Disposability is Dead
Musings on reducing single-use disposability and waste in the endurance community
Photo by BigStockPhoto
There was no escaping the oppressive sizzle of Baja heat at midday. Equally unavoidable was the metric ton of trash strewn across the road in every direction. Plastic cups clink-clunked across the carretera while discarded, single-use water baggies flapped on the ground like feathered asphalt. Every passing runner trampled the trash as if unconsciously trying to hide the mess, to send it downward, out of sight, back to their earthly origins. But the plastic remained. It remained, defying decomposition, those petroleum-based, factory-farmed freckles. It remained.
Then there was me—Enabler, Violator, Hypocrite—handing out the disposable cups and water bags to runners by the thousands. All day long.
This happened back in March, when I was asked to work at the inaugural 2013 Ironman Los Cabos. Living in Baja Sur, Mexico at a nearby artist village, I found the invitation intriguing because it presented an unfamiliar flavor of endurance. As a trail runner, I carry baggage with me by way of mountain prejudice—a strong preference for peaks and trails and dirt; a penchant for glacial runoff so cold it makes fingers and toes ache with feral vitality. I find less inspiration in stiff saddles, gym memberships and sweating pavement.
But what I discovered surprised me.
Excavated from this exploratory dig was a robust community and a humbled response to the participants’ efforts. My friend and I managed the final aid station of the marathon. You know, that section following 2.4 miles of open-ocean swimming and 112 miles of cycling. No big deal. Add habanero-grade heat and you’ve got mercury tickling triple digits with Sun’s unflinching stare. For over 10 hours, we handed over 1000 runners Pepsi in cups, pretzels in cups and candy in, yes, cups. Then, there were the single-shot bags of water: rip the tip off with your teeth and down the hatch goes a single gulp of water. Toss and repeat.
By the end of the day, the accumulated waste fomented nausea. In hot pursuit of their goals, each athlete seemed to be putting the planet on the backburner. En masse, they were allowed to drink and chuck, use and abuse, discard and depart. I left the event championing their physical feats but pained by the negligence of disposability tolerated by the Ironman. So, naturally, I turned inward, auditing my own habits of running and racing, and asked:
Why do we, members of the endurance community, still subscribe to a culture of single-use disposability? Why during training and racing do we continue to support products that are (duh) choking landfills? Why must our personal goals eclipse environmental responsibility? Do they have to?
I say no. And others are, too. People are waking up. People are choosing to race and explore closer to home. People are mixing their own gel concoctions in reusable flasks. BPA-free handheld bottles are reused for years before replacing, then recycled. I see more running commuters than ever before.
This is consciousness rising.