Zero Trash Tolerance

The Swedish cross-country ski race Vasaloppet holds many accolades, including it being among the oldest (celebrating its centenary in 2022) and longest (90 km) in the world. With nearly 70,000 participants, it is also the world’s largest. This popularity, however, has led to an increasing headache for its organizers – trash.

Vasaloppet crosses over 900 private properties and the track itself is protected as a nature reserve where littering is strictly forbidden. Over 15 tons of paper cups are used at the water stations along the track, and to save time the competitors have previously simply thrown the cups on the ground.

Now the time for politely asking competitors to stop littering is over: Skiers beware the Vasaloppet’s newest hazard, the time penalty. During the 2017 competitions, contestants were penalized with 15 min to their final time if caught littering outside of the “throw zones” along the track.

“With the throw zones, proper disposal of the litter is not a challenge, it’s just a matter of getting used to it,” explains Mats Ryland, Environment Manager at Vasaloppet.

The results went well beyond expectations, with an estimated 90% reduction in litter and only four competitors penalized. In addition, all paper cups are then recycled.

“Feedback from competitors has been positive,” says Mats Ryland.

Now with just 10% standing between Vasaloppet and its zero-litter goal, they intend to double-down during winter 2018 by enlisting a small army of volunteers equipped with cameras to catch the last remaining litterers in the act.

Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse