South Park sighting leads to Seattle Marathon recycling vow

So how did we wind up inquiring about Seattle Marathon recycling practices? It all has to do with that photo, taken Sunday at the South Transfer Station in South Park, where WSB’er Shellie was disturbed by what she and her husband saw: “2 large Penske trucks showed up and dumped SEVERAL cases of bottled water, unopened with plastic still wrapped around cases, into the large waste hole instead of recycling them.” She said her husband was told they were from the marathon earlier in the day. After she sent us the photo and note on Monday, we inquired with marathon management, which replied yesterday, promising to look into it, and then forwarded this response from the course cleanup coordinator today:

I recycle every day at home and at work but with the marathon this year it was almost impossible to separate the recycling from the garbage. Your reader did see plastic bottles still in the plastic wrapper which is not recyclable but they were all empty. That is how the water stations open and leave the bottles. They definitely were all empty as I was the one at the transfer station.

For next year my recommendation will be to have all water stations separate recyclables and garbage. We would need clear plastic bags to know the difference. We use two trucks now so one could be garbage and one could be recycle. It definitely bothered me also to not recycle but once it was all mixed I just didn¹t have any choice but to dump everything so that we could get the trucks back to memorial stadium for equipment pick up.

Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the management to make this happen. I am confident we can do a better job next year without incurring a lot of extra costs with the separation of waste and recycling at each and every water station.

Mark Hendricks

25 Replies to "South Park sighting leads to Seattle Marathon recycling vow"

  • ScottA November 30, 2011 (3:46 pm)

    I volunteered at a water station on Sunday and I was a bit surprised there was no apparent effort to at least separate garbage from recyclables. As the marathon rep wrote it was most efficient to leave the 1.5 liter bottles wrapped in plastic and cardboard and just cut the plastic enough to open the caps. It was a great event but I think most all the participants (volunteers and athletes) would have expected a good recycling effort. Talking Rain probably had the 1.5l bottles available for cheap/free but for the quantities involved it seemed like larger containers would have been more practical.

  • JanS November 30, 2011 (3:50 pm)

    question..why would they still be wrapped in plastic if they were empty? Did they take the time to re-wrap empty bottles? Seriously? Something doesn’t seem right here…

  • JanS November 30, 2011 (3:53 pm)

    ok…we posted at the same time..answered my question, I think…

  • Arbor Heights Mom November 30, 2011 (4:02 pm)

    I’m really glad you published this. I’m embarassed by it. I ran the half and tried to aim for the garbage, but I do feel like garbage after sporting events (perhaps especially slightly self-glorifying sporting events) is a dirty little secret, sort of like all the trash dumps on Everest. I would definitely recycle if the bins were marked, and walked through the aid stations I used in an effort to do so, but I’ve definitely been guilty of pitching my wrapper on the side of the course. Yikes.

  • brizone November 30, 2011 (4:30 pm)

    WTH are they using BOTTLED water at for? That’s stupidly wasteful. They could be using tap water just fine. On many marathons in hotter climes, people along the route will set up their hoses for runners to drink from (or run under!)

  • Trileigh November 30, 2011 (4:51 pm)

    I’m still confused. Both the description and the photo suggest that there were shrink-wrapped *cases* of unopened bottles (that is, the case itself was wrapped), not just individual bottles. How would it work to just unscrew the caps but leave all the bottles wrapped together if you’ve got a wrapped case of them? How could you get a drink that way? Or do people take out the bottle, drink the water, then wedge the bottle back into the shrinkwrap? Sorry if I’m missing something obvious.

  • Chuck D November 30, 2011 (5:02 pm)

    Why didn’t they just take them to McGinnville, which is just a few blocks from there?

  • GenHillOne November 30, 2011 (5:13 pm)

    Yes, those are wrapped cases of 1.5L bottles (probably 12/case). Water is poured into cups for runners to grab as they go by. I get the idea of only opening one bottle at a time through the plastic (and presumably, as posted, they are empty), but Scott, did organizers actually have you try to pour one bottle at a time by lifting the entire case? If so, that’s crazy. Let your volunteers slice open the plastic, folks! I suspect the idea of contained trash is appealing for them, but certainly not eco-friendly and the awkwardness wouldn’t save those water stations any time. Rip, twist, fill, toss (in appropriate receptacle of course :D).

  • ScottA November 30, 2011 (5:34 pm)

    Trileigh – After being de-capped the 12 bottles (still in the wrapper) are poured into a lined garbage can at the same time for Gatorade mixing or plain water. Pitchers are then used to pour into cups. Keeping the bottles together is a benefit to a point – a lot fewer things to collect but at some point in the process it does seem like the wrapper, cardboard and bottles should have been separated. Seems like a small dumpster or several large rolling bins at each water station would have been needed.

  • CJ November 30, 2011 (5:45 pm)

    I understand bottled water is often provided free at marathons but after watching Flow and Tapped, I’d sure like people to give a second thought to using bottled water at all. Is it unreasonable to ask runners to provide their own reusable bottles and bladders?

  • Trileigh November 30, 2011 (6:30 pm)

    Thanks, ScottA – now I get it!

    I do agree that it doesn’t make sense to buy tons of little bottles that are then emptied into a huge container – why not just buy a huge container? Or better yet (and much more environmentally appropriate as well as cheaper), load up those lined garbage cans with tap water?

  • newnative November 30, 2011 (7:23 pm)

    I ran the Half on Sunday and we were handed paper cups of water and/or Gatorade at the water stations. I assume the brands are used for sponsoring/advertising/funding reasons. As I walked across the finish line I was handed a Talking Rain bottle of water.

  • Keith November 30, 2011 (8:02 pm)

    Thanks for sharing this, Shellie and WSB. But you don’t even have to stake out the dump to see the ridiculous amounts of waste generated by marathons and the like. I’ve attended a few and each time was shocked and disgusted by the massive garbage heaps they generate. All in the name of health and achievement! Blech. I think the City allows too many of these events that negatively impact our quality of life. Try running on a trail and ditch all the unnecessary trappings that come from corporate-sponsored exercise. Do you really need that swag bag or another white t-shirt covered in sponsor logos?

    • WSB November 30, 2011 (8:22 pm)

      That inspires the question of whether the city requires major events to recycle .. or at least encourages it … via permit pricing, etc. We’ll inquire.

  • cakeordeath November 30, 2011 (9:10 pm)

    This is disgusting. We are SO far to go. I’m not that excited by the tone of the response. Get with the program, dude.

  • sophista-tiki December 1, 2011 (4:29 am)

    Just plain lazyness. We all know by now what the recycling guidlines are. Doesn’t matter how the process went for using the water , whoever was resposnsible for cleaning up post event should have taken the extra time to separate.
    I’ve had to do it after big events at the Japanese Cultural Center , sure its gross and a giant pain in the ass, but I still went through and separated as best I could. If you think you’re too good to be separating trash from recycle then either do it right in the first place or get someone else to do it.
    If we were to put all those recyclables in the trash at home we would risk getting fined, so why shouldn’t the same rule apply if you try to sneak it into the transfer station.

  • Yardvark December 1, 2011 (8:50 am)

    Big events are always hard to organize, and the details sometimes get lost in the confusion, but I think it’d be great if we encouraged all of these events to:
    1. Use tap water
    2. Have bins for garbage, recycling, and yard waste
    3. Donate any remaining items to food banks, etc.

  • Yardvark December 1, 2011 (8:54 am)

    Forgot a forth guideline:
    4. Fine all those events that decide they don’t have the time to follow these really basic steps.

  • Ken Holmes December 1, 2011 (11:01 am)

    I think the problem lies with volunteer help. In setting up huge events like this, there are lots of untrained or poorly trained volunteers, lots of mess, and lots to clean up in a limited time. It may be easier to toss in the garbage, but it should really be recycled.

    EVERY part of the packaging can be recycled, from the cardboard tray to the bottles, to the shrink wrap around the bottles. None of it is garbage.

  • ScottA December 1, 2011 (12:14 pm)

    Seems like the sponsorship and/or entry fees would need to be tweaked to make recycling work since even with volunteer labor there would be more costs to haul recyclables or provide mobile water tanks. The materials are so light that the dump fees probably aren’t much compared to more trucking and driver labor.
    Talking Rain could put their water in tanks and still get marketing benefits with signage and the cups OR a rental company could donate the tanks and get the marketing benefits. Talking Rain might even get extra press with the tanks effort but maybe the taste of the water would be a little different and not really Talking Rain.
    If there is an increased chance of a health hazard with mobile tanks (shouldn’t be if done right, but if there is) and someone gets sick, one financial claim against the event could be serious compared to just using lots of bottles.

    In terms of the waste generated by events like the marathon and any benefits to society at large I think there is something to be said for 6 months of training (or year round) that keep people healthier if they’re training for a milestone event in their lives. Probably worth the trash and car trips to and from the event for one morning if people are living healthier overall.

    Example of mobile potable water tank:

  • Cowpie December 1, 2011 (1:54 pm)

    Use tap water next time! This is absolutley moving in the wrong direction. Fill up these ‘lined garbage cans’ with some of the best tap water in the country…sheeeez.

  • Lisa December 1, 2011 (5:12 pm)

    This is totally unacceptable! Thank you to the people that posted this. We all need to see that this kind of irresponsibility is going on. Who can I boycott to help make sure this stops?

  • I. Ponder December 1, 2011 (8:16 pm)

    Americans buy 29 billion water bottles a year. It takes 17 million barrels of crude oil to make all these bottles. That’s enough oil to keep a million cars going for twelve months. That is the same amount of oil as 60,000 barrels a day spilling into the Gulf for 283 days!

    That oil is being used to make stuff we don’t actually need. If we don’t need it, then why are we doing high risk drilling? Or, maybe I’m wrong and those water bottles really are important.

    Recycling makes us feel like we’re doing something positive, but is avoiding the underlying issue.

  • denise December 1, 2011 (8:49 pm)

    As a participant, I find this unacceptable. Tap water would be fine with me. There must be an alternative to all of the cups and mylar blankets, too.

  • Bill Reiswig December 2, 2011 (12:24 pm)

    I’ll add one more voice for tap water. I’m sure that the Seattle Marathon gets alot of the water donated and may even get a sponsorship from a bottled water company to pass out water, but whats the added expense in effort of distributing and opening all that water?

    Get the Seattle Public Utilities to sponsor the Marathon… they have alot of interest in creating public awareness of the importance of water infrastrucure and the fact that Seattle has some of the best tap water in the country.

    Cut the bottled water SMA! :)

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