Waste - Reduction

Typically, when event organizers think of waste they think about dumpsters. Dumpsters, however, are at the end of the waste creation process. To reduce the volume of waste, FitPlanet recommends you look first at the front-end. That is, at where waste originates so you can reduce it before you create it. This requires an examination of some of the key processes in your event so you can eliminate the waste before it becomes a problem.

Below are some of the major processes that you should review with an eye to removing waste, not to mention cost, resources, and inefficiency.

  1. Registration - from pre-event sign-up to packet pickup, registration typically involves significant quantities of paper and printing. By encouraging or requiring athletes to register online, you can reduce or even eliminate the cost of printed registration forms. Even race-day registration can be managed electronically by providing PCs or laptops for volunteers or athletes to use at sign-in. This also saves the time and effort and expense of transferring the printed registration information to your online database. Consider reaching out to a local computer or IT companies for a sponsorship opportunity to provide PCs or laptops as part of your efforts to go green.
  2. Signage. Many, if not most, events produce signage in the form of banners and posters designed for a single event. This is typically because they include sponsor logos and the date, both of which change year to year. As a result signage ends up as waste at the end of the event. Consider designing signage for reuse instead of single-use. Don't put dates on the signs and include sponsor logos as add-ons that you Velcro to the main sign so they can be changed year to year.
  3. Goodie Bags - you generate revenue by offering sponsors and vendors the opportunity to add product and marketing materials to the bag that contains race essentials such as the bib and timing chip. The materials these sponsors stuff in the goodie bag typically produces significant waste as many athletes will simply remove the essentials and trash the bag after a cursory look at the marketing contents of the bag. It is also a wasted marketing opportunity for the sponsors and vendors as they get zero feedback and interaction with the athlete. They have no idea if the athlete has even looked at their information. We have seen time and time again, athletes picking up their goodie bag, taking out the essentials and throwing the contents of the bag - and the bag itself - in the trash no more than 50 feet from the registration table.

    FitPlanet recommends you consider offering sponsors and vendors the option of "virtual goodie bags." This can be special promotional offers on the event website or a link to the sponsors website and/or an email that is sent to the athlete. Online promotions and advertising provide sponsors with quantifiable data. They can track athlete actions such as website click-throughs, purchases, email newsletter signups, etc. that are not possible with a postcard in a goodie bag.

    Case in point is the 2009 LA Marathon. The race organizers provided athletes with a virtual goodie bags in the form of an email sent to runners in an email. This email included information and product promotions from about a dozen vendors. All tolled, this eliminated the need to print about 1 million pieces of paper.

    You might consider taking the virtual goodie bag idea one step further by eliminating it altogether. At registration provide the bib, chip and pins, plus a t-shirt (you can make the shirt optional as part of the online registration process). Offer sponsors the opportunity to participate in your virtual goodie bag and communicate the virtual goodie bag to athletes. In addition, encourage athletes to patronize the race's sponsors at the expo and through special online promotional offers.

  4. Expo - many races have pre-race-day and race-day expos that provide athletes the opportunity to pick up their bibs and timing chips and in the case of triathlons to drop off their bikes in the transition area. Pre-race packet pickup has evolved into an important revenue generating opportunities for event organizers as the expos provide sponsors and vendors a significant opportunity to engage directly athletes. Yet these expos produce significant quantities of waste. The vast majority of the waste produced is cardboard, plastic and other recyclable materials. And exhibitors often leave left-over product and materials behind at the end of the expo rather than take it back to their facilities for reuse at future events.

    Event organizers can reduce waste by providing exhibitors with a set of suggested or mandated eco-guidelines. For example, the guidelines can include recommendations or requirements for using recyclable or compostable materials (e.g. cups, plates, napkins) for food and drink vendors that provide samples of their products. You can require these vendors provide signage about the materials they are using, especially compostable materials, as well as provide their own recycling and compost bins for waste collection. Alternatively, you can arrange to provide these bins upon their request.

    The eco-guidelines should include specific instructions for breaking down cardboard boxes and bagging plastic shrink-wrap that's generated during the expo. To eliminate confusion, provide them with a list of what materials are recyclable, compostable and trash.

  5. Start/Finish areas - the start and finish areas -- and for triathlons, the transition area -- are typically where most of the waste is generated, especially the finish area where athletes receive post-event food, water, and hydration products. Strategies for reducing waste in the finish area should focus on how to minimize landfill waste. One option is to provide fresh bulk-packaged food such as fruit, bagels, cookies, etc. and minimize the volume of single-serve packaged, processed food products. Much of the single-serve packaging is not recyclable and often ends up on the ground at the event, not in the bins. Most food waste is compostable (some meats and bones are not) and by weight accounts for a significant percent of the total waste created.
  6. On the Course - the vast majority of the materials used at water and aid stations can be recycled or composted. So you should review all the materials used at aid stations with an eye of reducing or even eliminating waste to landfill. Plastic water jugs and sports drink containers can be recycled. So can the cardboard boxes they come in and shrink-wrap plastic they are wrapped in. And there are wax-lined cups available from water and sports drink companies that are compostable (for example, the Solo 8 oz hot wax cups is ASTM certified as compostable). Include aid-station waste management in the operations management handbook and communicate expectations to aid-station captains and the volunteer staff.
  7. Portable toilets - there are options for 'green' portable toilets on the market now and many national and local providers are beginning to offer these. Some charge a price premium which should be no more than a few dollars a unit. There are three elements that make up a green portable toilet: the solution used in the tank, called a 'deodorizer,' the toilet and hand-towel paper, and the soap or hand sanitizer provided. You should ask for a non-toxic deodorizer, recycled and bleach-free paper, and bio-degradable soap. The most important of these three is the deodorizer due to the impact harsh chemicals, especially formaldehyde, have on water quality in the waste treatment process.
  8. Post event festivals - many events include post-event concerts or activities for participants and spectators. Just as for the event itself, you should conduct a process review of these activities to reduce waste before it's created with the objective of reducing and minimizing landfill waste.