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More than 45,000 Marathoners and
How Many Cups?

2011 November 7

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Wills Parker permalink
    November 8, 2011

    I was wondering about what happened with discarded clothing…what a fun fact! I always leave at least one pair of pants behind at the start of fall races.

  2. Nate Pennington permalink
    May 13, 2012

    Thanks for the article. The new york city marathon was my first marathon and one I will never forget. The crowd support, the helpful volunteers and cheering fans along the course makes it the best marathon in the world to run.

    I can’t imagine the logistical task it must be to hold that race every year though. Thanks for the post. The city of new york does an outstanding job of ensuring we all are taken care of and the city remains the greatest in the world because of the hard working city workers who keep it clean.

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