By Brannon Pack, Events Coordinator, Ozark Off-Road Cyclists (OORC)
Organizing and coordinating large scale mountain bike races and festivals comes with a price… responsibility. A lot of that “responsibility” can be delegated to volunteers, partners and sponsors, but in the end ownership ultimately falls on your club or organization.
The Ozark Off-Road Cyclists, a chapter of IMBA, organizes an annual XC race as part of the Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series at Hobbs State Park – Conservation Area in Northwest Arkansas, appropriately titled “The Battle for Townsend’s Ridge”. It takes 6 months of planning for what is ultimately a 6 hour event.
For this year’s race, the OORC increased our commitment in coordinating a “green” event, in the hopes that the practices learned could be shared with other organizations. But, how do you responsibly (there’s that word again) put 400 people in a State Park, that is still free of day use fees, with sustainability and recycling in mind? How would we “Leave No Trace”?
We needed a partner that had an understanding of environmental friendly solutions so we contacted our area Waste Management Sustainability Center for assistance. We established a partnership and an action plan was developed focused on pre-promoting sustainability, eliminating waste streams, and properly facilitating event recycling.
Pre-Promoting Sustainability Initiatives
Have you ever set out recycling bins at an event, only to have them filled with all kinds of unspeakable when it’s all said and done? That is why it’s important to pre-promote any sustainability initiatives you have. Attendees showing up to your event will already have a good understanding of what is trying to be accomplished and they are more likely to help you achieve these goals, rather than for example, try and recycle chicken bones.
There are various ways to pre-promote sustainability, and you’ll have to decide based on your current communication methods what media offers the largest reach. Social media is a great platform and chances are, most racers are following the event organizer for course maps and pre-registration information months in advance. The OORC regularly posted our sustainability initiative, setting expectations of the event attendees before they ever unloaded a bike on race day. Did you know you can link your organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to Instagram? One picture post and a short blurb around sustainability reaches users across all three applications. Other opportunities to consider are “boosting” a sustainability post to increase the messages reach, and including the sustainability initiative on the event posters.
Eliminating and Replacing Waste Streams
Identifying waste streams takes an understanding of your event, and some creative, albeit out the box, thinking. Eliminating waste is done by either removing the waste stream completely, or sourcing a sustainable alternative to effectively replace the stream.
Eliminating waste streams completely is challenging. Creature comforts can be a necessity and we’re not suggesting throwing 1-ply toilet paper into the port-a-johns. But, what if a necessity… wasn’t? Take disposable silverware for instance. What if the post-race meal provided didn’t require any? Before you say “how barbaric”, it can be done. This year we provided a full “finger friendly” meal at our event including bbq drumsticks and whole corn hot off the grill, chicken salad served on protein bread, chips and fresh salsa, organic fruit, and cookies. No utensils required meant a waste stream eliminated.
Sourcing sustainable alternatives to replace waste streams is a great way to engage potential event sponsors or partners. Do you supply disposable water bottles to event attendees? What if a sponsor or partner supplied a reusable alternative and instead of disposable bottles you used large water coolers to meet hydration needs? In our case, Waste Management supplied stainless hot/cold thermoses for all those in attendance. They were screened with the Waste Management logo, which offered the partner brand exposure while successfully replacing a waste stream. Do you use roll after roll of paper towels to facilitate meals? What if you reached out to a restaurant supply company and sourced reusable napkins or towels in exchange for sponsorship recognition? In addition to upping the scale of the event, most companies handle the dirty laundry themselves.
As an added bonus (or karma), each waste stream replaced by a sponsor saves the event budget. This year, the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists identified race course markings as an opportunity for a sustainable alternative. Instead of laminated arrows that typically won’t hold up to a barrage of staples, we purchased durable coroplast signage at a cost that was easier to absorb in part due to event partners replacing waste streams. In addition to the appreciative comments on how well the course was marked, it’s estimated we can get 5 race seasons out of the new signage.
Properly Facilitating Event Recycling
Dawn is breaking on race day with registration, and hopefully coffee, warming up. You’ve pre-promoted the hell out of your sustainability initiative and you’ve eliminated or replaced multiple waste streams. Are you set up to properly facilitate event recycling?
At this year’s race the OORC and Waste Management developed “recycling centers” and placed them on the event grounds, with potential waste points and parity a priority. They consisted of well-marked recycling receptacles segregated by Clean Paper & Cardboard, Empty Aluminum Cans, Empty Plastic Bottles, Empty Glass Bottles, Soft Plastics, Compostable Foods, and Trash including non-compostable meat, bone & dairy. For parity, each center was set up identical and included a large, reusable banner that spoke to our “Battle for Zero Waste” initiative. Additional opportunities to consider include partnering with a community garden to take organic compost from the event and positioning volunteers at recycling points to educate attendees on proper recycling.
Did you make a difference? Gauging success will differ based on the sustainability initiatives and goals you set for your event. For this year’s race, the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists estimates event waste diversion (by eliminating or replacing waste streams) and recycling more than doubled from the prior year. We successfully recycled more types of materials this year and the recyclables were generally less contaminated too. Pre-promoting our sustainability initiative and properly marking the segregated bins drove success. Additionally, by providing reusable cups we virtually eliminated disposable plastic bottles and cups as a waste stream, creative menu choices eliminated the need for disposable utensils, and we have sustainable course signage that should last for years. In the end, the volunteerism of the OORC members successfully minimized the environmental impact of over 400 attendees. We’ll call that success.
It’s the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists hopes that sharing these better practices learned will potentially help others to take responsibility. Recycle, replace waste, and leave no trace… so that the trail systems we ride today, may be there for our children’s children tomorrow.
A special thanks to a couple of passionate individuals making a difference for Waste Management, Tandie Bailey and Garnett Wise.