The GoPro Mountain Games is taking steps in the right direction, but it will take support from all our spectators, athletes and vendors to meet their extraordinary goals.
Article by Sophia Gianfrancisco from Walking Mountains Science Center for the Vail Valley Foundation.
It’s the first day of the Mountain Games and the streets are humming with people. We get to Vail Village and meet at Checkpoint Charlie near the Lodge at Vail. It’s our first group meeting to prepare for a weekend full of sorting waste, a task that’s part of a much larger picture.
Eagle County has a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025. Since landfills produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, there is some urgency to divert waste at these larger events. Last year we (as in, the GoPro Mountain Games Zero Waste team led by Walking Mountains Science Center) sorted 14,503.8 pounds of waste and diverted 10,877.9 pounds from going into our local landfill. This equates to reducing 18.75 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and taking 48 cars off the road.
We’re back to do it again. We review the map of the event and the schedule. Someone calls dibs on Dog Town and then everyone disperses to set up our Zero Waste stations. We chat with vendors and sponsors along the way and explain that this is a Zero Waste event. For some, it will be their first time and for others, they know the drill and break down their cardboard boxes to be recycled and throw away the plastic wrap. We let them know what they have that is compostable, recyclable and trash, and encourage them to let guests know about the sustainability of their products. Once every sponsor is set up with their personal waste stream and every station has been staked in, we are ready.
We begin with education. At a Zero Waste Station our team helps guests to properly dispose of their waste. If they just went to Rocky Mountain Taco’s food truck to scarf down some delicious Hippie Crack (which is, by the way, the name of a really really yummy taco), we let them know that their paper tray and napkin are compostable. Intrigued, they may ask “why” or “where does it go?” — in which case, we would respond letting them know about the compostability of the product. Things made from natural materials or “once living” can be accepted at our local compost facility. Here, it will get processed and turned back into soil in about three months’ time.
Once the event is over, we all meet in the loading dock, where the park crew will drop off every bag from every vendor, sponsor and station. From there, the sorting continues. We tear those bags open and pull out contaminants. It’s important to us that we have clean streams of recycling and compost. While sorting recycling, we keep our eyes peeled for plastic bags and gloves because we know how much trouble these things cause our facilities. Imagine the plastic bag as if it were a shoelace that got caught in a vacuum cleaner, but the plastic bag causes 10 times the problem and there is a much greater financial stake for our facilities.
When it comes to compost, we are careful to sort correctly. We always err on the side of waste because a small contaminant can disrupt the entire load. If a plastic cup were to end up in our compost it would not break down. It would disrupt the compost process and would have to be picked out. Without source separation and education around what materials go where, our compost could get really messy really quickly.
The very last thing we do is weigh every bag of recycling, compost and trash. This tells us our diversion rate, which we can then share and celebrate. In 2018 we had a diversion rate of 75 percent. This means that 75 percent of waste generated from Mountain Games was diverted from the landfill by recycling and composting! It is no easy feat, but our team is passionate and determined to create a healthier and more sustainable community.
Please join us in supporting this effort! Please sort your trash correctly at our event, or better yet, volunteer to be part of the team by contacting the Walking Mountains Science Center at www.walkingmountains.org.