Maine’s Premier Road Race Becomes Nation's First to Earn Top Sustainability Status

Aug 7, 2017

The Beach to Beacon road race is celebrating its 20th anniversary. But there’s another milestone for Saturday’s Cape Elizabeth race event — it has achieved the highest certification for sustainability.

The Council for Responsible Sport has classified the Beach to Beacon as a zero-waste event, because 90 percent of its waste is diverted from landfills. It was the first major road race in the U.S. to achieve top status.

If you want to achieve top-level sustainability for a big event like the Beach to Beacon, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty.

“I don’t feel like I’ve done my job until I’ve done at least one dumpster dive,” says Bruce Rayner, peering down a dumpster at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, where the race finishes.

Rayner runs the company Athletes for a Fit Planet, and he’s in charge of making the Beach to Beacon environmentally sustainable. At the bottom of the trash dumpster are cardboard boxes, which he’s going to have to fish out and put in the recycling dumpster next to it. There’s also a dumpster for compost.

To ensure as much as possible is recycled and composted, volunteers sort trash that's placed on tables.
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public

It’s a few days before the race, the night of the volunteer dinner, and vegetable and fruit scraps are tossed in. Race-day food scraps will wind up in here too. In fact, 90 percent of the more than seven tons of waste the race generates will be recycled or composted.

To achieve that, it takes a lot of planning and some serious intervention.

“We don’t let anybody throw away their own trash,” Rayner says.

Instead, he sets up tables where athletes and spectators dump their trash. Volunteers sort it into categories: recyclable, compostable, redeemable or garbage. It’s a system that prevents mistakes, and it’s just one example of how sustainability drives every level of decision-making — from choosing T-shirts for runners and volunteers that are made from recycled plastic and buying compostable cups for water stations to stocking recycled toilet paper in port-a-potties.

“One of the other key initiatives that we’re very proud of is our relationship with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. And we’ve established a free bike valet service for runners, volunteers and spectators to use,” Rayner says.

That cuts down on the race’s carbon footprint. To be carbon neutral, Rayner measures the travel for participants, the use of operations vehicles and even the emissions released from the race’s compost, then buys carbon offsets from a company in Vermont.

Volunteer Francisco Rodriguez breaks down boxes for recycling.
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public

Sustainability also extends to social issues. Water bottles come from Poland Spring, just 40 miles away. After they’re used, they’re collected and redeemed, with the proceeds go to a local charity.

“They really deserve applause, kind of pats on the back for this. Because no one is asking them to do this,” says Shelley Villalobos, managing director of the Council for Responsible Sport, which awarded Beach to Beacon “Evergreen” certification in December, its highest-level award for sustainability. “TD Beach to Beacon qualified as a zero-waste event by really meticulously calculating and tracking and sorting all of the materials that were coming through the event.”

It didn’t happen overnight. For the past five years, the race has worked its way from silver certification to gold, and then evergreen. Rayner says it’s the commitment of volunteers that help make it possible.

“I come in all the way from New Jersey to do this every year,” says Francisco Rodriguez, breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling the night of the volunteer dinner. He runs and volunteers in races across the US. The Beach to Beacon, he says, is a standout.

“This race is the best one. They recycle everything, they do compost. They recycle everything. It’s just amazing,” he says.

As Rayner puts it, sustainability is part of the race’s DNA, which he attributes to its founder, Joan Benoit Samuelson.

“I really see prevention being to health what conservation is to the environment,” he says. “Running brings those two things together in a way that makes a lot of sense. The two are really inextricably linked, especially for those of us who are out there playing and working in the environment on a daily basis.”

The Council for Responsible Sport will invite the Beach to Beacon into its “Inspire” program, so it can mentor other sporting events. Samuelson says once someone sets the pace, others are apt to follow.

This story was originally published Aug. 4, 2017 at 5:09 p.m. ET.