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40. Making sustainability actually sustainable with Dominic Tinio of Burning Man Project

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Earth day 2021 is on April 22, 2021. And to connect with earth energy, I wanted to talk with the man that is in charge of cleaning up Burning Man. Dominic Tinio, aka DA, is the Environment Restoration Manager for the non-profit Burning Man Project. Being a participant at this event changed the way I think about why sustainability is so important.

One of the ten principles of the Burning Man event is to Leave No Trace. He shares his first hand experience of how this principle has changed his life, helped him connect to nature, and inspired him to work in sustainability. Connecting to mother earth and agreeing to leave no trace is the soul of our conversation today. We discuss restoration, sustainability, rituals, and how they relate to spirituality and connecting to the earth's energy.

Burning Man Project works year-round to bring its culture and 10 Principles to life -- Leave No Trace (LNT) being one its principles. Everything that wasn't originally on or of the Black Rock Desert, no matter how small, is considered matter out of place aka MOOP and removed. In 2019, the efforts of the 80,000 person event became evident when the post-event inspection test conducted by the Bureau of Land management gave them the best score ever!

DA starts by sharing the backstory behind getting involved with Burning Man Project and why it fascinates him so much. One of the lesser known aspects of the Burning Man event is the community's commitment and care towards leaving no trace; they built a city real quick and then burn it down to make it look like it never happened!

DA also discusses MOOP (Matters Out Of Place) and what it signifies. If MOOP is out of place, you need to find its proper place. As Dominic says, "first off, it needs to get picked up off the ground. Second, it needs to go to the right place. So it could be recycling, could be composted, could be trash. Then that gets into the deeper level of the waste streams and being conscious of where the waste is going."

We learn how the Leave No Trace principle invites an intentional way of thinking about waste and is the gateway to sustainability in other aspects of life. Instead of carelessly throwing away things, DA began carrying his waste in his pockets so he could dispose of it properly later. This later became a sort of meditation, and he learned to be mindful of the garbage he generated every day.

We also discuss the MOOPathon event where DA picked up approximately 2,000 pounds of waste of mostly cans and broken bottles (MOOP) on a walk fir 88 miles in 10 days from Wadsworth, a tiny town off of Highway 80 to the Black Rock Desert. He discusses the fantastic moments when he went live on Instagram and had 1,000s of people cheering him as he went ahead with the marathon event. And also enjoyed the incredible expanse of the desert.

"Sustainability isn't the bigger picture." Our state of mind and well-being need to be sustainable too. DA taught me to drop the baggage of shame and guilt that comes in with not being perfect. We are in practice working towards an impossible goal, and laying off perfectionism gives us the space to be sustainable in all the ways we can. I hope the conversation entertains and enlightens you the same way it did to me.

DA encourages us to celebrate this Earth Day in any big or small way that we can. How are you celebrating? What sustainability practice are you learning more about? What shame and blame parts are you putting down? Leave a comment below. Thank you for joining in!

Show Notes:

Quotes from Dominic Tinio:

“The secret underlying aspect of it [Burning Man] was the community's commitment towards leaving no trace, which was the big aha moment for me when I realized that, how does this event happen? It's like this big, crazy fire, and things burn.”

“But it wasn't until you walked every square foot that you started to see what we call matter out of place, or commonly known as MOOP. This is our word for anything and everything that doesn't belong, matter out of place, everything is the right place.”

“I was initially drawn to getting it [MOOP] off the ground and restoring, making sure that the Black Rock desert is back to its pristine nature.”

“And what we could tell by walking through Black Rock City that had just had 25,000 people back in 2000 was that people cared, we knew that much. We knew they cared because we knew there'd be way more MOOP if people didn't care.”

“It's our principle of leaving no trace that empowers us to be there and knowing that any impact is going to be addressed and undone so you will never know that the campfire was there.”

“I didn't expect this, I didn't start off as some big passionate environmentalist. It dawned on me that I love this process, like when I was walking in the desert, and helping in picking in the process of picking up matter out of place that might have been missed.”

“You're always shedding something, actually everybody's shedding just a little bit. So if you take everything that anybody ever brought out to Burning Man or Black Rock desert, it's not that they're leaving it there. It's that if you just throw everything into the shredder and then you take out like, you know, 1% of it and toss it, you scatter it like an average.”

“The other thing about sustainability is, it's a practice. When you push yourself, it's important to remember, you still keep in mind the big picture and take care of yourself.”

“I wanted to go towards something impactful, I wanted to do something that meant something. I wanted it to say that leaving no trace was just the beginning. And that sustainability is the bigger picture. “

“I think we just need to support each other. In the different aspects of sustainability. It's so broad, but ultimately, we gotta drop some of the baggage and some of the shame that goes along with whatever tech existing technologies you're using.”

“It [Burning Man] was about feedback and people, learning and supporting people to do better.”

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