line sweeps: tactical information

Line sweeps are the DPW’s primary method of cleaning the desert after Burning Man. Participants well-educated in the event’s Leave No Trace philosophy know to pack out every single bit of their trash with them — but at the dirt rave, people lose pieces of themselves in high winds without knowing it.

Something incredible happens after the Man burns, Collexodus insures the DPW stays fed, and participants enter the default world: Playa Restoration. During this cleanup process, the DPW scans the desert for microtrash we call MOOP — any Matter that’s Out Of Place — in formations we’ve honed so much we feel they’re worth sharing to the larger world.

So this document is meant to demystify MOOPing for the people. Why? Open source, yall. Alternate applications of tactical line sweep deployment include:

  • post-festival or -gathering cleanup
  • clearing underbrush from a local neglected public space
  • search and rescue
  • LNT-ing at rights-exercising protests or temporary autonomous zones
  • finding a lost engagement ring in a field (why not moop too while you’re at it; don’t be a jerk)
  • removing party trash and tweaker camps from your favorite park or riverbank
  • etc
line up
line up

How to do line sweeps

Moopers line up with only enough space to stretch out their arms. They cover areas in large rectangular swathes, mapped and delineated in advance with cones set to coordinates marked on GPS devices. Do the math as far as how many people you have vs. how many feet your parallel line will be on the grid.

The best moop buckets are made from two-gallon water jugs with handles; cut out a square in the top front of the plastic in order to make it a ‘bucket.’ The top handles provide maximum comfort and the small hole in front of the handle prevents trash from blowing out in high winds.

(For alternate events with more potential large trash, such as cleaning disaster areas or mooping tweaker camps from the riverbank, you may want to use five-gallon buckets instead. If your trash volume will be high, maybe have oscillators running 55-gallon trash cans from the lines on dollies, then dumping those cans into other cans in back of central trucks in the parking lot, with transpo dump-runners allocated to drive the big stuff away.)


As a line sweeper, if you don’t have moop sticks, and your knees are okay, try to get in the habit of squatting instead of bending over, unless you’ve taken the appropriate posture and movement classes. You want to develop a slightly serpentine gait, turning at different S-curves as you walk your straight line.

Maybe even turn around in a little circle to look behind you every few swishes. Why? Because sunlight and shadows are tricky. Some bits of moop are barely seen from where you stand, but then become completely obvious when viewed from the other direction.

Line sweepers function under the traffic-control of their line bosses, who either use a megaphone or enjoy hollering. Line bosses must be tough, genial benevolent dictators — possessing a quasi-military attitude of ego-free tactical facilitation, combined with enough comical aggression to keep a volunteer labor force entertained in order to continue to do what the line bosses say.

Starchild. Photo by @JHFearless

What are some important things for line bosses to know, Starchild?:

You Can’t Say ‘Cleanup’ on the Radio

There are certain DPW types among us who have been here long enough to start “in my day”-ing people. We try not to do it that often — regale newer volunteers with horror stories of our pre- and post-event Ranch living back at the turn of last century — but when we’re asked, we can go on sometimes. Crews wandering off, rice with maggots in it, overworking constantly, stress-fights, and piles of junk with no OSHA regulators in sight.

We try to use as little emotion as possible when telling the kiddoes about the days before the Internet exploded, before the DPW developed a vast and internecine infrastructure.

This writer joined the DPW in 1998, staying for cleanup here and there sometimes over the years, until 2008. As always with this Burning Dude thing, the DPW was making it up as we went along. Seven years later, this writer has once again stayed in the desert past Last Supper to document Playa Restoration, and boy have things changed.

See this playa? D.A. and crew will make sure there's nothing but playa in it. Photo by @jhfearless
See this playa? D.A. and crew will make sure there’s nothing but playa in it. Photo by @jhfearless

Playa Restoration manager D.A. joined DPW cleanup in 1999 and changed the name to Playa Restoration in 2005. He’s now the general who strategizes with maps, leading the charge at day’s beginning as we set sail from the shoreline for the open sea of Lahontan to search for MOOP.

“It was raw,” D.A. agrees about the olden times. “We weren’t as well-funded. We weren’t as healthy becaause we didn’t know what it meant to be healthy out here. The Fluffers changed everything for the DPW.”

[Fluffers, for those who don’t know, have nothing to do with pornography and everything to do with driving around huge utility trucks full of snacks, drinks, and self-care sundries. They huck heavy coolers full of water and ice and make sure we don’t die.]

“We used to get dropped off in the middle of nowhere with just a bucket of water, and sometimes it spilled over,” D.A. says. “Now we have buses that stay with us — and radios. We didn’t have portapotties with us. We dealt with it but it was time-consuming. Now we have a person whose job it is to keep a portajohn with the lines.

“We have a 24/7 auto shop,” says D.A. “When we broke down before, it was for the whole day. We didn’t get as much done. The system we have is still the same system — it’s just evolving.”

look at this common shop full of tools we need to do our jobs
look at this common shop full of tools we need to do our jobs

D.A. branched out in his own Burning Man DPW cleanup career by joining Special Forces in 2002 — a new crack team of capable people assembled by Phyxx to deal with the moopy hot spots. There was rivalry at first. These days, everyone on the line sweep crews gets to be Special Forces for a day or two.

“But the line sweeps are the heart of the matter,” D.A. says. “They just needed love. We put the Fluffers, Portajohns, and buses at the line sweeps. Special Forces can roll.”

When speaking of ye olde DPW Days, it’s always hard to avoid sounding like a Russian grandmother visiting an American grocery store for the first time. Some of the vintage DPW crew still huddle together to gush over the delicious meals our Resto kitchen now serves us — serves us with a smile, without yelling, without leaning over to dump their shirtless tits in the food, and without maggots.

It’s beautiful. ::cries::