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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.
More good press about Zero Waste at athletic events! An interview with Eva Solomon, founder and CEO of Epic Races, was published on the USA Triathlon website last September. Epic has used Happy Planet Running at their events since 2017.
“I wanted Epic Races to be eco-friendly,” Eva said, but she had challenges at first. In the interview, she talks about the planning and execution needed for a Zero Waste program, the costs involved, and how working with Happy Planet Running made the program successful. (Epic events now average over 90 percent diversion.)
The article’s featured photograph (repeated here) is from the Firecracker 5K held July 4, 2018 in downtown Ann Arbor. Pictured from left to right are: Jeff (HPR), Eva, and Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. We’re holding the single bag of landfill waste (less than two pounds) from a downtown event with hundreds of runners and thousands more spectators watching the race and the parade immediately following.
What’s a much better way to deal with single use plastics than recycling them? Not using them in the first place.
It’s no secret that the world is swimming in plastic waste. In some cases, literally. And a good deal of that plastic was designed for single use. Plastic water and soda bottles, straws, utensils, and carryout packaging are manufactured, used, and then discarded, ending their usefulness and value to society.
How much better to replace single-use plastics with reusable materials, or – even better – find ways to eliminate them! Here are three examples of communities, and even entire states, taking progressive action to reduce or eliminate certain single-use plastics. Read the full story by clicking on the links.
This year’s Super 5K had decent weather and a good turnout, with football regalia all about, and a visit by the Detroit Lions mascot. The Zero Waste effort scored big overall, but had several annoying fumbles by the runners. I think we had more pint glasses broken than points scored in the Super Bowl!
Welcome to the Bigfoot Snowshoe race, where the temperature – and the trash – were both close to zero this year!
You know a Zero Waste effort is going well when you have less than one pound of trash but still want to do better. And then we found a way to reduce it to nearly nothing! Read on to find out how, and see the end of this report for a bonus.
There was no natural snow on the ground, but the lodge had made enough to cover the race course. It was a bit unusual to see a white stripe on the exposed green and brown golf course, but it was fine for skiing. So the Frosty Freestyle races went on, and the Zero Waste team was there to keep it all clean.
2019 promises to be another busy year for Happy Planet Running, with the added challenge of an uncertain recycling market. So we’ll look for overall waste reduction and a shift toward more compostable materials where possible.
And in the breaking news department: RF Events is making one of their trail running series CUPLESS this year! Check it out at their Trail Marathon website.
Now for the shameless plug. Do you know of an event that could benefit from Zero Waste practices? Drop me an email on the Contact HPR page and let me know how Happy Planet Running can help!