For the month of June, I collected my waste- anything that would eventually end up in a landfill because there is a no more useful place for it to go. I kept it in a paper grocery bag from Trader Joes- one of the big ones- because I didn’t know how this was going to go exactly. For me, this month served as a transition, a period of adjusting my habits so that they better align with my beliefs and support momentum toward a world that is less destructive, more kind, more regenerative.
On the second official day of my “zero waste” challenge, I ran the Brooklyn Beach Half Marathon. I run 2-3 races per year and I had been training for over the last couple of months. I go up to the folding table labeled “Registration” and am immediately handed a race tank wrapped in cellophane and a wax-covered paper bib. And all of a sudden these were mine now- to put in my TJ’s bag. But that’s nothing compared to the next two hours which- from a waste management perspective- one might describe as utter chaos. They consisted of me kind of running and stopping to grab no less than fifteen different Dixie cups of water over the course of the race, all to be immediately emptied and discarded on the boardwalk. I started laughing on Mile 8 at the sixth water station as I stomped through mounds of discarded little waxed cups. Headlines started rolling through my mind: “Area Girl Lives Double Life as Environmental Activist and Avid Boardwalk Litterer” and “Idealistic Youth Snaps Under Pressure of Zero Waste and Joins Movement to Create Enormous Pile of Trash on Coney Island Beach, as Close to Ocean as Possible”.
Comfortingly, attention is growing around the issue of waste generation at races and other sporting events and there is a lot of exciting and creative work being done in this arena (haha). One of the hydration stations at the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon handed out the newly engineered Ooho! edible water sachets that are made from seaweed and do not contain packaging. The T-shirts and medals handed out at the Chicago Marathon are made entirely from recycled material. And for years now the Hartford Marathon has had a custom-designed “Bubbler” at its finish line- a forty-foot long drinking fountain that eliminates the need for disposable cups and single-use plastic bottles.
And there are still significant components to race day that still need greening. A majority of the environmental costs associated with these races are produced in the travel to and from the event. People fly from all over the world to attend large races like the New York City and Boston Marathons. After an environmental assessment, the Cape Town Marathon found that 97 percent of its emissions were produced from attendees travel. Some races have started to offer options to buy carbon offsets and make donations to environmental organizations during registration. These efforts are a step in the right direction and I think we can do a lot more to address the problem at its roots. Let’s encourage people to race locally. Can we design prestigious challenges to run X number of races within 100 miles of your home? Absolutely. Can we organize high-level race events that occur in several different locations at the same time and are connected using the sophisticated tracking and conferencing technology we now have available? Definitely. I’m really excited to continue thinking in that direction.
I’ve run several distance races in the past few years. Currently, providing water in little throwaway cups is the standard, not the exception. Yet it’s still a factor I entirely glanced over in all my planning and organizing for the upcoming month. Theses unexpected situations are the most exciting part of my zero waste effort thus far. The act of tracking and collecting forces you to be more aware of all your actions, and all your consumption. You can plan quite a lot- I foresaw needing a compost bucket for food scraps and needing a to-go mug in my bag. But in just living your life- the typical days and the less typical days- with tangible and collectible consequences, you catch the rest of it. And then it’s on your radar. And then you design a solution. And next race I’ll have a bottle in my running belt.