Saturday, November 11, 2006
Stu "Zero Waste" Gillespie
Have you ever dreamed about trash? Probably not. That is party of the beauty of our society. Trash is invisible. It commands neither our attention nor our dreams. That is, until you get hooked on the concept of Zero Waste.
As a professional cyclist, I have always been surprised by the amount of trash generated at cycling races. Usually though, I am on the road and fully focused on racing. And so, I don’t normally have the time for trash talk. However, this past weekend, by helping Team TIAA-CREF/Clif Bar turn two big Boulder cycling races into Zero Waste events, I became fully immersed in trash, to the point where I dreamed about it.
As its name implies, Zero Waste strives to minimize the waste produced at an event. Ideally, through composting and recycling, over 95% of the trash generated at an event can be diverted from the landfill. Achieving this level of success requires planning, dumpster diving, and, most importantly, education.
For the two races, I tried to identify all of the trash generators. For example, I contacted the food vendors to make sure they would not be handing out Styrofoam cups or plastic forks. Instead, I asked all of the vendors to bring compostable dishware. For example, vendors can buy corn-based forks that can be composted. They can also bring paper plates rather than Styrofoam plates. And so, just a few phone calls cut down significantly on the trash generated. That was the easy part.
After setting up all of the Zero Waste Stations on event day, I thought my labor would be over for the day. However, I quickly realized that people were having difficulty putting their trash in the right bin (each Zero Waste Station clearly shows which bin to put your trash in). I think this is because people aren’t yet used to composting and recycling. And so, they get confused, which meant that then I needed to start dumpster diving to sort out the trash.
Maybe I am a trash man at heart. For some reason, it felt good to be correctly recycling and composting everyone’s trash. I particularly enjoyed making sure all of the corn stalks made it into the composting bin. To my surprise, my teammates were just as enthusiastic about trash. During the day, team members who weren’t racing checked on all the stations to make sure the respective compost and recycle containers were not being contaminated with incorrect materials. At the end of both events, Ben Turner, Bryan Smith, and myself would sort through the trash like kids at a candy store. People probably thought we were crazy!
But, the need for us to dumpster dive meant that we were doing a poor job of educating the spectators and our fellow racers. This is the hardest part of Zero Waste: education. More than anything, dealing with your trash is an ethic. First, it requires awareness. Once you start thinking about your trash, you will automatically cut down on it. Then, Zero Waste requires the additional effort of recycling/composting. I agree that it is easier to just throw everything into one trashcan. But, then, you don’t have the joy of choosing where your trash goes. With Zero Waste, you can choose where your trash goes and you can cut down on your footprint. By diverting 75% of the trash over the weekend, we helped conserve a considerable amount of resources. In fact, once all the trash had been counted up, we helped save 700 gallons of water, 930 kilowatt hours of energy, 7 pounds of air pollutants, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, and 2 trees. That is the magic of Zero Waste. It makes something out of trash!
Posted by Team TIAA-CREF / Clif Bar at 3:29 PM