6/26/08 Update: iRunFar reader Mr. Gump has informed us that returning 50 empty gel packets to Gu Sports‘ Stash Your Trash program no longer results in the company sending you 5 free gu energy gel packets. Instead, for every 50 empty gel packets you submit to Gu Sports, they will submit $5 to their designated charity of your choosing. As of June 26, 2008, Gu’s designated charities are: Athletes for a Cure, The Access Fund, The Challenged Athletes Foundation, and The Davis Phinney Foundation. Read on for details about the previous “free gu” incarnation of the Stash Your Trash program.
[Start of original 5/5/08 post] Get five free packets of Gu. That’s right, under Gu’s Stash Your Trash program, you get five free Gu packets when you send Gu 50 empty gel packets of any brand. For every 10 additional packets you send in, you get one more free Gu.
It’s hard to believe, but Gu has had this offer in place since 1997! That’s right, it’s been around for over a decade and no one knows about it… until now! ;-) We here at iRunFar didn’t know about it until helpful reader, Sara, made note of it in the Greening of Gear post in the iRunFar’s Earth Week series. Keep reading to find out more about the program and how to get your free Gu.
To answer Sara’s question “What do you think about Gu’s Stash Your Trash Program?” I think that if it is incentive enough to encourage some individuals to send back their gel packets to Gu rather than leave them on the trail, then it’s at least got a positive for reducing trail trash. [Added 5/7] While mulling over the Stash Your Trash program, I’ve identified two more positive incentives. First, already conscientious trail users may be even more careful not to accidentally drop their spent gel packets. Second, trail users who are fans of the Stash Your Trash program are given extra incentive to pick up gel packets they find while out on the trail.
I have confirmed that the spent packets sent to GUsports are trashed. This fact is not well understood. (See third parties claiming that Stash Your Trash packets are recycled here and here.) Sure, we’d all love for the gel packets to be recycled, but a tangled mix of plastic, metal foil, and carbohydrates likely makes for a recyclers nightmare. [Added 5/7] What Stash Your Trash has done is collect 115,000 empty gel packets since early 2005 and with 15,000 packets collected since the start of 2008, the program looks like its picking up steam. That means in past 3 years or so GUsports has likely kept a decent number of gel packets of pristine single track and rewarded participants with almost 12,000(!) free GU energy gels.
I was initially skeptical regarding pollution/carbon emissions from shipping all that trash to GUsports. On the other hand, so long as the person sending in the packets isn’t making an extra trip to the post office, it might save them a trip to their local outdoor retailer. I’m not about to start weighing the relative carbon emission from mail delivery versus individual trips to the store, so I’ll call it a wash.
While it would be difficult to implement, one way to reduce the concern regarding shipping trash around would be to have collection bins at outdoor retailers. When folks come in to buy gels or other product, a clerk could collect the packets and give out Gu packets on the same 10 to 1 ratio. I’m not sure if a gel company would have more luck partnering with big box outdoor retailers or independents. However, the in-store collection bin would double as advertising and make for good PR.
One innovation could solve a large part of the trail trash problem… and no, I’m not suggesting everyone being responsible for themselves and their trash. I do not ask for miracles. No miracles needed, just UV degradable containers. Although it could have the perverse consequence of more folks throwing their trash on the trail, it would be great if that trash that was left on the trail would breakdown when exposed to the elements. I care much less about the trash that makes it to the landfill.
(Rest in peace, Just Plain.)
For now, anyone in the 50 United States (and, presumably, the District of Columbia) can send in 50 or more empty gel packets and this coupon to redeem your (or others’) spent gel packets for free Gu. Next time you see a gel packet on the trail, see it as a dime. Bend down, pick it up, and put someone else’s lost change in your wallet… or trash bag. (I’m now surprised that I’ve never seen folks pick up used gel packets at major road races.)
Your thoughts on Stash Your Trash? Anyone caught a sneak peak…er, taste of the Gu’s new Roctane product? Oh, that’s a story for another day.