The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 23, 2012

My Plastic-Free Burning Man Adventure

Via Flickr user starfive

I’m a virgin.  A Burning Man virgin.  Ever since I learned about the annual tribal celebration of fire and self-expression back in the mid 90’s, I have wanted to go and hang out in the Black Rock Desert and express myself.   But I’ve never had a friend who wanted to go with me, until recently, when I met Tracey TieF through this very blog.  And that’s appropriate because this year when I go, I’m going to be thinking of ways to do it as Plastic-Free as possible.  And what’s more, I’ll be teaching a Plastic-Free class through the Play(a)Skool!

Carrying Water

At Burning Man, participants are required to bring their own water to the playa, which is a very hot and dry place, with temperatures reaching into the hundreds and chances of dust storms (which I hear we will be having this year.)  You can imagine, there are a lot of plastic water containers at this event.  Many people will bring reusable plastic jugs, but I don’t want to store my water in plastic that can leach BPA or other chemicals.  So Tracey and I set about finding stainless steel containers that would not only hold our water but would be priced at a level we could afford.  Stainless steel, if you haven’t noticed, is expensive —  a lot more expensive than plastic.

I did consider glass, but glass is way heavier, and we needed containers with a built-in dispenser.  Plus, we have 5 people in one van, so something taller and narrower would fit a lot better.

Bunn-o-Matic 5-gallon iced tea dispenser

I checked eBay relentlessly and discovered some awesome looking 10-gallon military surplus insulated stainless beverage dispensers.  (I didn’t buy one this year because at $275 each, they were out of my range.  But I did buy one the following year.  Read about it here.)  I looked at all kinds of other stainless steel containers, and I checked Craigslist to see if anyone in my area had one to sell.  I even put a wanted ad on Craigslist, but no responses.  Finally, Tracey discovered a Bunn-O-Matic 5-gallon stainless steel iced tea dispenser for $59.99.  Still expensive… especially since I will need two of them to hold water for myself for 8 days, but I can reuse them over and over  or lend them out to others who might need a stainless steel water container.

Since we bought them new, we knew there would probably be plastic in the boxes.  Tracey requested no plastic shipping materials when ordering, but of course we wouldn’t be able to avoid the plastic that the container comes packaged in from the manufacturer. So, when the boxes arrived, I opened the first one with trepidation.  Of course, there was plastic tape on the outside of the box.  Inside, I found this:

The container itself is wrapped in a big plastic bag; the instructions are in another plastic bag; and the plastic spigot is in a third plastic bag inside the first one.  Arya, as usual, was interested in eating the plastic bags.

I guess this is a matter of priorities.  I could have avoided new plastic entirely by borrowing or buying a secondhand plastic water container.  But I don’t want to store my water in plastic. So in order to avoid chemicals leaching into my water (especially since the container will be subjected to the intense desert sun), I had to buy new containers wrapped in plastic.  Nothing is ever perfect.  What choice would you have made?  I’d love to know.

Anyway, one great thing about the container is that there is no plastic tubing or coating or anything else on the inside.

And the spigot is high enough that you can fit a 27-ounce Klean Kanteen water bottle under it, albeit at a slight angle, and fill it up all the way.

Carrying Food

In 2010, Tracey came to visit me in Oakland on her way to Burning Man, and we went food shopping for her trip.  I took her to Berkeley Bowl, where she filled up reused bags from the bulk bins with trail mix, nuts, dried fruits, and dried mixes like soup, hummus, and black beans.  She brought reused plastic bags that she had been saving up all year and stainless steel containers with her from Toronto for this purpose, and she even brought an empty suitcase to carry her purchases so she wouldn’t need to accept disposable grocery bags.  (I wrote about our shopping trip in my book.)  Tracey makes and sells personal care and health products, and many times the ingredients come packaged in plastic.  I’ll be posting Tracey’s rant about that subject next week.  So for the bags she can’t avoid, she saves them up and reuses them over and over.

This year, we will do something similar.  Tracey and I will go grocery shopping on Saturday.  I’ll bring my own cloth bags, stainless steel containers, and glass jars to fill up with dry foods from the bulk bins.  And we will keep the food in the van to protect it from the playa dust.  I’ll happily live on trail mix, cereal, and dried fruit for a week.  I hear some people cook gourmet meals on the playa, and Tracey has some plans for us to dry parsnip slices for a snack.  We’ll see how that goes.  As long as I don’t starve, I’ll be happy.

 Other Stuff

Okay, so what about things like sleeping bags, flashlights, goggles, and other plastic “necessities”?  First of all, I already have a good sleeping bag, so no worries there.  I think I may have a pair of goggles I bought secondhand when I had ambitions of making homemade soap.  And I’ve asked around to borrow some good flashlights from friends.  I will try to find anything else I need used or borrow it so as to not acquire even more new plastic.

The Play(a)Skool

Burning Man is not just all fun and sweat.  There is also learning to be done through the Play(a)Skool, and Tracey and I are both teaching classes.

On Tuesday, August 28, from 4pm to 6om, Tracey is teaching a class on making your own sunscreen.  Very appropriate.  I plan to take lots of notes and pictures.

On Wednesday, August 29, from 12pm to 1:30pm, I’m teaching a class on Living Plastic-Free, followed by Tracey’s class at 4pm on Non-Toxic Living.

My challenge will be to give my presentation without any Power Point slides.  I’m trying to come up with creative ideas for ways to demonstrate that won’t require me to bring too much stuff (since our van is going to be jam packed) but will be fun and inspiring to people sweating on the playa.  If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them!

Are You Going?  Or Have You Gone?

If you’ve been to Burning Man, I would love your advice and suggestions.  Do you have any other plastic-free ideas?  Or advice for a first time burner?  I’d love to hear them!  And if you’re going this year, let me know where you will be staying.  We are staying in Kidsville, not sure exactly where.  Leave a comment if you want to meet up!

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I heard about your blog from a friend who was talking about your class at Burning Man!

Beth Terry

Cool! Who is your friend?


It’s been a while, and I have a couple of friends who go, but I’m pretty sure it was my friend Kim Russo.

My Plastic-free Life

Wow. It was just wow. Will be figuring out how to express the awesome power and inconsistencies of Burning Man. I think that for someone who cares passionately about the environment to enjoy Burning Man, you have to have a serious ability to compartmentalize or accept contradictions. Apparently, I do.


Too little too late but you also want to bring your own bowl, fork, plate, and cup for spirited drinks and free food people give out! An aluminum prep bowl works pretty well for this, along with an old peanut butter jar or something (lids are your friend).

Also, one of the camps that gives away sno cones used corn plastic! Still has issues, I know, but is burnable and BPA free!

Christine Jarc

We’ll be thinking of you guys! Will be interested in the debriefing.

Diane MacEachern

You’re brave, my friend, very brave.


I love the styles of Burning Man participants! They look like they emerged from the movie “Waterworld…” without the bloodthirsty cravings for water and violent hobbies. Are you going to get all plastic-free dolled up? Or you could make a bra out of Tupperware and have a water bottle headdress! Super chic. What an exciting adventure and a great place to inform listening ears about plastic waste. –Also, I’m loving your book and am advertising it on my blog. In Barnes and Noble, it was found perched on the same shelf as Homesteading/Survivalism. Seems a bit appropriate, don’t you think?… Read more »


Do they have cell access out there? If so, you could use NearPod (iOs only)or Socrative (any operating system) to create a questionnaire and your audience could answer the questions as your presentation progresses. In Socrative, I believe you can add your own images, so that you could use your powerpoint slides as images in the questionnaire. I am experimenting with this as a classroom teacher, and I think it would be really great to use outside of the classroom too. Good luck!

Beth Terry

I don’t think so. I think I will be free of electronic communication!


Well, that makes sense! (-: I think props would be best. Just bring a year’s worth of plastic, and speak from your heart. (-;

Tonya Stone Holwadel

Lynn, the bigger you dream, the better off we are. Keep dreaming girl and get others to dream the same dream:)

My Plastic-free Life

Lynn, yikes is right! I’m sure I’ll see a lot of that on the playa.


Never been to Burning Man, but been to a few Glastonbury’s/Womad’s etc. My plastic free advice is that many people have ‘wet wipe baths’ at festivals. The wipes are usually full of chemicals, made of something dodgy and of course, wrapped in plastic. I take a flannel and a small bowl to fill with water (tupperware in the past – oops!) and have a flannel bath. It makes the festival esperience so much more comfortable to start the day a little cleaner than the average. Also, not really plastic advice, but at (good) British festivals, the food is usually amazing,… Read more »

Beth Terry

@LornaS That sounds lovely and similar to the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco. Everything compostable. Burning Man is different.. The event is created by the participants who all bring our own food, water, shelter… Everything. Plus fresh produce will dry up quickly in the desert, although Tracey told me there was one camp that had figured it out and was giving away fresh produce. Oh, that’s another thing. You don’t pay for anything or charge anyone for anything there. All is given away.


The standard advice is not to bring produce, but I found that if you prepare your fruits and vegetables for longevity like you would for the fridge (I think you posted about this once?) you can store them in your cooler and they’ll be fine. It’s very important to check on your ice frequently and keep your cooler in the coolest part of your camp. I’d get a bag of ice from artica almost every morning. The most important things for my survival, in order of importance, were: shade structure over my tent, know where the med tent is, water/food/electrolyte… Read more »

Sarah Kathryn Schumm

It’s true, with what most people spend on bottled water the $120 for the stainless iced tea containers seems like a good deal. I think our reusable plastic jugs ended up being around 60, so it’s not bad really. The first year I went I was really poor so I stole some of those big bottled water jugs out of the neighbor’s recycling bin and re filled them for my own water.


I was a regular burner for 7 years but I haven’t been the past couple of years because I’ve been working on Model S. My biggest peice of advice is to have a warm coat for night time. Thrift Store Faux Fur works best. I’d be willing to loan you some of mine. Also, costumes are more important than you would think. I’d love to see what kind of plastic free costumes you can come up with. Ski Goggles work best over glasses. I used to buy them at the thrift store whenever I would see them and save them… Read more »

Lynn Colwell

Our grandson is going with his uncle. The uncle said he bought $500 worth of bottled water. YIKES!!!!!

Lynn Colwell

Our grandson is going with his uncle. The uncle said he bought $500 worth of bottled water. YIKES!!!!!

clean air

i love your blog and you inspire me. i have severely cut back on plastic, and were moving toward 100% i realize that burning man (the actual burning of a huge edifice) is fascinating and wonderful to watch–just as bonfires were in the past. (bonfires were prunings farmers gathered into huge piles) have you noticed that farmers no longer burn these? for good reason. now we know better. besides the useless carbon release and its contribution to global warming, we have learned that the smoke of burning is harmful to our respiratory system. the tiniest of soot particulates escape our… Read more »

Tonya Stone Holwadel

Loving the book.


I would love to hear more about Tracey’s sunscreen- I’m allergic to almost all commercial brands because of coconut contents. I make pretty much everything else myself, but I haven’t been able to figure this one out yet… plus I’m a redhead – so I really need sunscreen! Also, just a helpful comment – 10 gallons isn’t very much water for the burn… remember the playa is hot and dusty, and you’ll need more than you think. I’m not sure if you have additional plans for communal kitchen or other supplies. Most of the burners I know take 2.5gallons/person/day- although… Read more »