extinguisher close by just in case.

If you have more than ten people, you’ll need at least one two-burner stove (my group was lucky enough to have two commercial propane dual-burners, which were enough for about 100 people). Depending on your use, it will probably be cost-effective to bring one or two 5-gallon propane tanks. Keep these in the shade and a decent distance away from the flame. If you’re using Coleman-type stoves along with a larger tank, you’ll need to buy an adaptor and a hose, available at most large camping stores.

In addition to a “prep” table, around which you may want to build a pantry (see below), consider bringing at least two other folding tables to use as serving and washing stations.

Building a Pantry

The best way to build a pantry is around a large folding table. On either side of it, stack up 5-6 milk crates (with the open space facing you, like you would in your closet). You want your top milk crate to be your height or a little taller. Secure the crates to each other with cable ties (two ties on each side, all the way up). You’ll need a 2 x 4 or a similar piece of wood that’s 1.5′ longer than your table and has a hole on each end (or a nail on the underside of each side of the board that fits securely in the holes of the crates). This goes on top of the crates and gets secured by the method of your choice or with more cable ties. Then secure the middle crates to the table, and you’re all set up. Buy a bunch of screw-in hooks and attach them to the underside of the board. This is where you can hang your cookware and utensils.

I used this table for the cutting boards and the knife block. It’s most useful arranged at a right angle to your cooking stove(s). My group used one side of the milk crates to hang a bulletin board (with yet more cable ties). This was a good place for the kitchen clipboard.

Storage
We stored our large bags of beans, lentils, and rice on a pallet with a tarp cover. Large baskets (available in thrift stores) work great for smaller bags of food, spices, and supplies. Store the baskets and pallets under your tables.

You actually don’t need refrigeration or ice for any of the foods I’ve listed. We kept most of our fruits and veggies covered in our Ryder truck, and by the end of one week, we had some veggies that had gotten a little dried out (which we refreshed by soaking in water), but nothing had spoiled. Vegetables can be stored in burlap bags on pallets or stacked in vegetable flats, which you can get from grocery stores. These have good ventilation. What might work well is to keep damp burlap bags over all the veggies. See the Fruits and Veggies shopping list for produce that stores well.

Sanitation
Especially after a few days, sanitation can become an issue. While you’re getting ready to serve the next meal, set up a few dish racks next to the “sink,” which for us was a 5-gallon sparketts bottle on a tabletop dispenser over a large, plastic bin. You can add grapefruit seed extract (it’s germ-killing and serves as a bleach substitute), and sunlight should take care of the rest.

Live Foods
You can easily add sprouts to your Burning Man diet. All you need is a mix of seeds and/or nuts. If you’re mixing, you need to know the approximate sprouting times for each (alfalfa, lentils, black beans, garbanzos, sunflower seeds, etc.), and a few mason jars with the metal list replaced with a piece of screen and then screwed on with the top. In most cases, the seeds should be soaked overnight and then strained and rinsed or misted a few times a day. Keep the jars tilted so they can drain. You can recycle the rinse water to wash dishes.

Meals and Recipes

Considerations for Large Groups
It is especially important when cooking group-size pots of rice to note that you’ll use proportionally much less water. Try to calculate portions of pasta, beans, rice, and granola ahead of time so you’ll have a fairly correct assessment of how much food to bring. Even with making calculations based on per-person consumption, we tended to cook more than we needed, particularly with bean and lentil dishes. When you’re cooking with dried beans, make sure to give them adequate soaking time, which will lessen the cooking time. If you forget to soak, add more water than you think you’ll need (which you can strain later), and keep that pot on a low simmer for several hours that day.

Breakfast
Serve with sliced bananas, oranges, grapefruit, apples, and tea or chai

  • Granola and soy milk
  • Oatmeal with almonds, raisins, and bananas
  • Pancakes (if you’re strictly vegan, pancake mixes without egg are hard to find, but you can make your own mix). Cook sliced bananas for a few minutes before you top your pancakes with them.
  • Make fruit compote out of apples, pears, and a little citrus. A banana or two can be added. This is delicious over cereal or by itself.

Dinner and Recipes
When making rice dishes for dinner, prepare extra plain rice (store overnight in a covered pot), and in the morning add soy milk (or water), honey or maple syrup, raisins, apples, bananas, and cook it up for breakfast!

The following are recipes that worked well for my group:

  • Dahl and rice with apple chutney:
    Cook the lentils (they can be soaked to lessen cooking time) until they are ¾ done, then add: salt, fresh ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cayenne, ghee, cumin, coriander, and some very thin lemon slices (with peel). It’s best to dry roast the spices in a cast iron pot before adding them to the dahl. For apple chutney, cook several chopped apples with some orange and/or lemon juice. Add cinnamon and a dash of cardamom and nutmeg, and cook it down until it’s the consistency of apple sauce. Add a can of the chutney of your choice, then garnish with a few thinly sliced orange halves and serve with the dahl.
  • A nice rice dish to serve with dahl: Fry rice in ghee on low heat until it starts to color. Add cinnamon and cardamom and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add almonds, raisins, and water, bring to a boil, then simmer until rice is cooked. A variation can be made with coconut milk and curry paste.
  • Vegetables can be added to any meal:
    • Steam any type of vegetable and add to your pasta. Top it with the tahini sauce (see below), or pasta sauce. A variation would be to sauté the vegetables with spices and/or curry for an Indian meal.
    • Make curried squash, bell peppers, and carrots with a peanut sauce, sesame oil, coconut milk or tahini sauce.
    • Steamed (or raw) marinated veggies:
      Marinate beets and carrots, or carrots and cucumbers in a combination of rice and balsamic vinegars, a dash of lemon, garlic, and sesame oil. Add a few very thinly sliced red onions to the raw cucumbers and carrots. This is especially delicious served with falafel in a pita with tahini dressing.
  • Indian potatoes and cabbage:
    Slice and chop potatoes and boil until they’re soft. In the meantime, sauté the following in olive oil or ghee: Crushed, dried red chilies, ginger, whole mustard seed, cumin, bay leaves, coriander, turmeric, and salt. Add sliced cabbage and potatoes. Drizzle on some lemon juice, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Pasta and sauce:
    It’s best to buy your pasta in bulk and your sauce in jars. Cooking them should be self-explanatory.
  • Mac and “cheese”:
    You can make a “cheese” out of nutritional yeast and spices.
  • Vegetarian sushi:
    Steamed carrots, squash, or raw carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, avocados. You can add sunflower seeds and/or sprouts.
  • Vegetable soup:
    Boil sliced potatoes while you sauté onions in olive oil, or ghee. Boil a pot of water and add bouillon for soup base. Drain potatoes and add to soup base along with onions and other veggies. Leftover plain pasta can be added, as well as beans.
  • Burritos:
    Cook black beans and rice, add steamed or raw veggies to tortillas, along with salsa, sprouts, etc. Fried bananas would make a delicious dessert.
  • Falafel:
    Fried foods can be very satisfying on the playa. Buy a boxed or bulk falafel mix, add water and fry, and serve in pitas with tahini and a mix of small, cubed, raw veggies (cucumbers, red onions, carrots, and some red onions).
  • Tahini:
    Mix tahini with enough lemon juice that it starts to thin out. Do this in a glass jar with a screw-on lid and just shake it. Add soy, tamari, or Braggs. I don’t use proportions, but there’s probably about a third more lemon juice than soy, and probably twice as much tahini as lemon. This ranks as one of my favorite hippie foods ever. Serve it on salads, steamed veggies, and on falafel. After a day, it will thicken up and can be spread on bread as a mayo substitute, or thinned again with a little water.

Snacks

  • Chips and salsa
  • Sliced fruit
  • Sliced veggies
  • Hummus
  • Peanut butter and graham crackers
  • Date rolls
  • Chocolate
  • Popcorn (season with nutritional yeast and herbs)

Shopping Lists

The following lists are just to get you started. Shop in bulk. It’s cheaper, and you’ll have less packaging to deal with.

Basic Items

  • Dried black beans (Don’t get canned beans. You’ll have more trash to deal with.)
  • Dried lentils
  • Soy milk
  • Granola
  • Pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Chips (Go to Costco for chips and salsa.)
  • Salsa
  • Date rolls (They store well without refrigeration.)
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Rice- sunflower seeds can be toasted in a pan and are yummy served on almost anything
  • Tortillas
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Emergen-c (available at health food stores)
  • Chai
  • Cooking oils
  • Chocolate
  • Nori (for sushi)
  • Popcorn
  • Tahini
  • Falafel mix
  • Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, curry power (or store-bought paste), saffron, turmeric, salt, pepper, mustard seed, ginger, cardamom, cayenne, coriander, bay leaves, dried red Chilies/peppers
  • A few jars of Indian chutneys
  • Pancake mix (I recommend making pancakes over French toast; bread’s no fun to store, or you can make a solar oven and bake your own.)
  • Garlic
  • Nuts and seeds for sprouting
  • Wine
  • Peanut butter
  • Vegetarian bouillon. Bring a lot; this can be used in any rice or soup dish for extra flavor.
  • Pita bread

Fruits and Veggies
Get lots of unripe fruits and veggies, like avocados and pineapple, so you’ll have some for later in the week. See the Storage section for tips on how best to store your produce.

  • Potatoes*
  • Cucumbers
  • Bell peppers
  • Carrots*
  • Onions (yellow, white, or red)*
  • Squash* (get several different varieties)
  • Cabbage*
  • Coconuts (or coconut milk)*
  • Bananas (unripe)
  • Watermelons (unripe)*
  • Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes*
  • Melons*
  • Apples*
  • Pineapple
  • Garlic*

*Starred items will last particularly well.

Condiments
To save on money and time, I recommend raiding your cabinets and those of your friends for the following:

  • Soy sauce
  • Braggs
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Rice vinegar
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sesame seeds
  • Lemons
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Cooking oils
  • Sesame oil
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Ghee (This is butter without milk fat. It can be stored indefinitely without refrigeration. Available at most health food or Indian specialty stores.)

Supplies
Hit up the local thrift stores for some of the following:

  • Dish racks
  • Water dispenser (like a tabletop base with a spigot that a 5 gallon jug can be inserted into)
  • Large plastic bin (“the sink”)
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Sharpies
  • Large baskets
  • Sponges and scrubbies (tie with bungee to “sink”)
  • A few 5-gallon buckets with lids (for storage, garbage, compost, etc.)
  • Ziplocs, a bunch of plastic bags, and some aluminum foil
  • Large cooking pots (at least two)
  • Large cast iron pan
  • A few saucepans and a large griddle (a large baking sheet can be substituted)
  • Long-handled cooking spoons and slotted spoons
  • A few spatulas
  • Serving bowls, trays, and dishes
  • Sharp cooking knives
  • A knife block
  • Several large, wooden cutting boards
  • Toothpicks
  • Tupperware
  • Cloth napkins
  • Large mixing/prep bowls
  • Large strainer
  • Measuring cups
  • Extra cups and bowls
  • A veggie steamer (baskets, metal etc)
  • Cable ties
  • Duct tape
  • Masking tape
  • Plenty of milk crates
  • Folding tables
  • Comfy chairs
  • Pallets for storage
  • A bulletin board
  • Thumbtacks
  • Notepad and pens
  • BBQ lighter (Tie to or create a holster for it next to stove.)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Trashcans with tight lids
  • Heavy-duty trash bags
  • Hammer
  • Sledgehammer
  • Nails
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Matches
  • Tarps
  • Bungee cords
  • Rope (Buy a whole spool. If you don’t need all of it for the kitchen, I can guarantee someone will need it to tie down his or her tent.)
  • Pieces of carpet/rugs