Waste - Recycling/Composting

FitPlanet encourages you to first read the Reduce section in the Waste chapter as the first goal of waste management is to minimize ALL types of waste: landfill, recyclables and compostables. The Reduce section gives you a framework for process review and ideas for re-engineering some of the event processes so you can reduce inefficiencies, cost, and waste up front before the waste is generated.

FitPlanet encourages you ask before you throw anything away, "Can I recycle or compost this?" You'll be surprised to find that in most cases the answer is "yes."

In our experience with races and events, we've found that through a combination of recycling and composting waste your event can expect to achieve anywhere from a 50% to 80% landfill diversion rate. That means if you produce 1,000 lbs of trash that you typically send to the landfill or incineration, you can divert between 500 lbs and 800 lbs of that total to recycling and compost. FitPlanet worked with one 10K road race of about 700 people that produced less than 15 lbs of landfill waste in total. For all intent and purpose, that's zero waste to landfill.


Most municipalities offer some recycling capabilities and most waste haulers provide the option. Regarding recycling, the majority of the single-use consumable waste other than food created by an event is recyclable. This includes many plastics, including some forms of shrink wrap, aluminum, paper, and cardboard. FitPlanet recommends that you ask your waste hauler for information on what is recyclable in your community and how they want you to prepare it for pickup. Each municipality has its own rules and there is significant variability from town to town and state to state. For instance, some communities require you to separate cardboard from other recyclables while others have "single stream" processing facilities that allows you to comingle plastics and cardboard. So don't assume anything - ask.

Also, there is a growing list of event-specific materials that are recyclable. These include Tyvek bibs, single-use timing chips, and space blankets, which are typically provided at marathons. You can even "recycle" safety pins.

And there are options to incorporate other recycling efforts at your event. For example, offer athletes the opportunity to bring their old shoes and/or apparel to the event for collection. There are a number of shoe recycling programs available.


Commercial composting is still in its infancy in most communities in North America. (When we refer to composting we refer specifically to commercial composting, not backyard composting.) However there's growing demand for commercial composting led in large part by supermarket chains. This means more composting facilities are being built and more communities will have access to composting service in coming years.

If you want to find a local commercial composter, FitPlanet recommends you ask your waste hauler if they provide composting services. If they don't, you might consider calling your local supermarket, in particular Whole Foods Markets, as many are incorporating composting into their waste management process. They can provide you with their compost provider and you can call them directly.

Mechanics of Recycling/Composting

FitPlanet suggests thee are four key elements to a successful recycling and composting operation:

  1. Organized "waste stations"
  2. Good signage
  3. Adequate volunteers - the "Green Team"
  4. Athlete communication, both before and during the event.
    1. Waste Stations. We recommend you create standard waste stations that (ideally) include a set of color-coded bins for the types of waste you are collecting: black for landfill trash, blue for recycling and green for composting. Do not place landfill bins in one location and recycling and/or composting bins other locations as athletes will not distinguish between them. By co-locating the bins you gain control of the waste disposal process.

      You also need to color-code the liner bags you use in the bins: black for landfill, clear or transparent blue for recycling, and biodegradable green bags for compost.

      IMPORTANT: do not put recycling in black bags as the recycler typically will examine the contents of the bags before accepting the container. Some recycling facilities will turn away container trucks - perhaps 5-6 tons of material - if they see black bags in the container or they suspect the load is "contaminated" with non-recyclables.

    2. Signage. You want to post signs at each waste station that athletes can spot through a crowd and from a distance. We recommend placing the signs at or above head height and including the recycling symbol (arrows in a triangle) and/or the word recycling. You might also consider including images or words of the type of waste that goes in each bin at the waste station with arrows pointing to the appropriate bin. For example, for the recycling bin include a picture of a bottle or the word "plastic."
    3. Volunteers. FitPlanet highly recommends designating a special category of volunteers called the Green Team headed up by a Green Team Captain. Ideally, you will want each of the waste stations to be permanently staffed by a Green Team volunteer. They are there to help athletes make the right decision at the point of disposal. The Green Team will guarantee that you minimize contamination in each of the bins.

      If you don't have enough volunteers to staff all the waste stations, then assign your Green Team volunteers to zones that they patrol constantly. The volunteers will be required to pick items out of one bin and move it to another.

      The Green Team Captain will be responsible for providing the volunteers with clear instructions about what is acceptable in each bin. They will also need gloves. Other optional materials include aprons and special 'Green Team' volunteer shirts so they are distinguishable from other volunteers.

    4. Communications. Prepare your athletes by including in your pre-event emails information about your recycling (and composting) program. Also include this information on the Green page on your website. Include images of the signage you'll be using at the waste stations.

      On the day of the event provide the announcer with a script about the recycling (and composting) initiative and suggest they read it every so often to remind athletes and spectators. One or two sentences is sufficient as the intent is to make participants aware and remind them of your green efforts.