Ragnar Relay Race Plastic Upcycling with Vacation Races, Utah – May 2018

In April 2018, Upcycle Santa Fe constructed an Ubuntu-Blox Press for Vacation Races, a marathon race company that hosts races in national parks throughout the country. They reached out to us with the dream of utilizing an Ubuntu-Blox Press at all their future events to deal responsibly with all of the plastic that racing tends to generate (tons of plastic wrappers, cups and bottles).

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In May, we delivered the press to them in Utah and helped them run the waste management program at a large Ragnar Relay race on the edge of Zion National Park. In the course of 3 days, 3000 people came together at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort to run 3 loop trails in teams of 8, each runner alternating for 36 hours straight.

In the first 24 hours we saw nearly all of the available ground at the ranch covered in hundreds of tents, shade structures, and decorative elements to highlight the sometimes hilarious names of each of the 426 teams. Two days later after the last teams had finished, we observed the mass exodus of the runners and their gear, the taking down of the central village (where food, drink and music was served), and the resultant piling of hundreds of bags of unsorted waste materials and recyclables.

Early in the event with the use of clear-stream waste sorting stations around the central village, we were able to achieve an excellent recovery rate with only a very small amount of material labeled as “trash”. With the help of the Ubuntu-Blox Press, we were able to divert and recover 51 trash sacks full of mixed plastics, pressing them into 25.5 Ubuntu-Blox bales. These Ubuntu-Blox will be used to build new structures at Vacation Races compost facility.

With our limited team and limited time, we were not able to recover all of the plastics, nor sort thru most of the random bags to pull out recyclables such as paper or cans. It once again was an opportunity to see how proper waste management is all about pre-sorting of materials. Although signage can go a long way, proper pre-sorting tends to require someone standing at each set of bins, guiding others to the proper bin to throw their wrapper or banana peel in.

All in all for us, it was a great opportunity to share Ubuntu-Blox with a lot of people, and save a bunch of plastic from winding up in the landfill. We operated the press throughout the event with many people dropping in regularly for demonstrations and explanations of how it all works. The director of the event was a roaming MC, walking around and interviewing the folks at the various business stalls, members of the running teams, and others during the event. At one point he came and checked in with us to see what we were up to, then gave a series of announcements about it all, coming back on the mic more than once to say, “These guys are making earthquake-proof building materials out of your plastic waste folks – go check them out!”

Big thanks to Vacation Races for getting us involved in this event, and for making an investment in their future as a zero waste organization!