They came Saturday, joining the more than 20,000 spectators lined along Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona and gathered at the finish line of the Ironman World Championship. However, when the triathletes appeared in the chute and their names were announced to the cheering crowd, their attention was directed elsewhere.
“Our heads are usually buried in the trash,” advoCATS President Cathy Swedelius said jokingly. “We’re constantly looking for and collecting recyclables. Or, we’re cleaning up after people and educating them about where to put their trash. We also do a lot of education about who we are, what we’re doing and why. We get a handful of thank yous, and overall, everyone is pretty supportive.”
For at least five years, advoCATS members and its volunteers have monitored and picked up items around the recycle collection sites in the finish line area. Each person works five-hour shifts, spread out from 9 a.m. to midnight on race day, scavenging for recyclables and taking full bags countless times to the storage area. Meanwhile, approximately 1,900 competitors traversed West Hawaii attempting to complete one of the most grueling and celebrated endurance races.
Along the 140.6-mile course, the nearly 5,000 volunteers provided the triathletes more than 235,000 paper cups; 46,600 bike bottles; 20,000 gallons of fluid replacement, cola, water and soup; 66 cases of bananas; 56 cases of oranges; and 55,000 sponges. The event generated a lot of trash, but thanks to volunteers and various community organization, such as advoCATS, more than 95 percent of what was used along the course is recycled, said Roz Butterfield, who has served 10 years as the race’s recycling coordinator.
Aid station and transition area volunteers gathered Saturday all the recyclable plastic, paper and cardboard items, as well as trash. Individuals manning these areas were encouraged to take all the used HI-5 redeemable containers, each worth a nickel, and keep the profits for their group, school, team or charitable initiatives. After the last athlete cleared the bike course, sweep trucks from Kona Trans gathered the items, which filled up two 40-foot shipping containers, Butterfield said.
Sunday morning, advoCATS members and volunteers met at the county’s hot and dusty Kealakehe Recycling & Transfer Station, where they sorted through and recycled the contents of the shipping containers. The enormous task took roughly six hours, Butterfield said. It’s not a glamorous job, but the volunteers do it because they care about the environment and their community. Plus, there’s a reward.
Containers marked with HI-5 were taken to the redemption center, where Business Services Hawaii employees kept a running tab of advoCATS’ earnings.
Besides collecting recyclables around the finish line Saturday and sorting recyclables from the 44 aid stations Sunday, advoCATS also handles the recycling at the awards banquet. For each event, the Ironman Foundation gives advoCATS a $500 grant. The group also gets 100 percent of the nickles from the recyclable bottles it collects, said Cindy Thurston, advoCATS treasurer.
Last year, advoCATS received roughly $3,500, of which $1,500 was from Ironman grants and the remaining $2,000 was its deposit rebate, Thurston said.
“This is a significant amount of money for us. It’s also a major fundraiser that required hard work and lots of volunteers, but no prior preparation,” she added.
The money is used to support advoCATS’ Trap-Neuter-Return Program, which strives to control the over-population of feral cats and maintain good health among the colonies. Spay and neuter clinics are held monthly in Kona and every three months in Ocean View. The group also feeds and cares for feral cat colonies daily; has a no-kill sanctuary; tries to find homes for abandoned kittens; and works hard to protect the rights of feral felines, Thurston said.
Besides advoCATS, local Boy Scouts of America troops help with the recyclables at the other special events, such as the Mahalo Party and a special carbo loading dinner, Butterfield said.
“Both groups are loyal, hard working and amazing. We can always count on them,” she said. “Ironman hopes to be a good role model when it comes to recycling and is dedicated to minimizing its impact on our beautiful island. To do that, Ironman partners with not just these groups, but Business Services Hawaii, Recycle Hawaii, the county’s recycling coordinators and many more. Everyone involved — including the families who work intensely and passionately at the aid stations — take tremendous pride in this effort because this island belongs to them as well.”
Business Services Hawaii provided friendly guidance and assistance throughout the process Sunday morning. Paper cups, cardboard, bags and other plastics were correctly placed in the proper 2-Bin Recycling areas. Bike bottles were emptied of fluids and placed in a separate container. Business Hawaii Services will bale the bottles and eventually ship them via boat to an Oregon processing facility that recycles No. 4 plastics, Butterfield said.
Dirty sponges were piled in an nearby area and later picked up by Recycle Hawaii, a nonprofit educational organization that will clean and sterilize them. The sponges are then given to Habitat for Humanity, which chops them up to be used as filler inside donated furniture, such as sofas and chairs. Once repaired, the furniture is later sold in its ReStores, Butterfield said.
The only item that can’t be recycled are the 21,000 packets of energy gels, added Butterfield, who also pledged to continue looking to avenues to change this.
“We’re not perfect, but we continue to improve every year and set goals to be better,” she said. “Race Director Diana Bertsch is very involved, always supportive and encouraging of our efforts, any changes and our dream to someday say that we recycle 100 percent of all the materials.”