The Portage Cross Country Race Passes Its Green Test


The Portage Invite in Portage, MI is the largest annual cross country race in the US. In addition to being a stern test of distance running, it also served as a test of the viability of recyclable cups for use at major road races. GreenSportsBlog previewed the test here. Early returns from the October 10th race demonstrate that The Portage–and the recyclable cups–passed the test. 

Who woulda’ thunk it that a significant step forward in the Greening of Sports could take place in a small town near Kalamazoo, Michigan?
Well, on a crisp autumn Saturday two weeks ago in Portage, 10,000 recyclable cups were set out for thousands of thirsty cross-country runners as they crossed the finish line at the Portage Invite, the largest cross country race in the US. The cups, which were developed and donated by LBP Manufacturing, replaced polystyrene foam cups that were landfilled after previous events. After the runners had quenched their thirst, the cups were collected in large yellow troughs, and then delivered to a mill operated by Graphic Packaging in nearby Kalamazoo.

The start of The Portage Invite in Portage, MI on October 10. (Photo credit: James Buck, MLive)

The cup design had passed a recyclability protocol developed by Western Michigan University (WMU), which served as a quality control test to provide the Graphic Packaging staff with the confidence that the cups could be expected to perform well in their liner-board mill. The cups were successfully run through the mill’s process and then manufactured into the finished paper product.
“It was great to see that cups can be recovered at the scale of road races.” said Matt de la Houssaye, Director of Global Green USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR). Global Green is a Santa Monica-based non-profit that pursues positive, macro impacts through the implementation of water, energy and waste efficiency programs. Its CoRR unit identifies and promotes effective waste diversion technologies and programs by conducting pilots, a la The Portage, as well as related research.
While the pilot was a success, de la Houssaye knows “more work is needed for the broader acceptance of paper food packaging.” And, according to Mike Farrell, Vice President of Graphic Packaging, that work needs to take place on a larger scale than even The Portage can offer: “We require…a higher sampling rate to confirm the quality of any tested materials.”
Farrell Graphic Packaging

Mike Farrell, Vice President, Graphic Packaging (GPI). GPI operates the mill that manufactured the recycled cups for The Portage. (Photo credit: Graphic Packaging)

Back to the Portage Invite…Parents, students, volunteers, and race organizers at the event were thrilled that the event participated the recycling pilot. “We are very proud to have been a part of this project, and we want to continue to support the use and recovery of recyclable cups,” said Matt Swanson, the Portage Northern High School Cross Country and Track & Field Coach and one of the organizers of the race. “We want to be a model for other events and races to use recyclable packaging, and show that it can be done. It supports local jobs, it keeps our landfills from filling up with good material, and it helps keep our environment clean.” Amen!
The recyclable cups are commercially available and are clearly designed with sustainability in mind. And LBP Manufacturing is committed to scaling up the deployment of the green cups, at running events and far beyond. “We look forward to continuing to work toward getting all foodservice packaging recovered,” said Thomas Fu, the company’s Vice President of Global Innovation. “Our customers want to have a positive impact on our shared environment, and we want our current and future products to be a part of reaching that goal.”
If Global Green, Graphic Packaging and LBP Manufacturing want to scale up the use of recyclable cups, a great way to do so would be to put the cups to the test at a major, urban marathon, as many more runners take part and the length of the race means more cups/runner than at a cross country event. It’s too late to get the cups into this year’s New York Marathon, which takes place this Sunday. But the 2016 Boston Marathon, which is run the 3rd Monday in April, would be a great, high profile place for such a test.

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Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
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