Staying green when the heat is on

Published on October 18th, 2021

One of the dominant events of 2021 was the 75th anniversary of the Thistle Class Nationals in Cleveland, OH. In this report by Paige Myatt for Sailors by the Sea, she highlights how this event focused on more than just the competition:


From July 30 to August 6, the Cleveland Yachting Club hosted the 2021 Thistle Nationals Championship and earned Platinum Level Clean Regattas certification. They hosted 96 boats, fed and entertained approximately 400 sailors and guests each night, and had a team of approximately 100 volunteers working enthusiastically to make this a world-class regatta.

John Yingling and Marylin Hunger were the Clean Regatta organizers for this event. They were supported by fellow Thistle sailors, Cairn Krafft, Mike Ingham, Mary-Pat McNulty, and Danielle Buehler, who were already experienced with the Clean Regattas program.

John and Marylin set out to accomplish as many of the 20 Best Practices as they could. They achieved all 20 and did so in many unique ways. Here are out top three highlights from this event, as well as some valuable insights from members of their Green Team.

To achieve Best Practice #5, Award Practical Items or Use a Perpetual or Upcycled Trophy, the Green Team coordinated with Sea Bags to hold a sail drive. They collected hundreds of sails that will be given a second life and turned into useful items. In return, Sea Bags provided bags made from recycled sails to be given out as awards. Additionally, trophy winners had to opt-in to receive awards, so no material went to waste.

When we say to Publicize Your Sustainability Efforts (Best Practice #6), we usually expect social media posts, email communications, and the like. The Thistles took this best practice to a whole new level when they posted signs about their Clean Regatta efforts in the bathrooms! This was done in addition to communications via email, YachtScoring, and the Bagpipe, their class magazine. They clearly communicated their goal of making a difference for the environment.

To Ensure Proper Waste Bin Placement and Signage (Best Practice #11), their Green Team went above and beyond to make sure the waste stations were clearly and creatively labeled, often with actual examples of what items go in which bin. The Green Team was flexible and learned throughout the event what signage worked best, often adjusting on the fly to unforeseen circumstances.

As anyone who has ever stood at a waste station helping event goers sort their trash knows, you can be met with many confused looks, especially in today’s world of “bioplastics” and “compostable” items. For this reason, a Green Team’s job is becoming increasingly important to help keep waste streams free of contamination, and the maximum amount of material diverted from the landfill.

The Green Team at this event did an outstanding job informing participants of what goes where, but not without some challenges.

The team coordinated compostable dinnerware and commercial composting services with a local company, Rust Belt Riders, in advance of the event. In theory, to clean up after meals, one would be able to throw most everything into the compost bin. However, Green Team member Trudy Hudson, who jumped in to help during the event noted some challenges worth sharing:

“The compostable cups for the beer didn’t get put out right away, so many people were using #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic cups, which look very similar to the compostable cups. Plastic is definitely not compostable!

“Then there were butter wrappers. Butter is an oil, so not the best item for compost. We operated under the general rule, ‘when in doubt, throw it out’ as to not contaminate the recycling or compost bins. However, we would lose the benefit of all the compostable materials if we didn’t take the time to help sailors sort out the few minor questionable items.

“Since we were on shore, we were able to directly ask the compost company, Rust Belt Riders, what was acceptable to be thrown into their compost bins. There was a lot of planning and effort to have the correct items go into the compost. Every item disposed of properly is one less item that may find its way into our waterways.”

Tory Gibb was another member of the Green Team who was recruited onsite to help with waste management. Trudy and Tory, along with other dedicated members of the Green Team, participated in many “dumpster dives” and adjusted signage to help make the three bins more understandable.

“Our hope is that the Thistle Class, each district, each team, and each individual person noticed themselves making a difference and will take this experience with them,” said organizer Marylin Hunger.

“Once you take the time to choose and implement these practices, they become second nature. We know we can implement these practices into our daily lives! Our challenge to all of you is to take it forward and do your part at future regattas, your homes, your neighborhoods.”

• Sustainability Report for the Thistle 75th National Championship, click here.
• To participate in the Clean Class initiative in 2022, click here.
• To learn more about Clean Regattas and register an event, click here.

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