Race director Dennis Dunn estimates between 600 to 1,000 gallons of trash pile up after Woodstock each year. In the past, he’s bought anywhere between 1,500 and 3,000 plastic water bottles to keep runners, cheerleaders and volunteers hydrated on the hot August race mornings. This year, though, Anniston Runners Club officials won’t be buying all that plastic for their signature road race.
Instead, every runner who finishes the 3.1 miles Saturday will receive a reusable, commemorative water bottle. Water stations will be scattered throughout the event area in front of Anniston High School for people to fill and replenish their souvenir bottles.
It’s a win-win situation, Woodstock public relations director Haley Gregg said: Runners get the keepsake bottles for their participation and race leaders cut down on the amount of post-5K trash.
“We’re still going to have some plastic bottles for volunteers and spectators,” Gregg said. “But we thought this would be a cool way for the runners to come away with a souvenir and help the environment at the same time.”
Anniston Runners Club leaders first became concerned four years ago about the volume of discarded water bottles, paper fliers and plastic bags making their way into trash cans and landfills at the conclusion of the club’s signature road race.
Then, they decided to set out recycling bins at the event and enlisted the city’s help to transport the filled bins to the Calhoun County Recycling Center, Dunn said. That’s worked well to cut down on the trash accumulation. But this year, officials wanted to take environmental efforts a step further.
“You can’t make somebody throw away a water bottle in the right bin,” Gregg said.
Dunn has bought 1,500 commemorative water bottles to hand to runners and walkers as they cross the finish line Saturday. In addition to the reusable bottles, race officials this year are testing out another “green” effort: virtual race bags.
Much of the trash associated with road races comes in the form of paper fliers in goodie bags handed out to participants before the race, according to Phillip Stewart, the editor and publisher of Road Race Management, a national newsletter for race directors.
For example, Gregg said, this year, Woodstock volunteers stuffed 1,500 of these goodie packets with fliers, coupons and other informational leaflets. Most of the time, that stuff ends up in the trash, said Stewart, who organizes the Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom 10K.
“I know when I run, nine times out of 10 I throw 80 percent of my bag away,” Gregg said.
Although Woodstock participants this year will still receive those goodie bags, they also will receive access to online or “virtual” goodie bags.
The day before the race, all of the runners who have registered by Friday morning will receive an email providing a link to their virtual race bag, Gregg said. By clicking on the link, a runner can find special offers and advertisements from the local and national sponsors of the Woodstock 5K.
Race officials hope the virtual bags will do away with a lot of waste by cutting down on all the paper that gets thrown away. This year is something of a test run for the effort, Dunn said. If it’s well-received, the plan is for next year’s Woodstock to do away with plastic goodie bags for good.
“We did our bag stuffing last night, and hopefully, we won’t ever have to do that again,” Gregg said in a Tuesday interview. “I was staring at the table last night, and there was just so much paper and so many plastic bags.”
The efforts to make Woodstock a more environmentally friendly race reflect a national push to reduce the negative impact running and other athletic events have on nature, Stewart said. Four years ago — around the same time the Anniston Runners Club implemented recycling bins at Woodstock — The Council for Responsible Sport formed, setting up criteria for race directors to meet certain environmental standards at their events and certifying those races that followed the guidelines as council-approved, environmentally friendly races.
“That gave this issue some visibility,” Stewart said. “It was a shot in the arm for races, even those who weren’t going for certification, because it raised their consciousness on the issue.”
Woodstock is not certified by the Council for Responsible Sport, Dunn said. But that’s something he’d like to look into for future races.
In the meantime, raising consciousness about the environment is part of the reason Woodstock leaders are implementing the virtual bags alongside the physical ones this year — a measure that Gregg said cost a flat rate of $500.
“The opportunity came our way to do it this year,” Dunn said. “We thought, ‘why not go ahead and get it this year, see the pros and cons and transition to it next year, so we can save a lot of paper.’”
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.