Trash sucks.

When it’s trash left by those who attended your race, it sucks even more.

Don’t people care about the outdoors enough to throw their trash away?

Unfortunately, No.

Some people just don’t care and no matter what you do, every one of your events will have trash.

You will find it in your trash bags, on the ground, and on the ground around your trash bags.

Congratulations on having me at your race!

Now pick up my trash!

Yup, as I said before, trash sucks.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about how we deal with that trash.

The idea that you need to leave a venue the same way you found it, seems like it should be common sense.

However, this is often overlooked by many race promoters until the time comes to actually do it.

I don’t want to sound preachy, but when it comes to making your cleaning efforts appear as if “your race never even happened”, you need to consider how your event fits into your responsibility to clean your venue, your relationship to your community, and your commitment to outdoor ethics.

Not environmentalism, but widely accepted conservationist ethics.

Outdoor ethics mean different things to different people.

I like to leverage the outdoor education of non-profit group Leave No Trace.

Why Leave No Trace?

Because they provide an easy-to-follow framework for outdoor recreation decision making. If you consider my race promoter’s principles, in particular, the principle of “Stay Simple”, then using the Leave No Trace framework will help you keep yourself out of trouble.

Out of trouble?

Yes, out of trouble when it comes to cleaning up after your race.

Although there are seven Leave No Trace principles in total, I think outdoor racing directly intersects with these three principles the most:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Be considerate to other visitors

Here’s how to apply these principles to your clean up efforts:

#1 – Create a cleanup plan and recruit a crew

This directly connects with the Leave No Trace principle of “plan ahead and prepare”.

The principle primarily referrers more to being a Boy Scout in that you should “always be prepared” in the outdoors, I think it also works well with planning how you will deal with your clean-up BEFORE you have to do it.

It is no mystery that the hardest volunteer slot to fill is the cleanup crew.

Everyone likes to be a part of the race when the race is going on.

No one likes to stay after and clean up trash.

Unfortunately, cleaning up trash is a huge part of the race promoter’s event.

Leaving the venue better than you found it is a principle you need to adhere to.

It makes for happy park managers, happy park visitors, and is part of how you give back to your community.

Getting folks to help clean up should be part of your stewardship plan.

You can sell it that way too.

Some people like the idea of leaving no trace.

It’s just the act of actually picking up all that “trace” that gets mixed enthusiasm.

To create a volunteer role that is only there to clean up.

They don’t have to do any setup, work any part of the race, they only need to help with the cleanup.

The cleanup crew should get the best reward too.

This could mean fresh pizza when you’re all done, or maybe even a free race; whatever it takes to get enough help.

Many clubs like to pitch in this way, along with trail advocacy groups. So leverage all the help you can get.

Often, clean-up takes place when things start to get dark. This means you need to have headlamps and flashlights ready, alongside an abundance of heavy-duty trash bags and rubber gloves.

Rubber gloves?

Not all trash is equal.

Some are nastier than others!

A box of rubber gloves will go a long way to keeping volunteers happy when they are doing all this dirty work.

#2 – Pick up all trash

The Leave No Trace principle of “dispose of waste properly” is a no-brainier.

Racers and spectators leave trash.

Soda cans, beer bottles, goo wrappers, and food packaging are all common waste after a race, right alongside discarded bib numbers, tire tubes, water bottles (the good ones), and various other disposable, race-related gear.

Even your volunteers and staff will have trash.

Used duct tape, mistaken waivers, schedules, assignment sheets, and even medical waste from fixing boo-boos and owies.

No matter what the trash, it all needs to find its way into a trash bag.

This is why you need to have trash bags in areas that are easy to see.

Having your own trash cans can be a good way to direct racers towards the correct receptacle.

Tying a trash bag to one of the registration tent legs can work too.

As long as you have at least two or three trash bags visible, most people will use them.

Now for the folks that won’t.

When the race is dying down, and racers are getting ready to go home, it’s time to police all the areas that had people for more than a minute, with a fine-tooth comb.

It will take some time and manpower to make sure this happens, but if you arm your volunteers with enough trash bags, you can make quick work of it.

This includes those areas that spectators like to go to on the course. You know the place, the one where everyone bites it? Yeah, that one!

Spectators will go out of their way to see a crash or watch racers come across the water (water crossings are always good for crashes too).

Trash will always find its way to these places.

A trash bag given to a course marshal, along with their radio, is a good way to help keep these areas under control without having to send people back out to check.

#3 – Sweep the trail while sweeping the course

Sweepers have the duty to make sure they follow the last person in a race and make sure no one is left behind.

Sweepers are part of your emergency response plan, but they can also be part of your clean-up detail.

If you provide sweepers with a trash bag, they can find all those “dropped” wrappers and bottles that seem to fall out of racer pockets during every race.

It always happens, and it will always happen which is why having your sweepers actually “sweep” the course for trash, as well as injured racers, will keep the trail nice and clean.

Those responsible for taking down course marking tape and arrows can also be assigned the duty of cleaning up the trail.

The point is to leave no trace, which includes the entire trail, not just the registration area.

#4 – Cleaning all the other areas

The Leave No Trace principle of “be considerate to other visitors” can mean say “Hi”, share the trail, and don’t mess with other folks on the trail.

Share the trail is a tough one when you’re using to race on. Some people don’t think that means THEY need to share too.

But when I apply this principle to outdoor racing, I see being considerate to other visitors as going above and beyond with your clean-up efforts.

This includes inspecting your parking area, travel trails to-and-from parking to registration, and any other place people might have congregated during your race.

It never fails that after every race I’ve ever been to, the parking area always had trash left behind.

Was it trash left by my racers?

Who knows! And it doesn’t matter.

The point of following the outdoor principles of Leave No Trace is to… wait for it… actually leave no trace!

Shocker!

This will always mean leaving a venue better than you found it.

Even if the trash is not mine?

Especially if the trash is not yours!

If you did your venue inspection before you started setting up, you will know right away what is new trash, and what has been there for a while.

You may also want to decide what the boundaries are of what you will and will not clean up. But that boundary is very flexible.

If trash is visible from your areas, it doesn’t take much effort to get it too.

This means your crew may end up cleaning up dirty diapers and spoiled picnics that had nothing to do with your event.

It is all part of being a good steward of the park and doing what you would like others to do by making it nice for the next people that visit.

Having your extra efforts go unnoticed is also something you need to accept.

The principle of leave no trace is tough to follow, mainly because picking up trash — especially gross trash — is not fun.

However, another objective you need to consider, besides the part of being a good steward, is to do things that will get your race invited back by the park manager next year.

This includes cleaning up areas that your racers might not have visited.

Why?

You will be surprised what park managers and property owner’s notice.

They might not say anything, but they are always impressed when an event cleans itself up well.

An impressed park manager is one that will remember who you are, and why you should be allowed to come back.

Do yourself, and your event, a big favor.

Clean up all the areas you used, and any others that need some love nearby.

#5 – Taking the trash out

A common hiker idiom is “pack out what you pack in”.

The same is true with your trash.

It’s similar to the Leave No Trace principle of “dispose of waste properly”, but when it comes to racing, it extends beyond tape, arrows, and gear.

No matter what your racer turnout is, you are going to create trash.

It could be one bag, it could be five.

It all depends on the day, what took place, and what “other” trash you managed to pick up.

Hopefully, you had a conversation with the park manager or property owner on where trash is supposed to go once collected into bags.

I find it outrageous that some promoter’s think that once it’s in a trash bag, that’s it, and leave it just to the side of where they had registration.

Others think that you can just stack your trash bags by a park trash can and call it a day.

Don’t ever do either of those things.

Ever!

Every local, regional, and national park in the United States has a location for bulk trash.

That is where you need to take it.

Period.

If you leave it stacked up near a trash can, or just in a pile to the side of the parking lot, you will regret it.

Wild animals will be the first to tear into it long before a park employee gets the chance to pick it up.

Wind and weather will do the rest.

It will be as if you just didn’t clean up at all.

Always, always, always take your trash bags with you as you go.

Find those bulk trash bins and put your bags there.

If necessary, take it out of the park and to the dump.

In a pinch, your local trash pickup for where you live can work too.

But make sure you double bag that trash before you transport further than a few miles.

And now you know.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle Bondo is a thinker, podcaster, author, and creative strategy dragon seeking to make a small dent in the universe. He is the founder of Reckoneer, host of the Merchants of Dirt Podcast and Get Lost Racing Podcast podcasts, and an avid adventure racer. As a successful race promoter with over 20+ years in the endurance racing industry, Kyle has helped many race directors and race promoters start and improve their own races so that they too can share their passion for endurance sports with others.