When I crossed the finish line of my first marathon back in 2011, I was handed a thin, light foil blanket. A runner’s body temperature begins to drop rapidly after stopping, and this was to retain some body heat until things stabilized.
It was over eighty degrees and sunny that day, so there was no danger of hypothermia. Still, I took the blanket as a first-marathon souvenir. But last month’s local marathon was wet and chilly, so the runners appreciated them, although they created a disposal issue.
The blankets are made of Mylar, plastic vapor-coated with aluminum. Both materials are recyclable by themselves, but together they are not. And when people started discarding them en masse, the volume quickly overloaded the receptacle. The Zero Waste team decided to collect them in the chance we could keep them out of the landfill.
We ended up with several large bags stuffed with Mylar blankets. What could be done? After some research we identified one bad option, one good (but costly) option, and one that didn’t help for this year but might for future events. Which one did we choose? Read on to find out!
Option 1 – Investigate Recycling
I was hopeful at first; with so many marathons handing out blankets, there had to be a way to recycle them. Our marathon bought them from Universal Marathon Blankets (UMB), so I went to their site. And there was a page, with photos, explaining their recycling program! You just ordered a box, and they would send one to you. But I didn’t see a link to order one.
So I called the company, and the rep told me they don’t do the recycling program anymore. I mentioned the active page on the website. “Oh, yeah, someone should take that page down,” she said. (And as of the date of this post, it was gone.)
But other companies make heat blankets. The manufacturer of Heatsheets recycles theirs via a partnership with the Trex company, where they get turned into decking. But they only recycle their own brand, as their formulation is different from that of UMB.
So Heatsheets could be an option for future years. Unfortunately, they cost more than the UMB sheets – a difference of several hundred dollars for an event our size. While recycling is better for the planet, economics are important, too.
Option 2 – Toss in Trash
This, naturally, we considered a last resort. After going to the effort to collect them, it seemed a shame just to throw them away.
Option 3 – TerraCycle to the Rescue!
Well, TerraCycle has the well-deserved reputation of being able to recycle many things ordinarily considered non-recyclable. I didn’t see a program for Mylar on their site, so I emailed them. Turns out they do take them in their “Party Decorations” Zero Waste box program.
Downside: it’s not one of their free programs. They offer three sizes: Small ($43.00), Medium ($60.00), and Large ($104.00). Working with boxes of similar sizes I had, I guessed that I could get all the bags into a Medium box if I squished them really, really hard. So I ordered a box that size. And stuffed really, really, hard.
Success! Bags kept out of the landfill. Now if we can only persuade UMB to restart their recycling program.
Do you have a way to reuse or recycle heat blankets that I’m not aware of? Please let me know!
6 thoughts on “Recycling Marathon Heat Blankets: There Are Ways!”
I love that you’re tackling the topic of sustainability and sports! Sometimes we don’t realize the energy, resources, and waste that go into a large sporting event.
Thanks! There’s certainly plenty of room for improvement.
A very interesting read.
I was gutted to see thousands of space blankets being used and then dumped after the last big city half marathon on a not-particularly-cold day. It’s prompted me to write to the organisers of all the races I’ll enter and ask for a “no-stuff” race entry. I only want goodies if they’re not bad for the environment, even if that means just a banana!
Good idea! You could also suggest they contact TerraCycle and buy a Zero Waste box for the heat blankets. Thanks for reading!
How about giving them away to the homeless in winter months?
That’s an interesting idea! I’ll check with some local shelters and see if they’re interested in some.