Plastic at Races: How You Can Keep It Out of the Landfill, or Worse

Man, is there a lot of plastic at running events.


It’s hard to beat the convenience of a disposable water bottle after a race. You’re hot, tired, and above all, thirsty. If they’re holding out a water bottle and the finisher’s medal together, guess which one I reach for first.

Plastic has its advantages. It’s lightweight, durable, and cheap – hard to beat when you’re supplying an event with thousands of people. And most of it is recyclable. So what’s the problem?

Well, its sheer quantity and volume makes for a lot of handling, with unpacking, collecting, and disposing. In addition to start/finish line water bottles, aid stations serve water, Gatorade, soda, etc. from plastic bottles and jugs – lots of ’em. Food comes in plastic wrap and plastic bags. And at races I’ve worked, finisher medals are individually wrapped in plastic film and bubble wrap, providing hours of pre-race fun for volunteers.

But the real problem lies with its (still) low recovery rate. Too much perfectly good material ends up in a landfill, or swirling around in the ocean where it breaks down into microparticles and enters the food chain.

What can be done? Encourage recycling at the events you run in. Talk to the race director, and to the cleanup crew. Make it known you care! When enough people do the same, things change.

But even if they’re still tossing all the waste into the dumpster, there are some things you can do as an individual participant. Every little bit helps!

  • Keep track of your bottle, and finish it before reaching for another. Better one empty and one full (unused) bottle than two half-empty ones.
  • Take the bottle with you, and toss it in with your curbside recycling or at your local recycling center.
  • Bring your own refillable water bottle, or a silicone cup like the UltrAspire I recently bought. It easily fits into a pocket when compressed and is indefinitely washable and reusable. Fill it from jugs, or water fountains.

Oh, and if you want to dispose of a bottle you haven’t finished, please pour out the rest on the ground before placing it in the recycle bin. I’ve lost count of the half-filled water bottles I’ve had to empty as part of the waste recovery team.

Here are some additional tips from Plastics Make It Possible® that can help you recycle more of your everyday plastics. Read more here.

Published by RunBikeThrow

By day, I'm a mild-mannered Director of Training at a software company in Ann Arbor, MI. By night - I sleep, mostly. In between, I do other things I feel the need to write about. Check out to view my thoughts on running, cycling, Aikido, and other things that keep me going.

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