Creating an Eco-Friendly Race

Image by Getty Images


‘Run a Great Race. Leave no Trace’ - Happy Planet Running 

Watching plastic cups or bottles pile up on the side of the road next to your aid stations, can start to leave a bad image for your event. Even if you don’t throw them away, and you recycle them, if you don’t promote your efforts in doing so, your race could seem like a burden to the planet due to the waste generated from mass participation no matter how small your event. Worst case scenario, you could start to face frustration from participants, councils and the local community as we see the ever-higher piling problem of waste in our daily lives. 

Creating an Eco-Friendly race can be simple, and not costly! In doing so you will be socially and environmentally responsible for the materials you’re buying and how you’re disposing of them. But in addition, it can also help you attract the ‘eco warrior’ athletes of today to your event over others. It might sound like a marketing ploy, but if you can double up your efforts to create a greener event and use it as engaging content for your audience at the same time, we think there's no harm in the win-win. 

So here are some suggestions from us to help your race become the ultimate ‘Zero to Landfill’ type of event. 

Plastic Cups and Water Bottles 

Races get through thousands of these, which are an environmental nightmare. By switching to other alternatives you could reduce the amount of CO2 and water required to produce and recycle plastic, by vast amounts. 

  1. Compostable paper cups can be a great alternative because these are currently taken by almost every single recycling center, and you can put your logo or a sponsor logo on the cups easily. 
  2. Recycled paper cups are almost the same as compostable paper cups, but may have a slight difference in price. It’s worth comparing both and making sure they have the right recycling symbols required by the recycling centre you will be going to after your event. 
  3. Biodegradable plastic can be a good alternative to plastic, but make sure the right recycling symbol is found on your product. Although they will take less time to biodegrade often they have to be taken to specific facilities to do so, as they require specific conditions to degrade in. Throwing them to landfill is not much better than plastic!
  4. Compostable plastic alternatives such as Vegware can be a great green alternative, as in composting you’re returning nutrients to the land and really embodying the ‘circular product’ idea. However organising their collection for commercial composting is crucial to any of the benefits being redeemed for this. Which can sometimes be expensive as they can’t be home composted. So make sure you factor this into your budget. 

Go Cupless!

This might seem like a scary alternative in terms of logistics management at your aid stations, but it’s not as radical as it might seem. 

  1. BYO container is an option used by most trail runs already. By having large water containers/carrying bulk water to your aid stations with taps to make it easy for your runners to fill up from, you can cut out the need for disposable cups all together. As long as your marshalls are on hand to help fill up participants bottles to avoid congestion, there shouldn’t be issues. 
  2. Give out collapsible cups/bottles for your race. Although this might add an expense to your event, you could get it sponsored by agreeing to your sponsor's logo on them. Runners can either put collapsible cups or bottles in their pockets while they run, or can attach it to their wrist if it comes with a band. Think of it as a special memento from your race!
  3. NOTPLA water blobs (previously known as Ooho!) are an innovative solution to ‘the future of packaging’, able to serve up on-demand water portions. They’re made out of seaweed and can contain any form of liquid. At races they can act as ‘edible water blobs’, to hydrate your runners in different mouthful sizes of water without any waste left behind. They’re not cheap, however, so will likely require sponsorship. But also be aware that as a small startup they’re flooded with requests and might need some time to get back to you. Its an exciting new proposition for your runners which would make great photo and video content, as trialled at some of Londons largest races. 

Race Merchandise

T-shirts make for great race sellers or freebies to give with your entry. But have you thought about the product's lifetime, or life cycle? Often the reality is, the product isn’t worn more than a couple of times, before it gets thrown away or given to charity. So how can you encourage people to wear something more than once?

  1. Tech T-shirts significantly improves the chances of one of your participants wearing your t-shirt. If it's made out of a breathable material they’ll likely wear it on runs, to the gym and other exercises. This also means you’ll get more bang for your buck in ‘free’ advertising from someone wearing your branded product!
  2. Recycled polyester can be a great material to have your t-shirts made out of. You can calculate the equivalent in plastic bottles or Kg of plastic trash you’re using per t-shirt, which is a great incentive for someone to wear or even buy your t-shirt. There are several manufacturers out there offering this material for bulk t-shirt purchases, although getting your t-shirts made out of this is likely more expensive. But its certainly worth thinking about if you have paid merchandise, or if you have a higher budget to play with. 
  3. Optional race T-shirt could be an option on your entry form for runners who downright know they’re never going to wear their t-shirt again. Most would be willing to save a couple of £ if given the option! You can manage this by giving them a different colour race number so that you know who to give t-shirts to. 
  4. Bamboo T-shirts or other items could also make a nice addition to your merchandise collection! Although more of a ‘premium’ product, runners love trying out new gear. And bamboo won’t leave micro-plastics behind in the wash when you clean it! 

Partner with a Local Recycling and Waste Centre

Sorting and collecting all the waste after your event can be a bit of a logistical nightmare, so its worth putting measures in place so that it self sorts at different stages of your event to make your life easier.

Partnering with a local recycling center can help you do just that, by coming to an agreemenet to use their labeled recycling bins at each necessary location in your race. Examples are ‘plastic’, ‘cardboard’ ‘general’ and ‘cans and bottles’. This will entice the public to do the work for you so that you don’t have to spend hours doing it yourself later, or find you’re taking bags worth of rubbish to landfill. 

Bulk-buy packages

When you bulk buy your medals, t-shirts, signs and more, they often come in some sort of unnecessary packaging. Try asking your provider if they can avoid packaging your items in plastic, as each individual medal and t-shirt doesn’t need its own plastic film. If bulk buying from China, they might offer thin paper layers between medals instead as an option. Amazon is usually quite good when it comes to packaging, with durable cardboard and paper padding which has got the durability you need and degradability you want down the line.

If you can’t find a solution to receiving unnecessary packaging with your items - do not fret. Bag up the bags! 

Water bottle cases and food boxes are shrink-wrapped, ice is supplied in plastic bags, and finisher medals which are double-wrapped in plastic can result in hours of unwrapping fun for the finish line volunteers. It can add up to a lot of waste, by both weight and volume, yet many recyclers won’t accept them.

What to do? Bag ‘em up! As long as the bags and wrap are #2 or #4 plastic (as most are), many stores nationwide will collect them for recycling. See the Plastic Film Recycling website for full details about what types of plastic bags are accepted and where to drop them off.

Recycle Your Race Bibs!

Not everybody wants free wallpaper for their “athlete cave”, and after most events bibs end up in the bin. Or after a couple of days on the Fridge. Just about all race bibs produced today are made from Tyvek, produced by DuPont. And Tyvek is made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), otherwise known as #2 plastic. And #2 plastic is one of the most commonly recycled materials.

If your local recycler won’t accept Tyvek, DuPont will. They’ve set up a network of recyclers, which you can look for online to see which is available for you. Just put your Tyvek in an envelope and mail it to the address relative to you. For larger quantities, they’ll even send you a pouch to put it in.

If you’re running relays as part of your event- you can go a step further with your race bibs! You could really top your efforts to going zero-waste, and assign only 1 bib per team. The bib can be attached to a belt, and each runner can hand off that belt to the next runner. A bib is a small thing by itself, but save 4 bibs per relay team and it adds up. 

Recycling Energy Gels!

Distance runners rely on quick calories, coming in large part from GU, Honey Stinger, and like products that supply a sugary gel in plastic packets. A marathon or ultra can see hundreds of them consumed and discarded. But a used packet is too contaminated with remaining contents to be included with standard recyclables, so all too often they end up in the trash.

TerraCycle has had a program for recovering GU products. But they recently improved the program by allowing gels, chews, drink mix, recovery drink and waffle wrappers from all such brands. It can all be packaged and sent in together. So get with this program, or find a collection center near you. Not only do you reduce race trash, you generate points that become donations to charity! 


Promoting public transport available such as trains and  buses to your race, is an obvious step to reducing emissions and traffic for people travellig to your event. Carpooling should also be mentioned as part of your race communications, so that people can remember to get organised, and not leave things to last minute. 

Paperless Comms

Not using an envelope for your race numbers, and asking runners to arrive a bit earlier to collect them, can save you money and also creates a much greener transaction between you and your participants. Paper tickets and information packs are simply not necessary in this day and age where you can rely on people to regularly check their emails for information!

To help you manage communications digitally, use services like Google Forms to create and share forms and cloud storage like Google Drive to share documents with your participants with the click of a button. This will save your self staffing resources and make for much smoother filing! 

To sum up...

We hope this has given you an idea of the different ways you can create a greener race, avoid unnecessary evils and portray a better image of how your event is doing its bit. Offsetting your carbon footprint can help you save costs in some places, get creative in others, and be responsible business over all. 


On Hand To Help

The team at Eventrac are on hand to assist with all components of your event. From advice on promoting your event through low cost channels such as social media, to a guided tutorial on a specific feature of Eventrac. We are here to help.

Subscribe to our newsletter