2017 Philadelphia Marathon Achieves Zero Waste

If you’ve experienced the Philadelphia Marathon in the past few years, either as a participant or a spectator, you probably think first of the crowds. One of the largest marathons in the country, the Philadelphia Marathon draws nearly 100,000 people to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway each fall. With all those people comes a lot of waste: thousands of pounds of water bottles, banana peels, and energy bar wrappers.

In 2017, the Philadelphia Marathon achieved Zero Waste — 90 percent of the waste generated over the course of Marathon Weekend was diverted away from the landfill through recycling, composting, reuse, and donations. Some of the marathon’s sustainable initiatives include composting food waste and water cups, collecting and donating warm up clothing and sneakers, and melting down and recycling excess runners medals.

More than 17 tons of waste were generated at this year’s event, which took place on the weekend of November 18th-19th:

  • 2.14 tons of compost sent to the Fairmount Park Organics Recycling Center
  • 5.56 tons of recyclables brought to the Republic transfer station for recycling
  • 0.71 tons of extra medals recycled for future events
  • 2.52 tons of unconsumed food and drink donated to Philabundance to feed the hungry
  • 3.5 tons of clothing donated to local organization Chosen 300 to benefit people in need
  • 0.979 tons of sneakers donated to Perpetual Pumps
  • 0.6 tons of wooden pallets saved to be donated and recycled
  • and just 1.81 tons of trash were generated

For the first time in 2016, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (PPR) hosted the marathon, which in years past was held by the City Representative’s Office in partnership with PPR and private consultants. Implementing sustainable waste management practices at such a large-scale event requires much planning and coordination. Over 140 volunteers from the Philacycle Program made the marathon’s 90 percent waste diversion rate possible by helping to educate event attendees on how to properly sort their recyclables, compostable materials, and trash.

Philacycle is the Philadelphia Streets Department and Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet’s outreach and community engagement program and the result of a merge between the Office of Sustainability’s Waste Watchers Program and the Philadelphia Recycling Rewards Program. As Philacyclers, residents can choose to participate in a Philacycle “Captain” program that trains them on organizing clean ups, educating community members about Zero Waste practices, and volunteering at events. Through Philacycle, residents earn rewards and incentives for taking these actions and for learning about waste and recycling online.

At the marathon, trained Philacycle Captains and volunteers gathered at Eakins Oval to help event attendees sort their waste. Waste was separated into color-coded bins: brown bins for trash, blue bins for recycling, and green bins for compost. Over 50 three-bin systems were placed in strategic locations and were monitored by trained Philacycle volunteers. Each volunteer was given a special cheat-sheet used to educate and engage event attendees on recycling and composting best practices. Special thanks to the Philacycle volunteers who helped to make this year’s Philadelphia Marathon a sustainable event!

“We are incredibly excited that the marathon reached Zero Waste this year,” said Philadelphia Zero Waste and Litter Director Nic Esposito. “It would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of Streets Department and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation staff, who are already strategizing how to further reduce waste at next year’s event, and the many volunteers who helped to educate attendees on how to properly dispose of their waste. We are looking forward to continuing to provide information and resources to event organizers to reduce waste at events of all sizes in Philadelphia.”

Reducing waste at events is one of the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet’s strategies for progressing toward Zero Waste in the city of Philadelphia. Through the Zero Waste Events Program, the Cabinet has in partnership with the Managing Director’s Office’s Special Events Office modified the City’s Special Events Permit to require recycling at all events that require a permit and has developed recommendations and resources to help event organizers implement Zero Waste practices.

Learn more about the Zero Waste Events Program and what resources are available to event organizers.

Banner Photo: Philadelphia Parks & Recreation ©

Philacyclers monitoring the three-bin waste systems

Philacycle volunteers at the Marathon

Philacyclers educating attendees on recycling and composting best practices

The three-bin system: blue for recycling, green for compostables, and brown for trash

A Philacycle volunteer helps attendees properly sort their waste

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