The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 27, 2013

Plastic-Free Burning Man – The List, Part 1

I only had two hours sleep last night after driving 12 hours, but I want to post these pictures and give you the list of ways I’m de-plastifying my Burn this year.

I’m staying with the Earth Guardians… which is part of the Burning Man infrastructure tasked with making the event as green as possible.


If you’re on the playa, stop by and say hi, leave me a message in the little notebook attached to my tent, or come to one of my workshops, either Wednesday at 1 or Saturday at 2.

Here’s the outside view of my little home on the playa:



The tent is a Springbar Traveler 5, which is made of heavy duty cotton canvas. I put it up this morning with the help of an expert named Kearce. But it was me who pounded all 18 twelve-inch steel stakes into the hard playa.



Here are the pros and cons of a Springbar tent. Pros:

*Mostly heavy duty cotton instead of synthetic material.
*Super strong, stable, and durable. According to comments online from Burners, these tents can withstand strong winds without rebar if you use the steel stakes that come with it. And the canvas keeps the dust out. These tents last for many years.
*Made in the USA instead of China.


*Vinyl floor and polyester mesh windows and accessories.
*Does get hot inside without a shade structure over it.
*Crazy heavy to carry
*Expensive – except maybe not when you consider how sturdy they are and how long they last.

Water Container


This year, I let Tracey use the stainless steel iced tea containers from last year, and I bought a used 10-gallon Super Chef double-walled, insulated beverage dispenser from eBay.  The top seals with a rubber gasket, so it doesn’t slop water like the other containers, and being double-walled, it keeps the water cool.

The main drawback is that it’s freaking heavy when full. I got 3 guys to help me move it from the back of my rented vehicle to its current position in front of my tent. Another drawback is the price, but used ones on eBay are way less expensive than new. And more eco-friendly of course.

The town of Gerlach provides inexpensive bulk water to Burners who want to fill any size container or RV tank.

Ice Chest

My ice chest is just plain plastic. But it follows my rule about getting things second-hand rather than new. It was given to me for free by someone from Craigslist who didn’t need it anymore. She gave me a heavy-duty used flashlight too.

The ice in the cooler came in a plastic bag. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to figure out a better solution, and I did want to be able to keep some things cold. However, I did make a less plastic choice…

Ironically, the ice I found at Whole Foods came in 3 smaller plastic bags inside a big plastic bag. And the whole thing is only 9 pounds. I couldn’t do it. I left the store without it.


I say ironic because Whole Foods is supposed to be the eco choice, right? Yet I was able to get a 20 pound bag from Target without all the extra packaging inside.


Directors chair


That is a bamboo chair with cotton seat and back that Pier1 had on sale for super cheap. I did look for second-hand chairs for outside my tent, but I started looking too late and couldn’t find anything. I would like a second chair and will start looking for a used one as soon as I get back home.

Compost Bag


I’m using an organic cotton mesh produce bag to dry my compost. Tracey taught me this trick last year. The weather on the playa is so hot and dry, it will dessicate your produce peels and trimmings in quick order so you don’t have stinky rotting food to deal with or plastic bags of food waste to send to the landfill.

You can buy organic cotton mesh bags from Life Without Plastic or Amazon.

Gray water evaporation bowl


The only thing allowed to be left on the playa surface is plain water. Everything else must be collected and packed out… including dirty waste water. It’s a lot easier if you leave your waste water out in the sun to evaporate. I’m using a stainless steel bowl from my kitchen for this purpose rather than a plastic basin or tub.

Girlie pink bicycle


Wait. I just got done showing you how butch I am pounding all those stakes. This bike is salmon, not pink. I rented it from Hammer & Cyclery. They are an organization that promotes bicycling and bike repair, and for Burning Man, they allow you to rent online in advance and then they deliver the bikes to the playa so you don’t have to transport them yourself. Getting around would be very hard without a bike. This place is huge.

Okay, I’m done for the night. I’ll show you the inside of the tent and its contents tomorrow, including all the plastic-free food I brought with me.

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Beth Terry Don’t mess with me. I’m upping the ante to a retrofitted repurposed SOLAR POWERED COOLER!!!

Beth Terry

Laurie E Beth Terry And maybe we shouldn’t be camping on a playa. Burning Man is not the most eco-event. Look at the carbon footprint. That’s a subject for the final blog post I have in mind about Burning Man. Plus there will be some awesome burn photos.

Laurie E

Beth Terry People have been camping without plastic for a long time but I can see your point. I suspect that camping on the playa during or after a rainstorm might not be something that our pre-plastic ancestors did! We did camp in a lot of questionable places (you don’t get to pick the “best spot” when reenacting) and we camped all over the rainy Northwest, but we never camped on a playa!

Beth Terry

Hi laurie. I’ll have to find out how it is to camp on the playa during a rainstorm. It’s an alkali flat. There might not be much in the way of drainage.

Beth Terry

Only if it’s solar-powered. :-)

Laurie E

Beth Terry Laurie E It really wasn’t an issue. The tent canvas repelled the water and ran down the sides and, if the tent were placed correctly (not in a depression where rain gathered), the water drained away from the tent. The only time rain was an issue was setting up camp AFTER a heavy rainstorm. Rain wasn’t an issue. Damp ground wasn’t an issue. But soggy mud and puddles were a problem. Of course, they’re also a problem with a nylon tent, just not as much so. But normally, a rainstorm was a fun event! Once the tent was… Read more »


My best ice idea:
When I had a place with electricity and a well on a rive, my friends next door with none of that luxury rotated large bottles of water in & out of my freezer. They used them in their cooler until all the ice melted, then they drank the water! I bet SOMEONE on the playa has a working freezer you could sneak bottles in and out of to keep you in ice!

Beth Terry

Laurie E Did you ever have a heavy rain storm while you were camping? I’m wondering how rugs and old quilts would deal with a big storm. Sometimes the playa gets huge storms — in fact, there had been one a couple of weeks before the event, and there was one predicted for the day after I left to come back home. How could I have a plastic-free floor and not get flooded out?

Laurie E

I really like your post. Your (mostly) plastic-free tent reminded me of the years we did Civil War reenacting and the wonderful canvas Sibley tent we used for our family. (There is an extensive network of cottage industries that cater to reenactors and produce plastic free reproductions. That’s where we got the tent.) The Sibley tent lasted years, much longer than our reenacting experience. We took it camping all the time. The kids even had sleepovers in it with their friends in the backyard. It got heavy use. And it was fun. And unlike a plastic or nylon tent, when… Read more »


Next time you travel with a cooler, see if you can buy a block of ice instead a bag of cubed ice. The blocks don’t melt as fast as a bag of ice cubes and if you look around, you might be able to buy it plastic free.


I am really enjoying all these Burning Man posts. I like this style of posting, and the pictures and how you are sharing your experience in almost real-time. Thanks Beth.

Minwaabekwe Essaunce

You are a great role model! Love reading about your experiences.

Mary Ullman



When you remember in time: ice blocks made inside plastic food storage containers keep a cooler cold much longer than ice cubes. Just find one that fits in your cooler, fill with water and freeze. If you have old plastic that you no longer use for food…


Just want to say I am very much liking the “new” Plastic Free site. And I can’t wait to hear all about “Burning Man.” Please tell every detail.