Posted by: Shauna Farnell
In case there’s any question about the GoPro Mountain Games’ commitment to the environment, talk to volunteers spending hours hand-sorting thousands of pounds of event trash. That happens after organizers make every possible effort to divert waste during the Mountain Games.
The GoPro Mountain Games has a dedicated history of environmental stewardship and educating participants and visitors to do their part to protect the planet, especially the stunningly beautiful corner of it here in the Vail Valley. For summer 2022, the event is going extra big toward the goal of leaving as light of a footprint as possible, giving back to the land and water and preserving this playground for years to come.
“The Mountain Games has grown and the need to protect our playground is more important than ever,” says Peggy Wolfe, Senior Director of Operations for the Vail Valley Foundation and the GoPro Mountain Games. “It’s our obligation that the event benefits these rivers and lands, whether it’s through trash diversion, recycling, composting, eliminating single-use containers, river cleanup or education.”
Last year, following a 2020 hiatus due to COVID-19, the GoPro Mountain Games diverted 81.5% of its waste – more than 7,000 pounds – to compost or recycling. Organizers are aiming for at least 85% waste diversion this summer with its trash stations (Zero Hero tents) delineating receptacles for recycling, compost, liquids and landfill that are staffed with Walking Mountains Science Center volunteers to educate the public on which item goes where and why. Not only that, after the Mountain Games wrap up, the volunteers will once again spend hours sorting through the trash to ensure that items are diverted accordingly.
“All of our trash in every one of our venues goes to a sorting station and gets hand-sorted,” Wolfe says. “Walking Mountains is out there. It’s a massive resource and tons of labor, but that’s the only way we get the best results.”
That’s where education is key, so the thousands of visitors attending the Mountain Games can take what they learn back home with them and help protect and preserve their own playgrounds.
“People at the Mountain Games come from all over and not everywhere has access to things like composting,” says Walking Mountains Sustainability Programs Associate Amelia Kovacs. “We’re introducing them to the idea that the majority of the waste here is compostable – organic material which, when in a landfill, releases methane that is a direct link to greenhouse gas [causing global warming and climate change]. So, the more organic waste we can pull out and divert from the beginning, the better.”
Oftentimes, people are confused about what items can be recycled or composted. This summer, Walking Mountains volunteers are training every Mountain Games staff member and volunteer they can so they can, in turn, educate individuals about putting each waste item in its proper place not only at the Mountain Games, but everywhere they go, passing that wisdom on to their own circles.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as telling someone that a plate might look like plastic, but it’s actually compost,” says Walking Mountains Sustainability Programs Manager Nina Waysdorf. “Another part of our service is supporting vendors, so they take out their waste and make sure it goes into the right stream. This year, Amelia has done an awesome job with preliminary talks with every vendor to hit all points of communication and make sure sustainability is at the forefront of everything that happens here.”
Environmental checklists for vendors
There are more than 120 vendors that set up booths at the Mountain Games and organizers implement extensive guidelines to ensure that each is playing a role in the event’s environmental stewardship goals.
“The vendor outreach is something we’ve tackled with all hands on deck,” Kovacs says. “We work with each one to make sure they have divertible waste and signage for attendees. We don’t want to come and find out everything is Styrofoam. Sometimes it can be confusing to find the right sustainable materials to purchase, so we help with that end of the education as well.”
While partner brands like Nature Valley have begun using recyclable snack wrappers and TINCUP Whiskey uses compostable sample cups, a major sponsor like YETI has been instrumental in the Mountain Games’ sustainability efforts. Famous for producing high-quality products built to last a lifetime, YETI has supplied the Mountain Games with massive water tanks and taps so attendees can refill and rehydrate using their own bottles and containers.
No single-use plastics
“With the surge of single-use containers, not to mention masks and other non-divertible trash, COVID-19 was no friend of the environment,” Wolfe points out. “The YETI water hubs are coming back. We’re saying no to single-serve plastic bottles and absolutely encouraging people to bring their own containers.”
In addition to doing all it can to clear its path and leave no trace, a portion of select entry fees will benefit the U.S. Forest Service. Also, the GoPro Mountain Games are partnering with Eagle River Watershed Council to rally athletes, locals, visitors and as many volunteers as possible to participate in a river clean-up on Sept. 10.
Do your small part
“People might say, I’m not a river person. Why would I clean up the river? It’s all about giving back. Don’t be afraid to participate in your own way,” Wolfe says. “Clean up I-70. Spend a few minutes picking up trash from your favorite trail. The concept is simple. Be passionate about where you play and take care of that land. Whether you pick up one piece of trash or are out for the full day, it makes an impact. When everybody does their little part, it makes a big difference.”
Going to the Mountain Games? Here are simple ways YOU make a difference:
- Bring your own water bottle
- Use human-powered transportation or public transit to get here and to get around
- Dispose of waste (including liquids) in one of the Zero Hero tents
- If you have a dog, dispose of dog waste in designated dog waste cans and be sure to securely close and knot poo bags
- Volunteer at the Mountain Games
- Sign up for the river clean-up on Sept. 10
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