Only Impact of a 5K Should Be on Your Knees

By JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff

Picture this. You’ve just run a 5K. Do you:

A) Cool down and stretch.
B) Update your Facebook status with your race time.
C) Grab your schwag bag and load up on pizza, bananas, bagels and bottled water.

The answer, at least at many 5K races these days, seems to be maybe a little bit of “B,” plus a whole lot of “C.” And that whole lot of “C” can lead to a veritable sea of trash.

Working on the back end of several 5K races with the ecoRI News Green Team — handling the trash, recycling and race remains — has been an eye-opening experience.

Last September marked one of the first times the Providence CVS Caremark Downtown 5K recycled anything, thanks in part to the concerted efforts of the ecoRI News Green Team. Despite that undertaking, which achieved a 70 percent recycling rate, the 10,000-person race still generated a Winnebago-sized dumpster’s worth of trash.

With scores of recycling bins placed around the finish area, racers more or less caught on, though it was dismaying to see that many still threw barely sipped from water bottles into the trash, or that half-eaten pizza slices were jettisoned into recycling bins. We’ll be generous and chalk these oversights up to low blood sugar.

More recently, at the St. Pat’s 5K in Providence, which topped out at 4,000 runners, the ecoRI News Green Team hauled away the recyclables and composted 200 pounds of banana peels, but racers still filled a 15-yard dumpster to the brim with trash.

5Ks, which are accessible to beginning runners and often benefit good causes such as cancer research or family foundations, are problematic from a waste standpoint: Short race and lots of waste.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips for you and your race organizer:

You: Bring Your Own Damn Water Bottle. Settle down Pheidippides; it’s not a marathon. And, unless you’re hoofing sub-sixes, toting along a reusable water bottle isn’t going to hurt your finish time. Taking the eco-moral high ground will reward you with a surge of good karma tantamount to runner’s high. 

Race organizers: Ban the bottle. Some races such as the Hartford Half Marathon install temporary bubblers at the finish line in lieu of providing bottled water. If you must have bottled water at your race, at least recycle your bottles.

No Matter How You Look at it: The Bottle is Half Full
You know who you are: If you didn’t bring your own bottle, and you’ve enjoyed a few swigs of race-provided bottled water, for crying out loud, don’t recycle or throw out the that bottle if there’s still water in it. When the ecoRI News Green Team works a race, a good portion of our time is spent emptying water out of water bottles that racers have thrown into either the trash or recycling bin. 

You: Don’t Goo there. Goo is the go-to chemical stew for long-distance runners. It’s often packaged in something approximating one of those fast-food ketchup packets. Ingredients may include: maltodextrin, fructose, glycerin, sodium chloride, sodium citrate and sodium bisulfate. That sounds like the chemical twin to something you’d use to clean your carpets. No one who is not on a space ship or running a marathon should eat this crap. Message to 5Kers: It’s only three miles; you do not need this. Forgo the Goo and eat a tablespoon of peanut butter when you get home.

Bag the Schwag
You: Need FiberONE cereal samples, dental floss and coupons for discount flooring like you need a paperweight in a tornado. Resistance is not futile. Just because it’s free doesn't mean you need it or should take it. Running 5K entitles you to sweat, calorie burn, endorphins and nothing else.

Race organizers: Runners won’t miss what they don’t have. Dismayingly, the ecoRI News Green Team finds many of these bags in the trash.

Go Bananas!
You: They’re your favorite post-race snack. Cheerful yellow potassium rockets in biodegradable wrappers. Eat them and compost the peels.

Race organizers: Look into composting those banana peels. Your bananas will provide nutrients to hungry runners and then the peels will have a go at providing nutrients to the soil. At this year’s St. Pat’s 5K in Pawtucket, a staff of four ecoRI News Green Team members composted almost 100 percent, or 120 pounds of the peels from the bananas racers consumed.

At the end of every race, you should go home a little sore, and with the knowledge that the 3.1 miles you tread upon this earth left only your footprints in the dust and not a pile of trash.