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Leave No Trace

Practicing a Leave No Trace Ethic is very simple: leave the place you visit the same or better than you found it; leave no trace of your having been there, so that others – both human and animal – can enjoy the land the rest of the year.

The Leave No Trace! ethic is violated when we :

  • Travel and camp in large groups
  • Travel off trails or roads, thereby causing scars and soil erosion, and trampling vegetation
  • Leave campfire scars
  • Leave human waste and garbage at a campsite
  • Pollute lakes and streams
  • Make loud noises that disturb wildlife and other visitors
  • Wear brightly colored gear and clothes that make us visible

OK, Black Rock City can't change much about traveling and camping in large groups. And we're probably going to wear and bike around with some pretty bright colors. But together, we can certainly tackle the other issues. There are many common sense ways in which we can minimize our impact.

Tips & Hints

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

You’re off to a good start already by reading this page! Also check out the other pages in the Environment section and the Survival Guide. For each item that you’re bringing to the playa, think through how you’re going to dispose of it. Have your camp tear-down well planned and practiced. Plan to send trash off the playa with campmates who are leaving earlier.

2. Reduce Your Packaging

Bringing less in means having less to bring out. Leave unnecessary packaging at home. Food items are a likely target with their many layers of plastic and cardboard, but also consider the toys and camping gear that you’re bringing. Unpacking them before you get home will spare you the hassle of bringing back styrofoam packingand shrinkwrap. Choose cans over bottles, and reusable containers over both. Read more in our Garbage, Precycle/Reduce, Reuse, Recycle section.

3. Rethink Your Food Portions

Prepare food in sensible quantities that your group can finish at a single sitting -- leftovers will quickly become a liability. Coordinate with your campmates as far as what you’re bringing so that you minimize your group’s waste. If you’ve found yourself with a giant pot of chili and not enough campmates, invite the neighbors over rather than creating a wet, heavy bag that has to be packed into someone’s trunk.

4. Don’t Rush Your Pack-Up

Don't stress to hurry home on Sunday. Recognize that long-term exposure to the playa will fatigue your body and impair decision powers. Also, when under pressure, we are all likely to make rushed decisions, miss details and leave things behind. If half of your campmates will have left already by Sunday, the folks left behind are going to have a lot more work to do. If someone has to catch a plane, make sure to start packing up even earlier than you think you have to, so that you aren’t tempted to leave before fully clearing your site. See more hints from Recycle camp.

5. Moop Sweeps

As you’re packing out your camp, have campmates walk repeatedly around your site picking up anything and everything that’s not part of the playa. Doing this periodically, through the week, will make it easier.

6. Do Not Use the Playa as Your Toilet

It’s unacceptable, unsanitary, and just plain gross the morning after.

7. Take Your Bikes Home

Do not leave behind your old bikes behind for us. We still have to dispose of them if you don't, and that's an expensive and time-consuming effort.

8. Be Aware of Very Small Items

No Trace really does mean no trace. Be conscious of spare nails or smaller trash particles that may be dismissed as too small for trash including: hair, matches, cigarette butts, feathers, plastic tie wraps. Remember that food waste such as peanut shells, orange peels and egg shells are also trash. While you're walking around the playa, make an effort to pocket all trash, including cigarette butts, and then empty your pockets into a trash bag later. After you pick up your trash to carry home, do a last-minute check of your site for cigarette butts, gum wrappers, etc. because many of those will be hidden under tarps, tents and vehicles.

9. Do Not Pour Leftover Gas on the Playa

This is toxic! You wouldn't do this in your backyard, so don't do it in ours.

10. Minimize Fire Impacts

Deserts like Black Rock are susceptible to “burn scars” which last a long time and are not easily cleared. Avoid creating a burn scar by not burning directly on the ground. Use a raised fire pit, or use fire shields to protect playa surface. Keep in mind that most non-natural materials (rugs, polyester, plastic, treated wood) are toxic when burned.

11. Minimize Playa Scars

Never ditch or build trenches around your tent because they can start soil erosion and create lasting scars. Make an effort to restore holes that were dug for tent stakes and anchors.

12. Do Not Claim Potential Artifacts

Artifacts should be turned into the Lost and Found in Center Camp with an EXACT location of where it was discovered. Many historical and archeological sites are found throughout Bureau of Land Management areas. Federal law prohibits disturbing historical and archeological sites or removing any objects from them.

13. Respect Wildlife

Do not harass or shoot any wildlife. Remember, the Burning Man event is not a place for dogs or other pets. If you do bring a pet to the playa outside of the Burning Man event, make certain to remove their waste just as you would your own.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Do I have to take my trash all the way home? Not at all! There are several trash dumps and recycling facilities in the Reno area who will process your trash, cheaply and easily.  Check their schedules and rates ahead of time, and put printed information in your car or truck before you leave home. Check this page for some information, or search on the Internet for other options that fit your route and schedule. (http://www.burningman.com/preparation/travel_info/reno/reno_Dumps.html)

  2. Where shouldn’t I leave my trash? It’s unfair to make someone else clean up after your party!  Please do not dump your trash along the highways where locals or highway cleanup crews will have to deal with it. Do not leave trash at local businesses or road side rest stops – they have to pay for trash disposal and shouldn’t have to accommodate yours. This includes restaurant dumpsters, hotels, gas stations, or anywhere else that is private property. Do not leave your bags of trash on the playa either; the volunteers who stay to break down the city have more than enough to do already.

  3. Why not just throw stuff into the Potties? Items that aren’t human waste or single-ply toilet paper have a nasty tendency to clog up the machines that are used to clean the potties. When that happens, someone who’s actually working while we’re playing has to get in there and fish it out. Aside from being a lousy thing to make another person do, it means potties out of commission and not being cleaned for that much longer. And none of us want that!

  4. Can I cook on a campfire? Campfires are not allowed at Burning Man, and that's good because they erode the land. In fragile environments such as deserts, fire leaves scars for many years and depletes wood supplies. Modern backpacking stoves are economical and lightweight and provide fast, clean cooking. You can get campstoves here.

  5. Can I burn my trash? You can burn selected items at pre-approved burn platforms. These areas are indicated on your playa map.  A lot of things that might seem safe to burn can actually be toxic – they release really nasty chemicals that might or might not be visible, but which will definitely do harm to you and others.  Check the burn page in the environment for more detailed guidelines.

Resource Links

Want more ideas for your clean-up plan? Interested in the ethics and principles behind Leave No Trace? Check out these great links:

  • Review this document produced by the Earth Guardians camp.
  • Of course, you should use LNT Ethics outside of Black Rock City, whenever you are doing outdoor recreation. Read the full scoop on the BLM's 'outdoor ethic' right here.
  • Learn how to Tread Lightly on the Black Rock Desert!
  • Did we mention that there's a non-profit organization set up specifically to promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation? Well, there is! Check them out at http://www.lnt.org/

Send Us Your Ideas

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