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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!