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How I Failed a Cupless Race

All right, I’m just going to come out and say it right here.

I failed my first cupless race.

Meme - rabbit saying Noooo

Yes, me. Mister Zero Waste, owner of an event sustainability company and decrier of our current throwaway society. Here I will confess all, so you can learn from my sad experience and avoid similar shame.

To be fair, I did not fail the actual race, just the cupless part. If you’d like to, you can read about how my race went on my personal blog (RunBikeThrow) at this link.

The Potawatomi Trail Races take place every April at McNaughton Park in Pekin, Illinois. The runners follow a ten-mile loop along the park’s trails, which feature some lovely steep climbs, quad-killing downhills, and a couple of creek crossings for good measure. You pick your poison – from 10 to 200 miles – and then run the appropriate number of loops within the 72-hour race window (Thursday through Sunday). I was there to run the 50-miler and find out what I could do to help the event go Zero Waste.

The day before my race I volunteered at the base camp aid station and introduced myself to the director of volunteers and the race director, who were both interested in making the event more sustainable. In fact, for 2019 they were trying two waste reduction ideas for the first time.

For one, the race was cupless! Every runner got a flexible silicone cup to take along on the trail. Most trail runners carry their own water bottle or hydration pack, so the cup was for when they also wanted soda or an electrolyte drink. This way the aid stations didn’t have to put out and throw away hundreds of waxed paper cups.

Runner filling a reusable cup
Doing it the right way: filling a reusable silicone cup from a “fast fill” jug. (Photo from Vacation Races.)

In addition, a City of Pekin recycling bin had been set up at base camp next to one of the trash cans. It was clearly marked, but some non-recyclable material had been tossed in, and some recyclables (water bottles, etc.) had been put in the trash. I sorted it out.

Potawatomi Trail 2019 - Base camp before 50 mile start
Base camp Saturday morning before the 50-mile start. The recycling bin can be seen on the right.

A bit later I met the guy who’d arranged for the recycling bin. Like me, he wanted to help the race reduce its trash, but he didn’t have time to supervise the bin, and no one else knew what belonged in there. I made a sign listing what was recyclable, and kept the bin sorted while I worked the aid station. But after my race on Saturday I noticed it was gone. The race director told me the bin had been too contaminated. Something they can improve for next year.

But I failed as well. I hadn’t intended to. I carried a handheld water bottle, and the electrolyte drink they had doesn’t agree with me, so I brought Gatorade to drink at base camp after each loop. With those bases covered, what did I need a cup for? So I left it at base camp.

Oops.

During the race I developed stomach trouble. Ginger ale sometimes helps, and the aid stations on the trail had some. Problem was – I hadn’t brought a cup for it. Fortunately, they had a few waxed paper cups under the table for this kind of situation. Feeling guilty but grateful, I accepted one, drank my ginger ale, and threw the cup away. This happened twice more before I finally got smart enough to fold up the waxed cup and put it in my pocket for future use. (Sigh. Either ultrarunning messes with common sense, or lack of common sense leads to ultrarunning. Not sure which.)

But as the race will improve its sustainable practices, so will I. That silicone cup will be in my pocket at my next trail race, which is also cupless. And I’m working Zero Waste at it, too. Must set a good example so I can scowl disapprovingly at those who don’t.

 

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Waterloo Grit & Gravel Sustainability Report

Spring bike races are almost guaranteed to generate a lot of dirty cyclists, and such was the case last Saturday. But the Zero Waste team kept the grounds clean and finished the day without enough trash to fill a swag bag. Read on to find out how we did it!

Continue reading “Waterloo Grit & Gravel Sustainability Report”

Green Race, Green Results! Shamrocks & Shenanigans 2019 Sustainability Report

It was a cold, wet morning in Ann Arbor, but over a thousand brave souls turned up to run a 5K (and drink beer), and some equally brave kids ran a 1K (and ate ice cream). The Zero Waste team had to do its best to stay reasonably dry and warm while making sure the boxes, bottles, cups, and food waste ended up where they belonged.

Did we keep the race “green” in keeping with St. Paddy’s Day tradition? Sure’n we did! Read on for details, ladies and laddies!

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Sustainability Report: Shamrocks & Shenanigans 2019
Date: March 10, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Downtown Ann Arbor, MI
# Attendees: 1,200 runners, with about 100 spectators and staff
Zero Waste Team members: 5

Results:   Compostables: 29.4 lbs.     Recyclables: 89 lbs.     Landfill: 1.2 lbs.

Pie and Trend Charts - Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2019

Landfill waste consisted mostly of the ice cream cup tops (waxed paper), some plastic material too contaminated to recycle, and tape. Special recyclables (for TerraCycle) included disposable gloves, discarded race bibs, hand warmers, and costumes.

Race Overview

Shamrocks & Shenanigans is a St. Patrick’s Day-themed race in downtown Ann Arbor. The main event is a 5K, and a 1K kids race is also offered. The event ends in the parking lot of an Irish pub, with a beer garden set up for the thirsty finishers. For the younger set, there was orange juice and ice cream.

Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2019 - Kids after food table
I’m not exactly sure what they thought of all this…

Sources of race waste include finish line water bottles and food, cardboard from the boxes of medals and pint glasses, and plastic wrappings from the finisher medals. Beer garden waste is managed by the pub.

Zero Waste Plan

Due to windy and wet conditions, we used rubber “Slim Jim” bins instead of Zero Hero tents. We set up three stations in the parking lot; at the end of the food table, at the Ground Zero pavilion (in the parking lot near the finish line), and near the vendor tents. The food table received a pail for disposable gloves and other waste that could not recycled or composted. Plastic wrap from the medals was collected prior to race start.

Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2019 - Melissa staffing a station

Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2019 - Scott helps person at station

Post-race food was minimal – bananas, bagels, and ice cream cups (which, rather surprisingly, got used up).

We did not set up stations or cover City trash bins in the starting area at Main and Liberty, as not much waste is generated by the runners there. Instead, two Zero Waste team members swept the starting line area, picking up waste found in the street and sidewalks. (Most of what we collected was likely not from the runners, but it was recoverable.)

We received a six-yard recycle dumpster and two 96-gallon compost carts from the City. We covered the carts to avoid having them treated as general trash cans.

Post-Event Waste Processing

The cardboard and bags of non-cup recyclables were put in the recycle dumpster. HPR took the bags of cups, plastic bags/wrap, and special materials for proper disposal. Cups went to WWRA, bags to Recycle Ann Arbor, and special materials to the TerraCycle Zero Waste Boxes.

About 50 Styrofoam ice cream cups were recovered. Jeff rinsed them and took them to Recycle Ann Arbor. The accompanying plastic spoons were put in a TerraCycle box.

What Went Well

Using the Slim Jims avoided the trouble of wet tents and keeping them anchored. And setting up a pavilion at Ground Zero proved valuable in helping keep the team drier, if not warmer.

Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2019 - Me at Ground Zero

The Zero Waste team volunteers were terrific, gamely staffing the stations in the poor weather and making takedown smooth and fast. Thanks, all!

Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2019 - Zero Waste Team

This year pint glasses were an option item purchased separately ahead of time, rather than all runners receiving them as a finisher award. This cut down the waste cardboard significantly.

Challenges

Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2019 - Pail of Styrofoam cupsThe sticky ice cream cups were a nuisance, but we minimized the problem by having people put them and the spoons in the blue pails rather than the recycle bins. At race end all pails were put into a single bag for final sorting later.

Opportunities for Improvement

A more environmentally friendly solution for the ice cream would be nice, as well as using compostable spoons rather than plastic.

The six-yard recycling dumpster was more than enough for our needs. Also, we only had a single bag of compostables. We can make adjustments next year, and possibly put everything in just a couple of recycling carts and a single compost cart.

Single-Use Coffee Pods Just Got Less Evil

A few years ago, I was waiting in line at a Whole Foods coffee bar. A woman asked the barista, “What do you recommend for a Keurig?”

The resulting pause was too long; I couldn’t resist.

“A sledgehammer,” I piped up. (*)

gallagher sledge o matic
Sledge-o-Matic could save the world from bad coffee!

Snarky advice and fantasies aside, I do not encourage the wanton destruction of single-serve machines. However, I have long been disgusted with the amount of waste generated by their disposable capsules. They encase perfectly compostable coffee grounds in a plastic pod. The unit is non-recyclable due to the organic waste inside, and even if cleaned, is too small to be accepted by many recyclers. So they go to a landfill, where the coffee grounds decompose into greenhouse gases, and the plastic just sits there forever.

How many pods are discarded each year? According to the New York Times, in 2015 Keurig alone sold over nine billion single-serve capsules. That’s over 24 million used per day. How many are recycled? Very few.

As a coffee snob myself, I’d be the last person to advise you to give up the habit. (And my fellow runners would laugh in my face.) But I sure as heck would prefer my fellow caffeine addicts indulge in a sustainable manner. Here are some ways to do just that.

Continue reading “Single-Use Coffee Pods Just Got Less Evil”

Recycling Roundup, Week of Feb. 25, 2019: Zero Waste Cities

A number of cities around the world – at least 25, according to National Geographic – are pursuing Zero Waste as a city-wide initiative. Of the 94 major cities in the C40 Cities organization, 23 have signed a commitment that includes the following goals by the year 2030:

  • Cut the amount of waste generated by each citizen by 15%
  • Reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and incineration by 50%
  • Increase the landfill diversion rate to 70%

It sounds great. But how much can reasonably be achieved?

In this post I highlight a couple of cities that have already made major strides in this direction – and one that is struggling with the basics.

Continue reading “Recycling Roundup, Week of Feb. 25, 2019: Zero Waste Cities”

Recycling Roundup, Week of Feb. 18, 2019: Focus on Reduction

What’s a much better way to deal with single use plastics than recycling them? Not using them in the first place.

It’s no secret that the world is swimming in plastic waste. In some cases, literally. And a good deal of that plastic was designed for single use. Plastic water and soda bottles, straws, utensils, and carryout packaging are manufactured, used, and then discarded, ending their usefulness and value to society.

According to the EPA, in 2015 the U.S. produced 34.5 million tons of plastics, with 3.1 million tons (9%) recycled. Landfills received 26 million tons. And it’s estimated that worldwide, between 5 million and 12 million tons of plastic waste per year end up in the ocean.

How much better to replace single-use plastics with reusable materials, or – even better – find ways to eliminate them! Here are three examples of communities, and even entire states, taking progressive action to reduce or eliminate certain single-use plastics. Read the full story by clicking on the links.

Continue reading “Recycling Roundup, Week of Feb. 18, 2019: Focus on Reduction”

“Yeti ‘nother” Great Result! Bigfoot Snowshoe Race 2019 Sustainability Report

Welcome to the Bigfoot Snowshoe race, where the temperature – and the trash – were both close to zero this year!

You know a Zero Waste effort is going well when you have less than one pound of trash but still want to do better. And then we found a way to reduce it to nearly nothing! Read on to find out how, and see the end of this report for a bonus.

Continue reading ““Yeti ‘nother” Great Result! Bigfoot Snowshoe Race 2019 Sustainability Report”

Great Kickoff to 2019: Frosty Freestyle Sustainability Report

There was no natural snow on the ground, but the lodge had made enough to cover the race course. It was a bit unusual to see a white stripe on the exposed green and brown golf course, but it was fine for skiing. So the Frosty Freestyle races went on, and the Zero Waste team was there to keep it all clean.

Continue reading “Great Kickoff to 2019: Frosty Freestyle Sustainability Report”

Damn Good Year! 2018 in Review

What a year! Here are the results from events serviced by Happy Planet Running in 2018, with 95 percent average landfill diversion! Here’s the breakdown by waste stream.

pie chart - 2018 waste stream totals

By the numbers:

Number of events: 34
Total attendance: 48,000
Total waste managed: 15,700 lbs. (nearly eight tons!)

Best events: RF Events Flirt with Dirt, the Epic Races Hot Cocoa Classic, and the Upland Hills 5K/10K, all with less than a pound of landfill trash!

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-7,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Thanks so much to my clients RF Events, Epic Races, Girls on the Run SE Michigan, Upland Hills School, and the Ann Arbor Track Club. In an economic environment where it’s still cheaper to throw things away than to recycle, these organizations have chosen to put our natural environment first, and have made an investment in sustainability. And the athletes showed their appreciation at every event!

2019 promises to be another busy year for Happy Planet Running, with the added challenge of an uncertain recycling market. So we’ll look for overall waste reduction and a shift toward more compostable materials where possible.

And in the breaking news department: RF Events is making one of their trail running series CUPLESS this year! Check it out at their Trail Marathon website.

Now for the shameless plug. Do you know of an event that could benefit from Zero Waste practices? Drop me an email on the Contact HPR page and let me know how Happy Planet Running can help!

Palm Beach Turkey Trot - Sam next to trash can
Don’t let your event be like this!

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