The Monterey County Herald
By Katie Kishi, April 20, 2016
Carmel >> When the dirty job of separating food and compostable materials from trash and recycling was finished at last year’s Big Sur International Marathon, there were about four bags worth of trash to be taken to the landfill. Not bad for an event that featured about 7,000 participants.
That amount of waste “could fit in the trunk of a car,” said Kristin Cushman, founder and executive director of The Offset Project, which has been a partner to the marathon since 2009.
Along with The Offset Project, there will be seven other local organizations helping to continue the Big Sur marathon’s reputation as one of the greenest events in the nation.
The bulk of marathon events — there are five run/walks in addition to the marathon — will be Sunday, culminating at The Crossroads shopping center in Carmel, where a marathon “village” has been set up.
Last year, the marathon had a 96 percent diversion rate — that is, diverting a huge percentage of discarded material from the landfill. The goal is to be a “zero waste” race.
The marathon’s “reduce, reuse, recycle” motto has added a fourth “r” to the mix — “rot.” This important component focuses on composting.
“We can’t make decisions without thinking about how it affects the environment,” said Cushman. This is the motivation for each action taken toward being green, she said.
The Offset Project identifies ways to reduce materials, such as giving runners a “virtual goody bag” instead of a physical one. The runners now receive coupons online to replace the paper ones they received in the past. Rather than using big cardboard boxes for post-race food, they use smaller paper sacks. Runners are encouraged to bring their own bottles to refill at water stations throughout the course.
The marathon also addresses the recycling element by donating. During the race, runners sometimes shed their layers and leave them on the side of the course. Volunteers pick up these articles of clothing and sort them out to be donated to various organizations. Shoes are either donated to Last Chance Mercantile, an organization that sells reusable items, or recycled down into tires. Uneaten bananas, apples and bagels were donated to local churches last year to feed the hungry.
When they cross the finish line, runners receive foil heat sheets to retain heat. These are given to the Trex Company to be recycled into a wood-alternative decking through the “Blankets to Boards” program. Last year, 31 bags of heat sheets were recycled.
Ten cubic yards of Styrofoam used for packing was recycled into surfboards last year, and other materials such as food wrappers were sent to TerraCycle to be made into reusable bags.
The new “rot” component is crucial to the diversion rate. The Offset Project helps the Big Sur International Marathon identify and purchase the right products for the race, such as compostable cups. The Offset Project tested cups and other materials to find out which were actually biodegradable before purchasing them for the event.
Compostable materials are turned into soil to be sold to local vineyards in Monterey County. This is part of the “close the loop” program, in which a cup goes through a full cycle from the time of its creation to the time it gets put back into the earth.
On race weekend, teams from Return of the Natives, CSUMB Marine Science Club, Girls Inc., Community Partnership for Youth, Monterey Peninsula College Child Development Center, DLI BOSS Program and the Pacific Grove High School wrestling team work to gather and sort discarded materials.
The Big Sur International Marathon was one of the first events to focus on the zero waste concept.
“You could quantify all the impacts, but an event having such a holistic view and incorporating sustainability isn’t only an impact on landfill, but it’s a way of life for the community,” said Cushman.