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The 2021 triathlon season is over at RF Events, and a successful one despite the ongoing uncertainty. And there was no doubt about the Zero Waste success, with every event achieving over 95 percent landfill diversion.
Of the four triathlons in the T-Rex series, this one is the most challenging because it gets dark before the event is over, making takedown more difficult and effective waste sorting impossible. So the aid station bags and the last-minute site cleanup trash must be taken care of the next day. At least the mosquitoes are there to keep us moving.
With volunteers “dropping likes flies” as a staff member put it, I was a one-man Green Team, so I made some adjustments. The food area station was set up in the shade instead of using a canopy, and I used a 96-gallon cart to carry its supplies and hold the collected waste at takedown. In the finish line water bottle area I picked up the plastic wrap and cardboard periodically instead of leaving a bag there, which saved digging out contamination later. Transition remains a work in progress, but the “All Waste” boxes at each end seem to work better than trying to set up a sorting station there.
Aid station bags were in fairly good shape, but the mixed cardboard/water jugs and loose items made for a sloppy loading. For future events I’ll ask if they can stack the cardboard and bag the other items. Also, somehow plastic forks wound up at the food table. We can recycle them, but they had to be carefully sorted from the compostable sporks we usually use.
Even with the challenges, we achieved another spectacular landfill diversion rate!
The Dexter-Ann Arbor Run is one of Ann Arbor’s longest-running events. This is the 47th year of the event, and the third using a Zero Waste approach. Once again we achieved over 90 percent landfill diversion, officially making it a “Zero Waste” event per ZWIA guidelines!
Attendance was down from previous years but still healthy, with 425 running the 5K, 527 runners in the 10K, and 1,347 doing the half marathon.
Waste streams include cardboard and plastic wrap from various sources, water bottles and disposable cups from the finish line and aid stations, and food waste and pizza boxes from the food tents. Disposable gloves were heavily used by the Zero Waste station teams and the food tent staffers, and we collected over one hundred Gu wrappers, which go to TerraCycle along with small plastics, race bibs, and the gloves.
This year we had just two Zero Waste stations: one across from the food tents, and one near the finish line at Main and Ann St. Runners put their waste into “All Waste” boxes on the tables, and the station staff sorted them. This approach prevented the heavy cross-contamination we experienced in previous years, such as plastics in the compost carts and food in the recycling bins.
Boxes for recycling, compost, and disposable gloves were given to the food tent volunteers, and periodically checked by the Green Team. The finish line had a bin for plastic wrap from medals and cases of water bottles, which was covered by cardboard to keep runners from using it as a trash can.
Challenges included people using existing City trash cans. We covered the big ones, but a couple escaped notice at first and were cleaned out and sorted. And, as usual, the aid station bags had to be carefully sorted to remove Gu packets and other contaminants from the bottles and cups.
We had enough volunteers to staff the stations during the event, but post-event waste processing made for a long afternoon for a few dedicated folks. Additional volunteers would have been greatly appreciated for afternoon sorting, weighing, and recycling dropoff at WWRA.
In a change from previous years, the City of Ann Arbor informed us that they no longer supply compost carts or recycling dumpsters for events. Fortunately, we had solutions. Since we already take waxed cups to Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA), we just took the other recycling there as well. We rented 20 compost carts from Unlimited Recycling.
Overall waste was about half the 2019 total, due mainly to lower attendance. We had fewer pizza boxes and less food waste, and fewer cups and bottles. We took about thirty bags of recycling to WWRA, plus cardboard. Once again, we had just one bag of landfill, although the vinyl tablecloths used by the food tent made up another bag. It may be possible to find a recycling solution for them, but for now we are also counting them in the landfill totals.
Improvements identified for next year include: training the aid stations to pre-sort, using paper tablecloths instead of vinyl, and recruiting volunteers specifically for the afternoon.
P.S. ZWIA = Zero Waste International Alliance. Read more about their definition of Zero Waste, and their standards and policies, at https://zwia.org/policies/.
The run at Sandhill Crane Vineyards returned this year, and conditions were perfect for both the races and the post-race party. “It’s almost like cheating,” the race director said of the weather.
The event features a half marathon, 5-miler, and 5K. After their race, runners head behind the vineyard to enjoy live jazz, wine tastings, and local goodies such as hummus, meatballs, olive oil, and chocolate. RF Events used compostable cups for all the treats they served.
This year we made some changes to our Zero Waste setup. Instead of unstaffed tents we had two staffed stations, one near the registration tent and one in the party area. This was all we could handle, due to just two staffers and no volunteers, a consistent problem at all events this year. People were instructed to put their waste in boxes marked “All Waste” and we sorted from there.
A temporary station was set up and staffed near the porta-potties until the races had all started. And for those runners doing both the 5K and 5-miler, there was a recycling bin for their water bottles.
This setup reduced the mixed waste problems we had with using tents. Still, we had a couple of unexpected curveballs tossed at us. First, the vineyard did wine tastings with small plastic cups instead of using the finisher tumblers. So we had to pick out those cups from the compostable ones.
Second, no doubt due to good intentions, someone set up additional trash cans among the snack tents. By the time someone pointed this out to us, there was a significant amount of completely mixed waste, resulting in a lot of extra sorting, plus removing food and oil from the recyclable cups. (This was accomplished by using a washing machine.) For next year we’ll have to coordinate more closely with the vineyard staff.
Total waste was down significantly from 2019. While less waste is good, it can be chalked up nearly entirely to lower attendance, as waste per 100 runners remained consistent with previous years.
P.S. To answer the “pop quiz” above – the three cups on the left are recyclable, and the three on the right are certified compostable. And you can’t mix the two types in either stream. Simple, right?
The image you see above is of a Zero Waste Station that was unattended through an entire event. In earlier years I would not have dared to attempt this. And yet this year it has been successfully managed twice! In both cases the waste bins required only minor sorting before dropping them off at the recycling and composting centers.
Several things made this possible. For one, The Legend is a trail race, and trail runners in general seem more attuned to Zero Waste practices. And RF Events has been doing zero waste races since 2016, meaning the staff and the repeat runners are familiar with the process. And the overall waste this year was way down from previous years (less than half the previous low in 2019), which meant no bags needed to be changed out.
My thanks to everyone who ensured the station was in good order!
What’s better than a triathlon – a three-stage swim/bike/run event? How about a ten-stage swim/bike/run event? Over a hundred athletes thought it was a good idea. And what’s even better than that? A ten-stage event that goes Zero Waste, of course.
And such is the Battle of Waterloo, so-called because it traverses the trails, roads, and lakes of the Waterloo Recreation Area. And the Green Team made sure we left it cleaner than we found it, and sent as little as possible to landfill.
With only 71 pounds of total waste generated, Epic Races did a great job of minimizing environmental impact from the start. And we recycled or composted all but five of those pounds. I’d say everyone there was a winner of this battle!
The third triathlon in the RF Events T-Rex series kicked off on a beautiful evening in the Island Lake Recreation Area.
While attendance was nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, total waste dropped to its lowest ever – under 100 pounds! Contributing factors include optional, order-ahead T-shirts (reducing packaging), lighter medals with no inner plastic wrapping (and now sourced locally), and serving post-race sandwiches on napkins instead of plates.
The new model of just two waste stations – one by the parking lot and one in the finish area – continues to work well. “All waste” pails in transition replace full stations there. We also removed a recycle bin near the medals area, using only a bag for collecting plastic wrap from ice bags and bottle case wrap. There was only mild contamination. The only glitch was a lot of takedown as it was getting dark. For the August T-Rex, we may consider earlier takedown of the pavilions and some tables.
It was hard to tell who enjoyed Saturday’s Ugly Dog Triathlon more – the athletes, or the mosquitoes. Thanks to two weeks of wet weather, the little buggers were out in force, as were some bees. But the Epic Races staff persevered and pulled off another great event!
The race followed the same format as last time (2019), with several duathlon/triathlon options offered, and the post-race food was the same – pancakes, egg & cheese wraps, bananas, and “puppy chow” Chex-style treats. Missing this year was the Ugly Dog Distillery offerings, except for tiny bottles as (over 21) age group awards. However, the Zero Waste strategy was quite different.
Instead of several stations in the area, we continued the new method of a single large Zero Waste Station near the food tent, with boxes for “all waste” on tables, to be sorted by the Green Team.
Transition had a pail at each end, and the finish line had a bag for plastic wrap from medals and cases of water bottles. The food tent also had its own “all waste” box, which was periodically swapped out by the Green Team. The team taking down transition at the end of the event got a dedicated pail for cut tie wraps (used to secure the fencing to its poles).
Overall waste was down from 2019, most notable in landfill, which dropped from 6 pounds to 0.6 pounds – ten percent of the 2019 total!
In another change, park trash cans were not covered. However, the Green Team checked nearby ones and retrieved waste that was clearly from the race, mainly banana peels, water bottles, and Gu wrappers. With these changes, one person was enough to get everything done. With a lot of help from the local insects, of course.
Independence Day in Ann Arbor wouldn’t be the same without its traditional 5K event. At least not to runners, and the Epic Races team! And so despite a warm morning and a new location, the show went on without a hitch.
This year’s event, for several reasons, took place at Briarwood Mall instead of downtown Ann Arbor. In addition to the 5K, there were one-mile and 7.5K options, and a short run for the little kids, led by Larry the Ginormous Hot Dog (see the top photo). There was also a “hot dog” division, where the contenders had 76 seconds to eat up to four hot dogs, and then run the 5K. One minute per hot dog was deducted from their finish times. Thankfully, no “cleanup by JC Penney” was required.
Post-race treats included bananas and candy, but by far the most popular were the red, white, and blue frozen “bomb pops”. We were equal to the task, composting the wooden sticks and sending the wrappers to TerraCycle.
The report below has the details and the fireworks-worthy result – under one pound to the landfill, which we tossed into one of the mall’s trash cans. It’s never a bad thing when our total event trash didn’t weigh as much as the mall-related trash in the parking lot!
It was also good to hear from a Briarwood staffer that the mall takes recycling seriously, and redid the roof to reduce energy costs. Way to go!
The RF Events T-Rex Triathlon series was back to normal last Wednesday, after a pint-sized Stegosaurus Tri earlier in June. Back to standard attendance, post-race sandwiches and live music, and the vibe of an athletic event!
With a team of just two people, we set up a single Zero Waste Station near the parking lot, and one in the party area instead of three Zero Hero tents. We focused on keeping the stations in order, and left “all waste” pails in the transition area. A bag for plastic wrap and a large recycling bin near the water bottles completed the setup.
The approach had some interesting effects. No one had a problem with using the single station in the party area, and we ended up with less “outside” waste that usually comes from the beachgoers. The transition pails needed quite a bit of sorting and were really not large enough, so we’ll be looking for improvements there. Aid station waste was mainly ups and water jugs, and did not require much sorting.
The trend chart below the report shows we had a dramatic drop in total waste, particularly food waste and compostables – a 75 percent drop from 2019. One reason was serving sandwiches on napkins – no plates or wrappers – which worked just fine. There also seemed to be less overall food consumed by the athletes. We’ll be looking to see if this continues.