How to Make a Zero Waste Team Deliriously Happy

Hooray for runners! Not only are they cool people, they care about the environment. Every runner I know supports Zero Waste, and we’ve received many, many thank-yous and compliments from race participants.

And yet they do some things that make a Zero Waste effort more difficult. I know it’s not intentional; it’s more a lack of understanding how labor-intensive the process is.

A runner’s involvement with trash ends when it’s put in the bin or tent, but the Zero Waste team has to ensure it all goes in the right place. Final sort consumes a lot of time just when we’re trying to pack up and leave. Every saved minute helps!

Here are a few things all runners can do to help an event’s sustainability team. Trust me, we’ll love you all the more for doing them!

Find a proper place to put your waste.

So much stuff – bottles, wrappers, food – gets left on tables, on lawns where you relax after the race, or dropped in the road. We try very hard to place bins in busy but easy-to-see locations. At aid stations, fast runners can toss cups to the side of the road, but in the start and finish areas there’s no excuse to just walk away from your trash. Collecting it takes valuable staff time when we need to pack up and leave!

Gazelle Girl - waste on the ground - 2

Put waste in the correct bin.

We try to clearly mark our bins to show which are for compostables, recyclables, and trash. Please look! We understand post-race mental fatigue and all that, but I see too many runners not even try to read the signs. We staff the tents whenever possible, but sometimes we just don’t have enough volunteers. The “cleaner” the bags, the easier the final sort and disposal.

TMW - Tent by food area

Don’t throw away unopened, perfectly good stuff.

I’ve retrieved many whole bananas or oranges, entire cookies, unopened Gu packets or energy bars, and full bottles of water. Sure, I’ve taken something from an aid station or finish food area and then decided I don’t want it, at least not right away. But please consider giving it to someone else or taking it with you to consume later.

Empty your cups and bottles before tossing them.

If you don’t, the staff has to, because the liquids will mess up the recycling process. And a leak can contaminate the entire bag and create a mess for the volunteers who have to drain the liquid and pull out anything no longer recyclable. Most races have a nearby lawn or tree that would appreciate the extra drink!

A2 Marathon 2017 - Half full water bottles.jpg

Keep clothes out of the trash.

It’s common, especially for cold days, for people to bring clothes they take off at the start, or after they finish. All well and good; we can clean them up and donate them. But if they get put in the trash, we may not find them, or we have to fish them out. If you really don’t want to take used clothing home with you, please give them to a Zero Waste volunteer. Unless they’re completely shredded, someone else will be able to use them.

Run Woodstock - Rescued Clothing
Some of the clothing retrieved from the trash at Run Woodstock 2016.


Do you have other suggestions? Are there things your event’s sustainability team could do better? Please let me know!

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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