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November 30, 2010

Burning Man Clean-Up Playa Restoration

Here's a long-ish article by Ranger Kidwell-Ross, a virgin Burner, about his first visit to Burning Man. His main focus is on the clean-up playa restoration efforts, but there's a lot of other info too. His bio: "Ranger Kidwell-Ross, editor of WorldSweeper.com, is a Masters-level economist with over 20 years of reporting on the power sweeping industry. He is the world's most prolific investigative reporter on the topic of power sweeping and has won numerous writing awards over the last two decades. [He] has over 30 years of experience in providing a variety of consulting services to the business community. He is the author of the award-winning book 'The Rise of BioDiesel,' and co-author of a recently released book on socio-economics entitled 'The Great Prosperity of 2020.'"

Because Burning Man is known as the most successful cleanup and restoration of any United States event monitored by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), I have long had a professional interest in seeing how it's done in person. You see, not only are 50,000+ people camped for a week with no food or other items being bought or sold; even more astonishing, no trash disposal whatsoever is provided or available.
With a scant 72 hours notice I received an opportunity to attend Burning Man this past Labor Day when my friend Tom, who is a Seattle Fire Chief, was unable to go at the last moment. As an added enticement for a 'newbie' like me, Tom was still able to arrange for our four-person group to be able to be part of the camp of the fire department personnel in charge of fire safety. It was an opportunity I simply could not pass up. However, those three days of preparation were some of the most intense I've experienced. Yet they would soon be eclipsed by the event itself.

He camped with the Volunteer Fire Department enclave. As a special treat, available only to virgin Burners, he was allowed to help prepare two meals a day for the fire department. For this privilege he only had to pay $75 additional. Tom Sawyer lives!

He provides a link to the 2009 Burning Man finances which I had never noticed before. Total expenditures for 2009 came to $12,317,000. The attendance in 2009 was 43,558. 43,558 gazinta $12,317,000 282.77 times. Ticket prices for Burning Man range from $210 to $300, or $360 if you buy at the gate. Only about $300,000 is used to subsidize the art. Over $1 million goes to BLM. Law enforcement costs $304,000. $919,000 goes to taxes and licensing fees. Toilets cost $661,000.

And then he gets to the clean-up playa restoration.

Although zero debris left behind by all is the goal, that is, of course, not actually 100% attainable. I set out to find out if there was an established benchmark of allowable debris an annual theme camp was allowed to leave and still pass inspection. What I learned during my investigation was astonishing: The debris left behind per acre by any of the many theme camps could not exceed what would fit onto a 9-inch paper plate!

Large scale burns sit atop a metal barrier covered with "a locally available decomposed granite-based product." After the burn, that's cleaned away so that no burn scar remains.

There is an aluminum can recycling facility (which I have never taken advantage of). He includes a video:

This year's MOOP map is available (click for full infographic).
2010 MOOP map
It shows that our camp was both yellow (average) and green (as close to "no trace" as humanly possible).

The Restoration Team is about 85 people who stay to return the playa to its pristine status.

To accomplish its goal, the Restoration Team is separated into two components. One group, called "The Line," sweep the city from end to end in grid formation. If the Line Sweep Team finds an area that is excessively problematic, they designate the area as a "hot spot," mark it with a cone and continue moving forward. The second group, called "The Cone-Killers," concentrate their efforts on cleaning up and restoring all of the problematic hot spots, such as burn scars, broken glass, fireworks debris, oil spills, grey water spills, etc. Using landscape rakes, shovels, magnet sweepers and their bare hands, they work until the hot spot is cleared spotless and the cone can be removed, aka "the cone is killed."

The article includes an audio recording of an interview with Dominic "D.A." Tinio who is Playa Restoration Manager for Burning Man.

Filed under Burning Man | permalink | November 30, 2010 at 07:26 PM

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