MOOP, an acronym for Matter Out Of Place, is an all too familiar term heard each summer at Burning Man. To those of you in the default world, MOOP not only encompasses trash and other human debris left behind, but insidious little bits such as zip ties, bottle caps, cigarette butts, sequins, metal shavings, and even dry leaves.
Burning Man is the largest “Leave No Trace Event on the Planet” AND there are no dumpsters or trash receptacles of any kind provided by the event organizers. Remember, one of the ten principles of Burning Man is also Radical-Self Reliance. So, simply said, “pack it in, pack it out.”
Why Does This Matter?
Beyond the whole “we should all behave this way all the time” mantra, the very future of Burning Man depends on it. You see, the Burning Man Project holds the event on federal land, and worse than that the land is part of the National Conservation Act, and deemed environmentally sensitive. So, each year the renewal of Burning Man’s permit if contingent on a satisfactory inspection from the US Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the 300,000-acre tract.
Also, the playa is not dry year-round. It is an enormous alkali flat, which is underwater part of each year and the home to a species of shrimp – environmentally sensitive protected shrimp on federal land. Get the idea?
How is This Enforced?
Well, approximately a month after the Burning Man event ends, the BLM inspectors come out with their tape measures and tweezers, select a number of random spots, draw a large circle, and then comb through the loose silt with a magnifying glass, if needed. From there, a little work on the calculator and if the numbers are too high, the event faces severe penalties, if not outright cancelation.
Every Burning Man theme camp (like the lifestyle-friendly one we help organize) are each responsible for policing their own area. Immediately following the event, an enormous team of volunteers known as the “Resto Team” spend the next month walking every square foot of the 11-square mile location. They pick up everything the rest of us left behind.
While walking, they are keeping detailed records of how much they have to pick up, and then scoring the camps. If a Burning Man camp gets a bad score, indicated in red on the annual Moop Map, they run the risk of not being invited back – a very costly consequence in some cases.
2019 Proves to be the Best MOOP Map Yet
Following a year of tremendous controversy about the future of Burning Man, receiving a better than average score with the BLM was an important component in securing the event’s longevity. Thankfully, burners all across the playa rose to the challenge. They made certain that they left Black Rock City cleaner than ever before. Nearly all green, the 2019 Moop Map indicated the results of the Resto Teams painstaking inspection.
Burning Man Wasn’t Always So Green
Looking at BurningMan.org, it’s easy to see that burners were not always so good at cleaning up after themselves. Some areas showed what looks like habitual litterbugs. However, after much education, cajoling, gentle pressure, and outright threats everyone saw the light. The future of Burning Man is tied to our ability as a community to clean up after ourselves.
One final sentiment, we can all live by, “Always be Mooping.” Leave no trace should not be a one-week-a-year habit. There are those of us who hope that this behavior will resonate and become a global mandate. For our oceans, this could not happen soon enough.