Austin’s Burning Flipside: Taking Leave No Trace to the Next Level


Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the Burning Man regional event. By working with authorities to override a long-term population cap, Burning Flipside organizers have successfully rewritten the rules!

Photo by Mark Kaplan.
Photo by Mark Kaplan.

In order to increase the event’s capacity, State regulations required Flipside organizers to provide potable water, daily trash service, trash receptacles, cups, napkins, lighting and other services. But Flipside is a Leave No Trace event based on personal accountability; participants are expected to bring in everything they need and pack it out when they leave (sound familiar?).

The vast majority of large-scale events and festivals do provide trash cans, based on the assumption that attendees are not interested in picking up after themselves. Leave No Trace events like Burning Man and Burning Flipside have a different ethos. The latter trust that community members are not only perfectly capable of cleaning up after their own wild rumpuses, but that they feel satisfied and self-reliant as a result of doing so.

We come together, build something amazing, burn it to the ground and then pick up every last cinder. It’s an achievement we’re proud of, and it’s part of what defines us as a community rather than merely an event. We do it because we respect the land and the right of others to enjoy the land once we depart.

Incorporating trash services would change the very nature of what Flipside is about and Austin Artistic Reconstruction (AAR), the organization running Flipside, wasn’t willing to subvert the community’s values just to sell more tickets.

Faced with a choice of either going against our community’s values by providing trash cans, or limiting the population, AAR did what they had to do:

They changed the rules.

Lighting the Beast. Photo by Thomas Fang.
Lighting the Beast. Effigy was designed by Kris Blahnik and built by DaFT (Design and Fabrication Team). Photos by Thomas Fang.

FlipsideEffigy-ThomasFang01-2 FlipsideEffigy-ThomasFang03-2


In early May, state and county officials approved an increase in Flipside’s population—no trash cans required—based on the event’s stellar Leave No Trace record and contributions to the community. In 2013, there were about 10% more tickets sold, and next year the attendance may increase again. It’s a major victory for Austin Artistic Reconstruction, and a feather in the cap of the Leave No Trace community.

Bunk, an Earth Guardian and third-generation mooper, cleans up during the event with her grandfather's MOOP stick.
Bunk, an Earth Guardian and third-generation mooper, cleans up during the event with her grandfather’s MOOP stick. Photo by The Hun.

How did Flipside prove its mettle?

  • Site management starts before the event, when a crew arrives to prepare Apache Pastures. They mark poison ivy, clean up dead tree branches and ensure a safe(ish) experience for Flipizens.
  • Every participant receives a Survival Guide that includes information about trash, MOOP and Leaving No Trace. No additional paper is handed out—instead, every participant is briefed on how things work, and given an opportunity to ask questions.
  • During the event, Earth Guardians move throughout the grounds, picking up MOOP and talking to participants about protecting the area.
  • Post-event, Flipizens return to the site and finish restoring it. Theirs is a grassy, wooded site, so the goal is to make sure Nature will be able to regenerate itself without pollution or permanent damage.

This year, more people than ever showed up to restore Apache Pastures—but they found that the community had left an impressively clean site. Flipside is walking the walk, and doing the best job it can to Leave No Trace.

Flipside, we salute you!


Vacuuming the dirt? Yes! Bezel shows the Restoration team's commitment to making the evidence disappear.
Vacuuming the dirt? Yes! Bezel shows the Restoration team’s commitment to making the evidence disappear.

Not-so-small side note: The current Texas drought caused a 60-foot pecan tree to rot from the inside out, and then FALL onto a camp filled with Flipside organizers and participants. Miraculously (trust me, a miracle, I watched it happen) nobody was hurt, but some vehicles and personal property were absolutely and totally wrecked. The Flipside community will be hosting a fundraiser. Thank them for their hard work and commitment to their principles by chipping in a few dollars. Donate here!

Burning Man is a Leave No Trace Event.

There is no garbage collection service at Burning Man. We are the largest Leave No Trace event in the world.  This means that every participant is responsible for making the greatest possible effort to leave the Black Rock Desert in the same condition (or better!) than it was in when you arrived. That includes picking up Matter Out Of Place, packing out all your own trash, not polluting the playa and avoiding burn scars and oil drips.

Leave No Trace is one of the Ten Principles guiding our community. Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

About the author: The Hun

The Hun, also known as J.H. Fearless, has been blogging for Burning Man (and many other outlets) since 2005, which is also the year she joined the BRC DPW on a whim that turned out to be a ten-year commitment. Since then she's won some awards for blogging, built her own creative business, and produced some of the Burning Blog's most popular stories and series. She co-created a grant-funded art piece, "Refoliation," in 2007, and stood next to it watching the Man burn on Monday night during a full lunar eclipse. She considers that, in many ways, to have been the symbolic end of Burning Man that was. The Hun lives in Reno with DPW Shade King, Quiet Earp. You may address her as "The Hun" or "Hun". If you call her "Honey" she reserves the right to cut you.

21 thoughts on “Austin’s Burning Flipside: Taking Leave No Trace to the Next Level

  • Arizona’s regional, Saguaro Man, and our Decompression are generally held in Apache county. Last year shortly before SM we had to stop flying under the radar and bring things into alignment with the county regulations on “large gatherings.” One of the things specified was — you guessed it — trash control. Fortunately, they were rather vague as to what was needed so a couple plastic trash cans were bought and set out . . . to go unused.

    TPTB came out for a couple visits, were duly impressed, and said for this year we didn’t need to worry about the trash. We did have to choose between kids and naked people. Since the site is surrounded on three sides by a public road anyway, we went with the former. Saw an awful lot of parties, though.

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  • oh, i didn’t know that flipside adopted the same lame fireworks as BM, complete with fire dancers to turn the whole event into a spectator show. do they have an opera also? maybe a rocket ship that you can stand in line for an hour to climb inside for 2 minutes… oh joy.

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  • For those that think the event had a bunch of tables, cups, napkins, and Sysco food service products all over the place: you are wrong. It was just as things have been in the past. Self reliance, leaving no trace.

    But yes, high fives to Flipside for being a great example. The Mass Gathering Act (which resulted because of issues at a concert years ago, if I recall correctly) procedure isn’t always easy, and the Austin LLC folks did a great job. The landowner was impressed, the local Sheriff was impressed, and things went smoothly. Even the tree issue was handled swiftly. Flipside doesn’t have visible police officers roaming around all over the place. The community does a great job handling itself.

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  • @The Hun: You’re welcome. I should point out that Saguaro Man is not nearly the same scale as Burning Flipside. Those couple trashcans were for 350 people. This year’s sín trashcans event was capped at 500. Oh, and that last sentence should read there were a lot of *pasties* not parties. Parties would be a given among burners.

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  • @tanner – Wow, you seriously think that lighting the effigy by throwing flaming spears at it is lame? I think it is AWESOME! I would have LOVED to be there to see that in person and maybe even be allowed to be one of the hunters in that photo!

    Props to the Flipside team for guiding the full participation that is obviously building the culture and making it possible to grow the event responsibly!

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  • @The Hun

    I like fireworks, too. I like to watch movies also. I’ve even enjoyed the opera. Being a spectator is not as bad as it seems. Entertainment = good. What else can they show me?

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  • Tanner I appreciate what you are saying, however I hope you are not taking a few photos to judge an entire event. Burning Flipside is very dedicated to the ideals of total participation (e.g. performing effigy ignition via participant participation) and not making it a spectator event. Rather than base comments on assumptions come join us and make an informed opinion. We would love to have you.

    Regardless this has nothing to do with the article; in having to meet very strict and specific laws concerning how to run and event, Burning Flipside was able to actually convince state officials that they did it right and be granted a Mass Gathering Permit. Afterwards of course they walked the talk…first of its kind in Texas. Congrats to the entirety of the participants of Burning Flipside.

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  • @any Nay-sayers, Party-poopers, or Negative Nancys.

    If you DON’T like something, then it’s up to YOU to change it. The Postman is right. In BM world & the default world, “being a spectator” is really a type of participation, albeit shitty participation if that’s all you’re doing.

    But if you want to see a certain something in a certain way, or think “they” should come up with something new… Guess what? YOU are THEY. It’s up to you to make what you desire turn into reality, no matter what it is or where you are.

    @ the Hun and Burning Flipside
    Great article, and CONGRATS!

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  • Oh, and Tanner – as usual, I slept through the actual burn ceremony this year, so I can’t really comment on the fireworks or fire dancers or the last few hours of the event, but I can assure you that the days leading up to it were not just a spectator show.

    The Rocket was in 2005. There were some problems with that build process, and the organization learned a lot from those mistakes.

    We make mistakes every year. We learn from them every year. The event usually improves as a result. Sometimes we learn the wrong lessons and make bigger mistakes the following year, and have a whole batch of new lessons to learn.

    While I’m no longer active in the organization of the event, I still participate in the event, and I’m proud as punch of the current organizers and how they’ve handled the potential issues with the state and local government, as well as the effigy and any number of other issues.

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