Keeping the Boston Marathon an Eco-Friendly Event
Running is perhaps the greenest of sports, and marathoners view their passion as one of the cleanest and most environmentally-friendly activities in which they participate. While the impact of one runner on the environment is minimal, B.A.A. races throughout the year bring thousands together at one time. From trash to transportation, confirmation booklets to timing and scoring devices, the B.A.A. makes conscious efforts to keep its events as “green” as possible. Efforts are put forth with regard to our biggest event, the Boston Marathon, and are done in collaboration with the cities and towns upon which our event is held. Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston are similarly committed, and they serve as partners with the B.A.A. in hosting the Boston Marathon.
In the months prior to the race, efforts to be more environmentally-friendly are underway. Paper usage is at a minimum. While traditional printed methods of communication remain valued, the B.A.A. widely uses electronic communication and notifications for the majority of its messaging. For example, rather than a 32-page booklet and several mailings which were formerly sent to 8,500 volunteers, two single-page mailings on post-consumer paper and friendly inks now serve the purpose.
On the day before the marathon, the B.A.A. hosts an environmentally-friendly pre-race pasta dinner. The party attracts about 12,500 participants, who since 2009, have been asked to carry their waste to one of two “recovery stations” and sort out the materials. Compostable utensils and plates also are employed, creating a “zero-waste” zone. While the event yields nearly no waste, almost everything which remains is collected for recycling and composting. This plan has been enthusiastically received by race participants and the City of Boston’s Office of the Mayor.
Beginning before dawn, the eco-friendly movement is in full motion. Participants, volunteers, and event sponsors arrive in Hopkinton on race day via official buses in order to reduce vehicular traffic. Because of the event’s size, driving personal vehicles anywhere near the Athletes’ Village at the start is strongly discouraged and nearly impossible. But even though you won’t be able to drive your Prius to Hopkinton, you’ll still be carbon neutral because we purchase carbon offsets for all those yellow school buses.
Once participants arrive, they immediately notice recycling bins and waste receptacles throughout the village. As runners visit with product exhibitions and prepare to run, they’re encouraged to use these recycling stations whenever possible. Additionally at the village, environmentally-friendly portable toilets are plentiful. Just before the gun goes off, marathoners shed outer layers of clothing in the starting corrals. Once on their way, clothing collection teams gather the abandoned shirts, pants, and jackets. Those which can be washed and salvageable are cleaned and then donated to charity. As for the rest of the Hopkinton clean-up, cardboard, paper, and plastic bottles also are collected, adding to the recycling effort. The B.A.A. utilizes natural gas, hybrid, and electric vehicles to carry race officials, members of the media, and photographers in the lead procession to cut down on exhaust and noise.
Once the race ends, marathoners need to pick up their own belongings and they are given several items to aid with their recovery. From water to plastic blankets, bananas to medals, runners exit the finish area with their hands full. Some of these materials (like the prestigious medal, of course) are keepsakes which finishers treasure forever. For less memorable objects, like a cup of Gatorade, a bottle of water, or a banana peel – composting and recycling efforts by a large team of volunteers keep the waste minimal in the finish area. Additionally, city and state agencies place bins throughout the race route and in the finish area, allowing participants and spectators to sort trash themselves. These bins, coupled with work crews reinforcing our “green” policies and sufficient signage, provide added incentive for athletes to do their part.
The B.A.A. is actively decreasing the carbon footprint our events leave upon the environment. As we renew and rewrite our sponsor contracts and vendor agreements, we point out environmental improvements that can be made, and ask for ideas and current initiatives of our sponsors upon which we can collaborate and depend. Our sponsors have been receptive and offer their own environmentally-friendly options, as well. For example, jetBlue allows runners to purchase carbon offsets, which balance the carbon-dioxide emissions they’re responsible for on the flight by supporting projects that reduce CO2 elsewhere. Also, adidas, which produces the official Boston Marathon t-shirts, recently announced that cotton shirts are now more sustainable than ever before, utilizing soybean-based fabric and resource-efficient designs. Poland Spring is also making a green effort. As supplier of the official bottled water of the Boston Marathon, it helps spread the message of recycling through its RECYCLE 4 Humanity program, and it distributes large, clear bins throughout Athletes’ Village and along the race course to urge runners to recycle their bottles.