Innovative recycling/composting program earns income for Poudre Canyon Group

By John Gascoyne
Poudre Canyon Group Executive Committee

The problem
: You and your Sierra Club group would like to further the environmental mission of the organization. However, for many reasons, lack of sufficient funding is a huge roadblock in meeting your goals.

John Gascoyne
PCG Executive Committee member John Gascoyne.

The solution: You might consider creating a composting/recycling program patterned after the one that my Poudre Canyon Group (PCG) has been successfully engaged in for the past two years. Like our group, your group could get the environmental message out while bringing money in.

First a little background before I share the nuts and the bolts of our program. In the spring of 2011, I ran into my former dentist, Ron Baker, and his business colleague, Lisa Sinclair. We exchange pleasantries, and then I asked them what was new. Wow, did I get an earful.

Serious long-distance runners, Lisa and Ron are also committed environmentalists. Last year they formed a company called Green Events, which is dedicated to keeping footraces as clean and green as possible. In the process they educate the public on the value of recycling and composting. My friends asked me if PCG would be interested in participating.

Initially my answer was a conditional “yes.” However, what began as a casual conversation soon morphed into a serious business discussion, and I found myself sold on the idea. I learned there are three separate but interdependent components to the program, as follows:

1. Green Events. Ron and Lisa, as part of the local running community, know the various promoters of foot races in their area. Their Green Events objective is to enter into contracts with promoters to have the races as environmentally sensitive as possible. This means that staff at the starting line, along the route, and at the finish line practice the fine arts of recycling and composting, while educating participants and spectators on the desirability of both.

2. Gallegos Sanitation, Inc. (GSI) This essential program player is a savvy and environmentally aware trash company. A locally owned and operated family business, GSI has pioneered efforts in Northern Colorado to promote both composting and recycling. The company’s ambition is to reduce, as much as possible, non-recyclable and non-compostable materials that are bound for rapidly filling local landfills.

3. The Grunts. These are the folks that turn the ambitions of Green Events and GSI into reality, including PCG volunteers. Maybe “grunts” is not the best word; more appropriately we are “freelance garbage sorters.” We are the people who don't mind reaching into a compost bin and pulling out something that should have been recycled─a sometimes yucky experience.

A typical event

A typical event begins when we PCG volunteers arrive at the starting site an hour before the race. When the first runners arrive; we are already there, sporting our custom T-shirts that, on the front, identify us as members of PCG and, on the back, state that we are Zero-Waste volunteers.

Recycling Footrace
Footrace participants learn a new way to recycle and compost at a local race.

The trash company, GSI, will have already delivered a pre-determined number of Zero-Waste stations─fancy sorting bins containing holes that direct discarded matter into the proper containers for composting, recycling, or landfill. We keep fairly close to the stations to ensure that folks drop their discards in the right container (some well-meaning people still need a bit of direction).

Sometimes we have to make split-second decisions, such as where a half-eaten taco wrapped in aluminum foil should be deposited. We decided to try to separate the food from the foil and place each separately into the appropriate composting or recycling container. This can be a bit trying and time consuming when people are lined up, waiting to do the right thing.

When we hear the bang of the starting gun, the runners take off and things quiet down considerably. Now we can do some catch-up sorting and carefully police the starting area. For some races, PCG volunteers on bikes trail the slowest runners and police the entire race course. More PCG volunteers are waiting at the finish line by their Zero-Waste stations. Here their work may be even more demanding in that many spectators, in addition to the runners, congregate.

Later that day, GSI collects and distributes the three categories of discards. Later on, Green Events sends a check to our PCG treasurer. The amount of the check has been pre-determined through friendly negotiations between PCG and Green Events.

Zero-Waste and your group

So, can this model work for your group? Perhaps not as precisely as it does for us, but our experience should provide a good starting point for you. Your first objective would be to find a trash company that is capable of doing the collecting and sorting. If they can’t provide fancy Zero-Waste stations, carefully marked collection bins will do just fine. You should work closely with the company you choose, especially at first, to ensure that collected matter will, in fact, be properly measured and disposed of.

Your second job will be to look for your area’s equivalent of Green Events. As an alternative a small committee from your group should be able to make the necessary contacts and deal directly with race promoters, creating written contracts with them. This program should be applicable not only to foot-running events but also to other sporting events such as bike races. The payoff for your group can be significant.

For PCG, this has been a great group action. We’ve diverted large amounts of material away from landfills, keeping them in the usable streams of composting and recycling. We’ve done a great deal of education along the way, not only for ourselves but for the general public as well.

In only two years, we have gained much public appreciation, contributed significantly to environmental awareness, and earned more income than we probably would ever have from other sources. As we approach the end of our second season of this activity, we look forward to next year.

For more information, or to discuss your group’s potential for this type activism, please contact John Gascoyne (970-221-4316).

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