Monday, October 15, 2007

blog action day 2007: race day trash

i'm writing this on behalf of Blog Action Day (reference: it's being promoted by Blogger, and it seems like the kind of thing that i'm interested in supporting, so i figured i'd go ahead and participate. Blog Action Day is an annual event, and is hopes to bring global attention to a specific issue (a new one chosen each year) by having all participating bloggers write a post on their blog on the selected topic on the same day. for this year, it's the environment.

for my part, i was originally planning to write about "zero carbon footprint" or "carbon neutral" triathlon races (for carbon neutral in general, reference: Wikipedia: Carbon Neutral). this involves reducing the amount of carbon-related wastes produced by triathlon races (including greenhouse-increasing emissions). but this is a topic that seems to be generating momentum on its own, with a lot of impetus coming from Clif Bar (reference: Clif Bar: Our Story, Environment) through its affiliation with a growing number of races.

as a result, i figured to focus on something that was getting less attention, but which was 1) equally as reprehensible and in need of mitigation, and 2) within the immediate sphere of action for most of us as athletes. i'm pretty you sure you can deduce this from the picture at the top: trash. specifically, trash at races.

i used to think that the trash that piles up at races was just a part of racing, that the act of dropping used cups, empty gels, consumed fruit, and random equipment was an endemic part of competition on race courses extending over public waterways and streets. it seemed reasonable--the entire point of racing was to compete, meaning go as fast as you can, which in turn meant that there wasn't time to look for trash cans and then make the concentrated effort to stop and drop garbage off in them.

but lately, i've started to think otherwise.

it wasn't an overnight decision. it was more just a gradual sense of discomfort over seeing the raw quantity of trash that piled up at each race i entered, particularly as i started to stay the day after each race and got to see the amount of work involved in cleaning everything up. the amount of garbage was profound. and it wasn't just in readily accessible urban streets, but also on rural roads and country trails, in locations that were ostensibly parks or even protected natural lands.

a number of things began to bother me:
  • the level of waste is completely out of proportion to the level of competition. by this, i mean that it seems the only people who could be excused for throwing trash on the race course would be professionals and some elites whose livelihoods depended on their velocity and finishing time. for the rest of us, there just isn't that much at stake to justify defacing public property (i.e., if the only thing at stake is your own ego, then how does that weigh against the money that has to be spent to clean things up?)
  • if you're going to walk (or run) through an aid station to get energy drink, water, gels, fruit, etc., then it shouldn't be too hard to walk (or run) to the trash can at the aid station to drop off the garbage. seriously, it's only a few meters. it's not that hard. and even if you're on a bike, it's not that hard to slow down to drop your refuse at the trash bin. it's only a few seconds, and the vast majority of competitors are not going to have their livelihoods threatened by losing a few seconds to maintain a clean environment (i.e., again, if the only thing at stake is your own ego, then it's immaterial compared to the few seconds it will take to properly dispose the refuse you are holding in your hands)
  • even if race fees go towards cleaning up garbage, and hence offset the public taxes expended on the problem, this still creates the subsequent issue of race organizers increasing race fees...just like any business, they're going to pass on the costs (race day trash collection) onto their consumers (competitors). in which case, as a consumer, i'd prefer to save some money and try to see if costs (trash) could be decreased
  • it doesn't seem limited to race day. i'm seriously starting to suspect that competitors who are lackadaisical about throwing trash on the course during a race are also people who are just as lackadaisical about throwing trash on the streets on normal days...their carelessness seems habit-forming
  • it seems entirely contrary to the notion of athletics to be so careless about garbage. athletics is supposedly about values like commitment and discipline. but there's not much commitment and discipline in simply dumping garbage on the race course
  • this was (and is) the kind of behavior that on normal days would be considered littering, which in most places is a crime involving a fine (and in some extreme cases, more)
  • it's ugly. it's nasty. it's disgusting
it's because of this that in recent years i've started to make a more concerted effort in how i deal with my trash during races. i've begun to follow 2 strategies:
  • pack-in-pack-out: this is a hiker's rule held by backpackers camping in the wilderness. it's a general principle meant to preserve the natural world in a pristine state so that its ecology can continue without any more human disruption than necessary. it's also meant to keep things in a way that other people can enjoy it after you've left.
  • aim for the trash can: i figure i can hold on to my trash until i spot a trash can, and which point i can save other people's energy by being responsible and disposing my own garbage into the trash bin. it's not that hard, and i figure it's the least i can do for all the work that race organizers, volunteers, and local communities do in hosting me.
i know i'm just 1 person doing this, but it always makes me feel better to know that i'm doing something constructive. and i always get seem to get confirmation from a race volunteer, a race organizer, a city official, or even public service worker who invariably thank me for my efforts.

i don't proselytize to anybody else. i figure it'd just be 1) annoying, and 2) make me out to be some kind of arrogant holier-than-thou lunatic. besides, i'm usually too tired to even talk. still, i hope that it sets an example, and that maybe somebody else in the race might see me and be inspired to follow my lead.

somebody like you.
Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day


Unknown said...

LNT - Leave No Trace. Way to stay on top of things Jon!

jonathan starlight said...