More than 45,000 Marathoners and How Many Cups?

By Sophia Kelley

Yesterday some 45,000 runners traversed the five boroughs of New York City on their way to completing one of the most popular marathons in the world. Along the 26.2 mile course, more than 2 million spectators cheer, shout, wave signs and even pass out snacks to help support the weary participants. Watching the runners on their heroic journey is inspiring, but since I also work for the EPA, I couldn’t keep myself from wondering about all the trash.

At every mile there are Gatorade and water stations where runners down the beverages and drop their cups on the street. Gel packs, protein bars, banana peels and extra clothes litter the course. According to the city, following the 2010 marathon, the Department of Sanitation collected 114.29 tons of litter and debris, 6.34 tons of paper, and 2.98 tons of metal, glass and plastic.

This year, efforts were made to recycle both the cardboard from all the signs as well as the millions of paper cups discarded along the route. When I’m able to get some statistics for the results, I’ll post them here.

In addition, participants discard thousands of pounds of old clothing at the start on Staten Island. For the past three years, Wearable Collections has gathered all the unwanted textiles for reuse or recycling, thus reducing the tons of trash heading to the landfill. But many other items add to the environmental impact of the event – from the tyvek race bibs to the silver space blankets given to finishers – the NYC Marathon is far from green.

I read a great post about whether marathons are bad for the planet and was encouraged to find out that there are people trying to raise awareness about the issue and do something to change it. The Council for Sustainable Sport has a certification process that recognizes sustainable events. New York City, however, has not made the effort to be certified. Maybe next year? Till then, if you head out to cheer at any upcoming races, make sure to take your trash with you.