Creating a sustainable running event is a challenge when tens of thousands of people are involved, but companies are getting creative to reduce the use of disposable cups.

Shuffling through the sea of paper cups after an aid station is almost a road race rite of passage. But as much as we need the water (and we need the water), it can feel cringe-worthy to grab that disposable water cup, splash a bit of liquid into our mouths, dump even more down the front of our bodies, just to ditch it two seconds later. 

Some races, especially the ones serving cups in the millions, have transitioned to recyclable materials in hopes to mitigate their environmental impact and become more sustainable, but when it comes to the 3R’s, reduce and reuse are king. New York Road Runners, for example, utilizes a single stream recycling system for their cups and boasted an 82 percent recycling rate at the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon. But that still equates to roughly 40 tons of waste heading to the landfill. 

In an effort to become even more efficient, though, NYRR joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Sports for Climate Action Framework in 2019. As part of this initiative, the Waste Management Sustainability Services will evaluate their practices and provide recommendations in areas like material management, water conservation, and greenhouse gas mitigation. 

In 2019, the London Marathon tried to get a little more creative, handing out 30,000 zero-waste Ooho water capsules made from a seaweed packaging. Seaweed and algae farming is an incredible crop option that doesn’t require fertilizer or land space, it sequesters carbon and nitrogen, and is very dense in nutrients. Even though these seaweed pods are a genius solution, Notpla, the company developing them is still a small start up struggling to respond to the high number of requests they are receiving and seaweed farming is not being conducted on a large scale. 

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We’re thrilled to team up with‬ @Lucozadesport to use Ooho for their sports events. Bye bye plastic! 1st events: Richmond Marathon 16 Sept and Tough Mudder in West Sussex on 29 Sept. ‪#passonplastic

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In the interim of that burgeoning technology, there are reusable cups and bottles to save the day. 

For years, trail races have utilized a disposable cup-free model. Washington State’s Chuckanut 50K adopted the cup-free idea as early as 2013. Maybe it’s easier to adopt a Leave No Trace attitude when you’re running through pristine wild places versus, say, the pavement-lined streets of New York City? 

But now road race organizers are now get in the reusable game. The brand HydraPak announced today it will be the official reusable hydration partner of the Big Sur Marathon Foundation. 

hydrapak-speedcup
PHOTO: HydraPak

The newly minted partnership will play out at the 2020 Big Sur Marathon on April 26th. Participants will be encouraged to pledge to run cup-free. The first 4,000 who do so will receive a marathon-branded collapsible SpeedCup. The sustainable cup is meant to easily fit into a pocket or held using the finger loop. They are hoping for a 33% opt-in rate and are estimating a 22-33 reduction in disposable cups per person who participates. 

The Big Sur 12K, happening on the same day will be mandatorily cup-free, saving 1,500 cups in total. The event coordinators recognized that this course in particular is in a sensitive area, the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and keeping cup waste out of there was critical. 

“Finding ways to reduce our footprint is always top of mind,” Big Sur Marathon race director Doug Thurston  said in a press release. “We’ve made several important shifts to more sustainable practices and the decision to bring HydraPak on board to help us reduce single-use cups on course is a natural progression. We are very pleased to partner with HydraPak on this program.” 

In almost every industry, citizens have made their voices heard and are demanding companies reduce waste and consider the changing climate. And those companies are responding. We’ll continue to watch and see how running events get creative in creating truly sustainable events, so we can continue to put our feet to the pavement guilt-free.