Burning Man is the largest Leave No Trace event in the world, and Black Rock City continues to be recognized by the Bureau of Land Management for not only maintaining Leave No Trace standards, but for setting high standards by which other recreation events are measured. And that wouldn’t be possible without the concerted efforts of every last Burning Man participant who picks up after themselves, as well as the Department of Public Works’ Playa Restoration Team, a hardy crew of workers who stay long after everybody else has left to return the playa to its pristine condition.
This section of our website is dedicated to teaching our participants about how to Leave No Trace at Burning Man (and perhaps in your own community), while showing our environmental record at playa restoration.
What Is MOOP?
MOOP is an acronym for “Matter Out of Place”, a convenient way of referring to anything that is not originally OF the land on which our event takes place. So everything that wasn’t originally ON or OF the Black Rock Desert, no matter how small, is considered MOOP, and is to be removed as part of our Leave No Trace efforts. MOOP also includes greywater, and the particulates contained therein.
The MOOP Map
Conceived as an educational tool by the Playa Restoration Crew of the Department of Public Works back in 2006, the MOOP Map is a gauge by which we can visually measure and track the MOOP Impact Trace of Black Rock City. A simple color code was established to approximate the severity of MOOP impact within the city camping blocks:
RED: High Impact Trace
YELLOW: Moderate Impact Trace
GREEN: Low Impact to No Impact Trace
The MOOP Maps show that the consistently hardest-hit areas are those of greatest foot traffic, including the Esplanade, Center Camp, and the 2:00 and 10:00 radial streets, indicating that these areas need more concerted, focused and organized attention with clean-up efforts. Participants are encouraged to add these areas to their MOOPing efforts, because we as a community are responsible for creating the MOOP that’s being cleaned up!
You can find links to MOOP Maps from every year since 2006 in the navigation bar to the right.
The Top 13 Impact Trace and MOOP Issues
In no particular order, here are the top MOOP items on playa …
1. Rebar, Tent Stakes and Ground Anchors
There’s nothing that a pair of vice grips and some leverage can’t pull out. And anything hammered into the ground will just get squeezed out of the playa another day, after a series of freezes and thaws.
2. Abandoned Art, Abandoned Camps, Abandoned Stuff
Get your stuff off the playa!
3. Grey Water/Black Water Dumping
Dumping your grey/black water on the ground is nasty for the environment, and can get you a hefty fine from the BLM.
Why do dunes matter? We share this land with others who use it, and it’s important that we keep it safe for vehicle passage by keeping the playa flat (The Black Rock Desert is known to be one of the flattest stretches of land on Earth). Dunes are formed when windblown dust bounces off stationary objects and reforms on the ground, attracting more and more dust to the pile and exponentially creating a bigger dune. A mere pencil can create a dune. Once they start, there is nothing to stop them, except us. Caught at an early stage, dunes can be stopped by simply raking them down with a landscape rake. Be sure to MOOP the area afterward.
5. Fireworks Debris
Fireworks are not allowed in Black Rock City; unfortunately, some folks do sneak them in, and more unfortunately, the people who light them off are rarely the same people that clean up after them.
6. Carpet Fiber/Debris
Carpets, rugs, and old tattered tarps are often shredded to bits, leaving behind micro-sized MOOP over large areas.
7. Cloth, Fiber and Rope Debris
Torn fragments of clothes, costumes, jewelry, and other fibrous materials.
8. Metal Debris
Nails, screws, fasteners, metal slag, beer bottle tops, etc.–there is hardly anything on the playa that isn’t fastened with metal. Whether your constructing something out of wood or welding, a magnet sweeper with a release handle (do a web search) will work wonders getting metal quickly and easily off the ground.
9. Cigarette Butts
DO NOT DROP CIGARETTES ON THE BLACK ROCK DESERT. THE PLAYA IS NOT A GIANT ASHTRAY.
10. Glass Debris
Broken beer bottles, broken windshields, etc.
11. Plastic Debris
Plastic bottle tops, packaging, baggies, zip ties, duct tape, caution tape, etc. Plastic is all too often airborne MOOP due to wind conditions and carelessness. Manage your plastic materials, keep them secure and recycle. Hint: Cut off the top of a 1 gallon jug of water and you have an excellent MOOP bucket.
12. Wood Debris
Wood chips, bark, palettes, splinters, sawdust, boxes, cardboard, paper, etc. Though often thought to be “organic,” wood is simply not found naturally the playa, and it is here where we must draw the line — it’s MOOP. The impact of wood is consistently the highest of all the traces and must be eliminated. We simply ask you to manage your wood. Place a tarp on the ground for your work zones, woodpiles, and burnable debris.
Plants, palm trees, pine needles, palm fronds, leaves, etc. Trees, plants, and leaves die, break, and shred, creating a huge mess of micro-sized MOOP spread out over a wide area. Factor in the dust storms and you’ve got a disaster to deal with on your hands and knees.
Playa Restoration Tools of the Trade
There is an art to leaving no trace and we lead no trace by example. Here are a combination of tools that can restore any impact condition back to its natural beauty:
1. Magnet Sweepers (aka magnet rakes)
If you’re working with metal on playa, you should make your life easier by using a magnet sweeper! All you have to do is roll them over your work area, listen as the magnet pulls the loose metal off of the playa, and then discard the metal in the trash using the clever release lever. Simple and inexpensive.
or better yet, landscape rakes! Dust storms happen, dunes build up very quickly and you could find yourself on your hands and knees using your bare hands sifting for things that might well turn into MOOP. Use a rake, and pull the MOOP out. Landscape rakes are wider, can catch more MOOP, and can comb through more area. You can use the back end of the rake to cut down the size of the dune and pull it flat.
3. Push Brooms
That dune that you’re standing on that used to be the site of your camp… yeah, that can’t be there. The dune will just get bigger and bigger as it attracts more dust and catches MOOP. When the winter rains come, that dune will just solidify into a big dune as hard as the playa surface itself which will suck for anyone using the playa, including us. Do your best and knock it down with a pushbroom. Or have a few on hand and watch how easy it is to restore the flattest real estate in the Black Rock Desert.
Got a disaster, need to fill a hole, or flatten a dune? Use a shovel. Leave No Trace.
5. Vise Grips
Okay, so you were a little excessive with the rebar and now you can’t get it out of the ground. Get some vise grips around that sucker. Give it a couple of rotations to loosen up the dirt around the rebar and then… TWIST back and forth vigorously while pulling upward (lift with the legs, Hercules, not your back). The dirt will act as bearings, working that rebar free of the playa.
How To MOOP and Leave No Trace