Running is good for people. It should be good for the Earth, too! Click the photo for a video that shows what Happy Planet Running is all about – and how the Can’d Aid Foundation can help you get started with a Zero Waste program!
This site promotes and supports running events that are environmentally friendly, energy frugal, and as waste-free as possible, while providing a great experience for everyone involved – runners, spectators, and volunteers.
Sound good? Are you hooked? Browse this site and find out what’s happening with sustainable running. And if you know something we don’t, please give us a holler and enlighten us!
A 5K on Mother’s Day to promote fitness, fight cancer, and celebrate motherhood ought to be equally respectful to our planet. And the event’s Green Team was equal to the challenge, putting in an effort we hope our Moms would be proud of!
Morning, Friday, May 10. It was cool in Ann Arbor. While getting ready for the Hightail to Ale 5K that evening, I received a text from the event director regarding the recycling rolloff I’d ordered:
“Hey Jeff, no dumpster on site”
So in a few hours we’d be serving several thousand runners food and beer, and we had nowhere to put hundreds of pounds of recyclables. It was time to implement my carefully thought-out contingency plan. Or scramble like hell. Or panic.
Which of the above did I choose? And how did it turn out? All is revealed below!
While I was holding down a Zero Waste station last weekend, someone approached me holding a small bag of dog poop and looking confused. “I can’t find a trash bin anywhere,” he told me.
I assured him that was the idea.
For this was Trail Marathon Weekend, which has been Zero Waste since 2016, and we don’t generate enough trash to need a bin. The bag went into a 5-gallon pail, which comfortably held all the landfill waste from the entire two-day event. And this year we went cupless, too! How did that go? Read on!
What a difference a year makes! From the freezing rain in 2018 to a cool, sunny day in 2019, conditions were much improved for both the runners and the people working the race.
The Zero Waste team also benefited from the great weather and more experienced help. While last year the sorting had to be cut short and a lot of bags were sent to trash, this year we were able to process all the waste and drop the landfill portion to below ten pounds! Read on to see how we did it, and the few challenges we faced.
All right, I’m just going to come out and say it right here.
I failed my first cupless race.
Yes, me. Mister Zero Waste, owner of an event sustainability company and decrier of our current throwaway society. Here I will confess all, so you can learn from my sad experience and avoid similar shame.
To be fair, I did not fail the actual race, just the cupless part. If you’d like to, you can read about how my race went on my personal blog (RunBikeThrow) at this link.
The Potawatomi Trail Races take place every April at McNaughton Park in Pekin, Illinois. The runners follow a ten-mile loop along the park’s trails, which feature some lovely steep climbs, quad-killing downhills, and a couple of creek crossings for good measure. You pick your poison – from 10 to 200 miles – and then run the appropriate number of loops within the 72-hour race window (Thursday through Sunday). I was there to run the 50-miler and find out what I could do to help the event go Zero Waste.
The day before my race I volunteered at the base camp aid station and introduced myself to the director of volunteers and the race director, who were both interested in making the event more sustainable. In fact, for 2019 they were trying two waste reduction ideas for the first time.
For one, the race was cupless! Every runner got a flexible silicone cup to take along on the trail. Most trail runners carry their own water bottle or hydration pack, so the cup was for when they also wanted soda or an electrolyte drink. This way the aid stations didn’t have to put out and throw away hundreds of waxed paper cups.
In addition, a City of Pekin recycling bin had been set up at base camp next to one of the trash cans. It was clearly marked, but some non-recyclable material had been tossed in, and some recyclables (water bottles, etc.) had been put in the trash. I sorted it out.
A bit later I met the guy who’d arranged for the recycling bin. Like me, he wanted to help the race reduce its trash, but he didn’t have time to supervise the bin, and no one else knew what belonged in there. I made a sign listing what was recyclable, and kept the bin sorted while I worked the aid station. But after my race on Saturday I noticed it was gone. The race director told me the bin had been too contaminated. Something they can improve for next year.
But I failed as well. I hadn’t intended to. I carried a handheld water bottle, and the electrolyte drink they had doesn’t agree with me, so I brought Gatorade to drink at base camp after each loop. With those bases covered, what did I need a cup for? So I left it at base camp.
During the race I developed stomach trouble. Ginger ale sometimes helps, and the aid stations on the trail had some. Problem was – I hadn’t brought a cup for it. Fortunately, they had a few waxed paper cups under the table for this kind of situation. Feeling guilty but grateful, I accepted one, drank my ginger ale, and threw the cup away. This happened twice more before I finally got smart enough to fold up the waxed cup and put it in my pocket for future use. (Sigh. Either ultrarunning messes with common sense, or lack of common sense leads to ultrarunning. Not sure which.)
But as the race will improve its sustainable practices, so will I. That silicone cup will be in my pocket at my next trail race, which is also cupless. And I’m working Zero Waste at it, too. Must set a good example so I can scowl disapprovingly at those who don’t.
What’s one way to clean up Ann Arbor? Hold a marathon!
For this year’s Ann Arbor Marathon, the Zero Waste effort not only left the start/finish area cleaner than we found it, we did the same with the course! From a Saturday plog to a true team effort on Sunday, we “greened up” our fair city, taking trash off the streets and parks, and recycling and composting race waste– a total of over 900 pounds! Read on to see the photos and learn how we did it.
Spring bike races are almost guaranteed to generate a lot of dirty cyclists, and such was the case last Saturday. But the Zero Waste team kept the grounds clean and finished the day without enough trash to fill a swag bag. Read on to find out how we did it!
It was a cold, wet morning in Ann Arbor, but over a thousand brave souls turned up to run a 5K (and drink beer), and some equally brave kids ran a 1K (and ate ice cream). The Zero Waste team had to do its best to stay reasonably dry and warm while making sure the boxes, bottles, cups, and food waste ended up where they belonged.
Did we keep the race “green” in keeping with St. Paddy’s Day tradition? Sure’n we did! Read on for details, ladies and laddies!
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Sustainability Report: Shamrocks & Shenanigans 2019
Date: March 10, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Downtown Ann Arbor, MI
# Attendees: 1,200 runners, with about 100 spectators and staff
Zero Waste Team members: 5
Landfill waste consisted mostly of the ice cream cup tops (waxed paper), some plastic material too contaminated to recycle, and tape. Special recyclables (for TerraCycle) included disposable gloves, discarded race bibs, hand warmers, and costumes.
Shamrocks & Shenanigans is a St. Patrick’s Day-themed race in downtown Ann Arbor. The main event is a 5K, and a 1K kids race is also offered. The event ends in the parking lot of an Irish pub, with a beer garden set up for the thirsty finishers. For the younger set, there was orange juice and ice cream.
Sources of race waste include finish line water bottles and food, cardboard from the boxes of medals and pint glasses, and plastic wrappings from the finisher medals. Beer garden waste is managed by the pub.
Zero Waste Plan
Due to windy and wet conditions, we used rubber “Slim Jim” bins instead of Zero Hero tents. We set up three stations in the parking lot; at the end of the food table, at the Ground Zero pavilion (in the parking lot near the finish line), and near the vendor tents. The food table received a pail for disposable gloves and other waste that could not recycled or composted. Plastic wrap from the medals was collected prior to race start.
Post-race food was minimal – bananas, bagels, and ice cream cups (which, rather surprisingly, got used up).
We did not set up stations or cover City trash bins in the starting area at Main and Liberty, as not much waste is generated by the runners there. Instead, two Zero Waste team members swept the starting line area, picking up waste found in the street and sidewalks. (Most of what we collected was likely not from the runners, but it was recoverable.)
We received a six-yard recycle dumpster and two 96-gallon compost carts from the City. We covered the carts to avoid having them treated as general trash cans.
Post-Event Waste Processing
The cardboard and bags of non-cup recyclables were put in the recycle dumpster. HPR took the bags of cups, plastic bags/wrap, and special materials for proper disposal. Cups went to WWRA, bags to Recycle Ann Arbor, and special materials to the TerraCycle Zero Waste Boxes.
About 50 Styrofoam ice cream cups were recovered. Jeff rinsed them and took them to Recycle Ann Arbor. The accompanying plastic spoons were put in a TerraCycle box.
What Went Well
Using the Slim Jims avoided the trouble of wet tents and keeping them anchored. And setting up a pavilion at Ground Zero proved valuable in helping keep the team drier, if not warmer.
The Zero Waste team volunteers were terrific, gamely staffing the stations in the poor weather and making takedown smooth and fast. Thanks, all!
This year pint glasses were an option item purchased separately ahead of time, rather than all runners receiving them as a finisher award. This cut down the waste cardboard significantly.
The sticky ice cream cups were a nuisance, but we minimized the problem by having people put them and the spoons in the blue pails rather than the recycle bins. At race end all pails were put into a single bag for final sorting later.
Opportunities for Improvement
A more environmentally friendly solution for the ice cream would be nice, as well as using compostable spoons rather than plastic.
The six-yard recycling dumpster was more than enough for our needs. Also, we only had a single bag of compostables. We can make adjustments next year, and possibly put everything in just a couple of recycling carts and a single compost cart.
A few years ago, I was waiting in line at a Whole Foods coffee bar. A woman asked the barista, “What do you recommend for a Keurig?”
The resulting pause was too long; I couldn’t resist.
“A sledgehammer,” I piped up. (*)
Snarky advice and fantasies aside, I do not encourage the wanton destruction of single-serve machines. However, I have long been disgusted with the amount of waste generated by their disposable capsules. They encase perfectly compostable coffee grounds in a plastic pod. The unit is non-recyclable due to the organic waste inside, and even if cleaned, is too small to be accepted by many recyclers. So they go to a landfill, where the coffee grounds decompose into greenhouse gases, and the plastic just sits there forever.
As a coffee snob myself, I’d be the last person to advise you to give up the habit. (And my fellow runners would laugh in my face.) But I sure as heck would prefer my fellow caffeine addicts indulge in a sustainable manner. Here are some ways to do just that.