Being Green

Did you know leaving a cap on a water bottle, milk jug or any other kind of jar you recycle becomes a dangerous projectile weapon at the recycling factory?  Me neither!

I was working on the green team of the WIN For KC Women’s Triathlon 

Green Team sorting the trash in the heat.

July 30 when one of our staff member’s daughters mentioned this wonderful nugget.  We were sorting through the trash, separating it into trash, recycling and compostable.  She noticed we were leaving the lids on the water bottles.  She then proceeded to inform us older folks that if you leave the lids on, they don’t have time to remove the lids at the factory so they just throw the bottles away cancelling out your good deed.  Who’d a thunk!

I didn’t always recycle like I do now.  Or at least we did, but it was a different kind of recycling.  My earliest recollection is probably in the late 70’s, early 80’s when Iowa added the five cent deposit on pop cans.  We really made sure to collect cans to get our five cents back.  I remember bringing in trash bags of cans to Hy Vee and watching the employees count them by hand

Growing up on a farm, we used to separate the cans and glass from the regular trash.  We would take the trash through a pasture and burn it.  Then when the aluminum and glass got full we would drag that down there and burn it too.  You really had to stand back because the glass would explode.  Recently I read burning glass and cans is actually very, very bad for the environment.  It throws very dangerous toxins into the air and the people near the fire, who possibly inhale the fumes, can damage their bodies over time.  Back then, we didn’t have the information we do now, so we had no clue we were damaging our bodies or the environment.  At least I didn’t.

Do you remember the commercial back in the 70’s where the Native American is riding in a canoe and seeing all the pollution.  The commercial ends with a tear rolling down his face.  I remember the commercial.  It was played for Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  Growing up on a farm where I was breathing unpolluted air, I thought man people in those big cities are horrible people.  I thought if I go to a big city like New York or LA there would be trash everywhere.  Well, technically there has been when I’ve visited New York.  It’s piled very high the night before trash day.  Sometimes you really have to watch where you step.

I saw a story a few months ago where a family was so green, a month of trash fit in the palm of their hand.  People are really starting to embrace being “green.”  There are green houses, green companies and even green cities.  There are also green events.

Let me tell you about having a green sporting event.  It is not as easy as you think.  We get people that say “How hard can it be to recycle at your race.”  Or “Why can’t you have recycle bins for all the water bottles you give out.”   When you have 5,000 participants and another 3,000 participants, it’s kind of hard to control what they do.  Or how about our marathon where there are 12,000 participants and over 30,000 spectators and throw in another 1,400 volunteers, you try to corral the recycling.

Green Team stacks the bags of recycling.

For our triathlon, which is one of the top green sporting events in the United States, we have 1,000 participants, around 2,500 spectators and 300 volunteers.  Last year we collected 48 lbs. of trash.  Yes people, only four bags of trash for roughly 4,000 people.  How did we do it?  We started with paperless registrations.  Then we used compostable materials such as paper plates, cups, forks, knives (made out of potato and sugar), trash bags, napkins and even the receptacles they were collected in were recycled or composted.  We reuse our signage.  We also use recyclable products for the bibs.  We asked participants to carpool and even think about camping at the park.  We also ask them to donate old shoes to Soles4Souls.

At the race, we had separate bins for compost, recycle and trash.  Vendors were asked to please not bring anything that couldn’t be recycled and if they did they needed to take it with them.  Once the race was done we gathered every bin and the green team went through EVERY bag.  I’ve been on this team for three years now and it is not pretty.  I am one to constantly say I’m going to vomit and other few choice words that can’t be said around younger ears.  When someone throws away a dirty diaper, dog poo or vomits in a trash bin at a green event, they tend to forget who is going through that bag.  Our event has been silver certified with the Council for Responsible Sport.  We are re-certifying this year and last I heard we were one point away from being gold certified, which would make use one of the top three green events in the nation.  This is huge since three of our staff members work on this event along with a steering committee made up of volunteers.

There are so many wonderful projects and organizations out there making a difference to reduce the waste in our landfills.  Because from what I know about landfills, we are running out of space.  So let me highlight a local organization that I think is making a huge impact on Kansas City.  Ripple Glass.  This idea came from Boulevard Brewing Company who was tired of being part of the problem of glass not being recycled.  In 2009, Kansas Citians threw away 150 million pounds of good glass; this included 10 million empty Boulevard bottles.  They met with local companies and community organizations to create Ripple Glass.  Now there is a state-of-the-art processing plant for the glass and purple glass recycling containers were placed around the city to collect the glass.

Ripple Glass purple bin.

Ripple Glass has taken off so fast they are now placing the purple containers in Jefferson City and Branson.  The Ripple factory is processing glass from all over the region.  A local company converts the recycled glass into fiberglass insulation, saving enormous amounts of energy and dramatically lowering emissions.  There is a business in Tulsa that turns amber glass back into bottles, including the ones Boulevard uses.  And did I say Boulevard is a 100% recycle company?  They recycle everything.  I was at a party in one of their party rooms and they aren’t kidding.  There were no trash cans.  The bartender took the plates and separated everything into the proper bins.

I could go on and on about different ways to recycle.  I know sometimes it seems like a pain and sometimes I want to be lazy.  But every time I go to throw anything that can be recycled into a trash can, it’s like my fingers have glue on them and I just can’t let go of the item.  I just can’t do it.  I hope next time you go to throw away a glass jar or water bottle, you will stop and think about the over flowing landfills, think about the commercial from the 70’s or try to imagine what this planet will look like in 50 years if we didn’t recycle.  See if your fingers become sticky.  Because if everyone threw one bottle away at least once, that is millions of bottles too many.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat