No More Free Gu Energy Gel with Stash Your Trash

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. [broken links removed]) 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.


GUsports will give you 8 GU for 80 empty gel packets
(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.

There are 16 comments

  1. AnthonyP

    Wow – they had this offer around since 1997? I had no idea. I wonder how many empty gel packets they have received since 1997?

  2. Blaine Moore

    I wouldn't stop while I was racing, but I can definitely see how this could be a worthwhile endeavor for folks working an aid station as a volunteer and would have to pick up the trash anyway.

  3. Trail Goat

    Blaine,I'm with you about not picking up gel packets during a road race. I was thinking of volunteers or spectators – many of whom are often athletes themselves.On the other hand, I have picked up trail trash during trail ultras. I distinctly remember picking up gel packets during each of my last two 100 mile races.

  4. Sara

    Gu, if you're reading, send me a case or twenty of gels in appreciation for spreading the word? Har har. (Er, better send Trail Goat a packet or two as well.)

  5. Trail Goat

    Tony,I have inquired regarding the historic scale of the Stash Your Trash program. I'll let you know what I hear.Sara,Now you're thinking! Too bad you can't take part in the Stash Your Trash program up in Canada.

  6. Anonymous

    this program is a joke. what's the cost to mail in 50 gel wrappers? probably not a lot less than the cost of 5 the summer, who wants to store sticky gel wrappers, awaiting the #50? hello, ants?mailing trash across the country? surely there's a better use of trail trash, especially gu wrappers, really an issue? i haven't seen much trail trash in any ultra i've run. at least not in the gel wrapper variety. an occasional drop, but we're not talking about a real're still going to need to order/buy gels from somewhere, so the argument that you get 5 free isn't a great one. buy your gus in bulk and throw your own trash away. it would be different if they recycled them, maybe, but if they are trashing them, what's the point?

  7. Trail Goat

    Hey Anonymous 1,I'll try to figure out how much it costs to send 50 empty gel packets. It might costs less if one lets ants do what ants are good at – eating sugar. ;-)Can't say ants have ever been interested in the empty gel packets that I've forgotten about in my packs, but I'm not sure that bugs could turn down a veritable schmorgusboard definition of sweets!I'm still not sure one way or the other re the overall carbon cost of shipping the gels versus putting off a trip to the store. You are likely right is someone already orders their energy gels online.I've seen more gel wrappers than I'd like on the trail. Obviously, folks should try to not drop them and never drop them on purpose, but it happens. Might as well give folks incentive to reduce the trail trash. Of course, there are lots of other ways to provide that incentive and many folks will take the time to pick up trash anyway.In large part, Stash Your Trash also serves as either a loyalty rewards program (buy 10, get one free) or as a way to get non-GU customers to try GU. Pretty standard marketing as such.I'm not sure if recycling the spent gel packs would change my view much. The packaging weight to content weight is probably a pretty low ratio and given the complexity of the packaging, they might be more energy intensive to recycle than to start from scratch. It would be great if someone were to create individual gel packets that were recyclable or biodegradable.Thanks for the critical view of the program.-Bryon

  8. Bedrock

    I expect some Roctane to arrive this week and I will use at MMT. I have tasted the blueberry pomegranite flavor and that is really good. Will keep you posted.

  9. Mike Mason

    Here's a question… Which is more enviro friendly: Individual gel packets or the big bottles, e.g. Hammer 26 servings, with flasks? Obviously the flasks can be used indefinitely. Question is which survives longer in the landfill, big 26 serving bottle or individual packets? Bottle could be used to hold sofa change or be recycled I believe… Or store grandma's hooch.

  10. Trail Goat

    Mason,What's the concern about time in landfill? Guessing both last a longer than 7 generations. As for recyclability, the gel bottles are likely type 2, thin-necked plastic bottles (can someone check a bottle?), which means they can be recycled almost anywhere plastic is recycled… even in Arlington, VA. Content to packaging weight (including pro-rated external packaging) ratio must also be considered re carbon emissions. Not all gel will be used with either flask or packets … I wonder if there's a greater percentage lost on average with either packaging type. Good thinking, Shenandoah Goat!NoVa GoatPs. Give me a call already – let's talk MMT, baby!

  11. fgump

    The program's been changed. They no longer offer the 5 packs of Gu/50 empties. Now they donate $5 to a charity of their choice, in their name. Just when I had about 60 saved up to send…

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