How event directors can reduce waste and decrease the carbon footprint of their events
Reduce: The priority is to reduce consumption and purchasing. Encourage participants to bring their own supplies (water bottles, cups, bowls, spoons) to consume less of what you are supplying.
Reuse: Any time durable items can be purchased, they are better than any single use item. Remember, single use anything is good for a single use, then it’s usually garbage.
Recycle: If you must purchase single use items, do your homework first. Recycling and composting programs are very particular about what they do/don’t accept and these programs may change year to year. Beware of greenwashing. Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. For example, disposable products may be advertised as being compostable. Although these products may be technically compostable, there may be no companies in your area that actually accept those products, making these items expensive trash. Check with a Master Recycler or local waste companies before you buy.
Rideshare: People sharing vehicles to get to your event reduces the carbon footprint. Find ways to facilitate and reward ridesharing.
Make the plunge. Don’t “baby step” your way to sustainability. Make the big changes and help your participants adapt to new ways of doing things. This requires a lot of education and publicity through emails and social media well in advance of the event. Make it clear on your registration website what participants can expect.
Make a pledge. EDiSN doesn’t request an official pledge to hold sustainable events, but we encourage event directors to make a public pledge. We encourage all event directors to use as many of the best practices as you can, wherever you are and for all types of events. Seek out local governments, businesses and master recyclers as partners and as resources. We support all efforts to be more sustainable, whether they accredited or simply DIY.
Disclaimer: EDiSN lists links to vendors, service providers, and resources. While we strive to maintain an updated, useful directory for Event Directors, we are not personally familiar with every company and organization on this list. Inclusion on this list, therefore, is not an endorsement by EDiSN. Event Directors should check out local reviews of these organizations as they would any other vendor. Not every idea listed will apply to your event, nor have we listed all ideas. Have a suggestion for an idea, vendor, service provider, or event practice to share with EDiSN? Please contact us here.
Communicate your sustainability efforts:
Provide information on websites, through email, and on social media about your efforts to be more sustainable. Provide this information to participants, spectators and volunteers as early as possible, especially if you are making changes. For example, if your event is “cupless” (i.e. no disposable cups) you must tell participants (at time of registration) they will need to bring their own cup or water container (and also offer durable cups for sale through registration and/or at the event). You might also publicize if you are giving a reward for those people who rideshare.
Sustainability will cost extra, but these costs can be added to the registration fee. Use this for publicity—call it a “green fee”–letting participants why registration costs a little more, but also why it’s worth the cost. Participants will pay extra money for extra bling; most people are willing to pay for sustainability.
When you are planning for and assigning volunteers, be sure to assign people to tasks related to sustainability efforts (e.g. volunteers assigned to the task of assisting participants in putting their waste in the correct bins). Recruit a Master Recycler to train your volunteers.
If your event uses trails, designate trail work days to invite a volunteer work crew to maintain/improve the trails for your event. Work your local government, park rangers, or trail work groups to ensure that you are aware of any fragile ecosystems, special trail work considerations, and safety information. (Some events require entrants to do trail work in order to participate.)
Walk, bike, or run to planning meetings, or use Skype/Zoom/Google Meetups, instead of driving to meet up face-to-face. Use email, websites and social media to communicate with participants instead of flyers or mail.
Use online registration only.
- Make event apparel optional and give a cut-off date to order the shirts/socks/hats so you have fewer left over. Don’t date apparel items so they can be used in future years.
- Build up a portfolio of designs for T-shirts and rotate the designs year to year.
- Use leftover T-shirts as giveaways for volunteers and raffle prizes at future events.
- Check with your vendor to see where they get their shirts. Ideally, you will be able to purchase locally sourced apparel made from recycled or environmentally friendly materials. This cuts down on shipping (which uses fossil fuels) and pollution/waste from production. Let the vendor know that you’re willing to pay a little extra if necessary.
- Donate leftover clothing, whether event-related or from the “lost and found.”
Commemorative Glasses, Cloth Bags, etc.:
If you give an item to all participants as part of their entry fee, give them something durable—like a stainless steel or glass drinking vessel with your logo, or a durable shopping bag. Participants can use the glass for pre/post race beverages, and at home. Bags can be used as drop bags on race day and for shopping after the event. Offer a discount or a free beverage to those people who bring back their container in future years.
Online Swag/Goody Bags:
Instead of a bag full of coupons and cards that end up in the trash, give participants online coupons or discounts codes.
- Leave the date off finisher medals so that they can be used in future years.
- If you want to include the race date on finisher medals, put the date on the ribbon, but not the medal itself, so for future years you can reuse the medal but attach a new ribbon (which costs less).
- Build up a portfolio of designs for medals and rotate the designs year to year.
- Make finisher medals an add-on, not automatically included in the registration fee.
- Have a number of “Selfie Medals.” Some finishers wear their finisher medal for the photo after the race, then toss it in a drawer at home. Have several medals available for photos at the finish, which participants don’t keep, but simply use for the photo.
- Offer finishers a medal that is also functional (e.g. a medal that is also a bottle opener).
- Offer finishers something other than a finisher medal, like socks or an extra beverage.
- Find a school to which you can donate medals. Some elementary schools have lunchtime or after school running programs where kids run a total of 26.2 miles over the course of the school year. They’ve earned a marathon medal!
- Check with your vendor to see where they get their medals. Ideally, you will be able to purchase locally sourced apparel made from recycled or environmentally friendly materials. This cuts down on shipping (which uses fossil fuels) and pollution/waste from production. Let the vendor know that you’re willing to pay a little extra if necessary.
- Use/reuse materials to make finisher medals, like seashells for a beach run, or handmade wooden medals for trail runs.
After securing appropriate food-handling permits, provide homemade food instead of pre-packaged individual servings. Prepare food on-site (e.g., soup, hot dogs, pizza).
Estimate food purchasing to not over-buy, especially perishable items and store any non-persishable items for reuse. Make a plan to donate leftover food that cannot be stored. Check with local food banks to see what they will accept.
Any food that doesn’t fit with the guidance above can be composted or used for animal feed. If it is a small event, the event director or volunteers may have curbside food composting service with yard debris, so they can take the food home. For larger events, contact local farmers or gleaning networks for places to bring extra food for livestock.
Always check with the local municipality and follow their guidelines for recycling. Do they co-mingle items or must they be separated? Which number of plastics are accepted? Do items need to be rinsed before recycling? Do they accept containers, but not lids? A Master Recycler can be a great resource to answer these questions.
In Oregon, contact Recology (https://www.recology.com/ ) to either have that company be the service provider for the event, or find a volunteer to self-haul compost to Recology’s facility in North Plains. All haulers will provide food scrap service, along with recycling and garbage, but Recology is the only one that will also accept approved compostable materials.
Cups, Plates, Utensils:
Use durable service wear whenever possible. If your event makes use of a facility that has a kitchen, check to see if you can use the durables on hand. Schools, churches and clubs will often also have recycling and composting systems in place that can be used. Otherwise, paper is preferable over plastic. All will be garbage and paper breaks down faster than plastic.
Have your club/company rent/purchase durables that can be used at all your events. The upfront cost may be higher, but you’ll save money and produce less waste in the long run. There are additional costs for cleaning and storing durables, but they can pay for themselves in the long run. You can recoup the cost of durables by renting them out to other events.
Check with your city/county for programs to support efforts to reduce waste through reusing, repairing, recycling, composting or making energy from items that would otherwise be discarded.
Bottom line, durables are better than disposables, even if the one-use items are billed as recyclable or compostable.
Single use items are almost always single use and are not recyclable. For example, in Oregon, any type of single use paper or plastic cup cannot go in the mixed recycling bin because of the coating that the cup has inside the paper cup. If the plastic cup says that it is compostable, you must check with your local compost program to see if they take these items.
Do not provide disposable cups for your event. Inform your participants (well in advance) that they need to bring their own cup or water container for hydration. You provide the water or Gatorade, but they bring their own container. There are silicone cups that are lightweight and collapsible available from a number of companies can custom make cups for your events. Be sure to offer durable cups for sale at your event for those who forget to bring their own.
Plastic film and wrap:
Plastics from bread bags, ice, and overwrap can be self-hauled to many grocery stores in the area for recycling.
Use bulk water containers instead of single-use plastic bottles.
Tyvek race bibs:
Tyvek bibs can be recycled. We suggest consolidating bibs from multiple races to send in at a time.
Collect and reuse safety pins.
Offer an entry discount for an event or offer something extra for entrants who participate in waste reduction efforts.
Do not order the hand-washing station when possible, as this reduces paper towel trash. Check with the company to be sure they’re using environmentally-responsible chemicals.
Make signs out of durable materials and don’t put dates on them so they can be reused year after year. If you hold multiple events, create signs specific to your club/company, but not for each specific event.
Inform the vendors with whom you work of your efforts and encourage them to work with you to reduce waste. Will food vendors have single use packaging? Will products be packaged individually? Will food trucks idle?
Offer rewards for using public transportation, rideshare, meet and ride, and for full vehicles for your event. Rewards can be things such as priority parking, an extra beverage, or a discount for future events.
Create a rideshare program or use programs in your area:
Ask for home zipcodes before an event and ask if they would like to participate in a rideshare program. Group people up based on zip codes and then share contact information (if participants provide permission) or establish community meeting points and times for carpooling.
Hopefully in the future, a rideshare app will make this easier.
At the Event:
Provide waste stations staffed by volunteers that include bins for composting, recycling, redeeming and trash. You can create your own bins or borrow them from city and county waste programs.
If you have aid or water stations, use durables if possible. For example, instead of offering individual bags of chips to participants, purchase large bags of chips, and serve the chips in durable bowls. Use bulk water containers instead of single-use plastic bottles. Serve water using oitchers. Go “cupless” (see above).
Clothing and Shoe Collection:
Donate discarded shoes and clothing to charity. Be sure to check with these charities about what is/isn’t acceptable and in what condition.
Use bicycles and/or electric vehicles for lead, pace, sweeper and SAG vehicles. Use shuttles to transport multiple participants instead of individual drivers.
Give priority parking to vehicles with multiple occupants. Reward the drivers (e.g., an extra beverage or swag item).
Use portable solar panels or rechargeable batteries instead of gas generators to provide power in isolated areas.
Look for carbon offset programs in your community. They can sometimes be purchased from utility districts or environmental nonprofits.
Gathering data is essential (e.g., increased/decreased costs and reductions in the number of vehicles used) to appreciate the benefits/costs of sustainability. You can demonstrate year-to-year improvement, and share this with your participants and the community. Mentor other event directors or make a video and share it with EDiSN.
Measure the volume of garbage, recycling, composted materials. Visit our Waste Audit page for sample forms and details.
Track participant, volunteer, and other race vehicle usage. Have volunteers make note of the number of vehicles as they enter the parking area and how many people are in each vehicle. MORE
Consider being a pilot event, in which event directors from different sports would commit to trying new practices to demonstrate the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of various methods to reduce waste, reuse resources, and minimize the carbon footprint of events. The goal of a pilot event is to have practical, measurable results, and organize events that are models for what can be done in each sport. Contact us if you are interested in being a pilot event.
If you send a post-event survey to participants and volunteers, add questions to gauge their awareness and appreciation for the sustainability efforts you’ve made. Ask for input about what worked and what needs improvement, how well the practices were communicated, and what other practices they recommend.
Review event practices and data, to see how to improve future events, and keep data from year to year to monitor your progress. Take our post-event survey so we can track how event directors are doing.
If this all seems overwhelming, there is help out there. Many states have Master Recycler training programs. Each city, county and state has different waste/recycling/composting systems in place. There are companies that will guide your efforts. Get to know your local resources and check out the resources for EDiSN’s Level 2 Membership. Visit our Resources page for more ideas.