Date: Sept. 9-11, 2016
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Hell Creek Ranch, Pinckney MI
# Attendees: approx. 2,000
Zero Waste Team volunteers: Varied
Run Woodstock is the largest RF Events race of the year, with distances from 5 miles to 100 miles and everything in between. It’s also a weekend of camping, live music, and self-expression enjoyed by both runners and non-runners. The fun begins at 4 p.m. Friday, with the 100K and 100-mile start.
With over 2,000 weekend residents at Hell Creek Ranch, staying on top of the generated waste (collecting, sorting, properly storing) promised to be a challenging effort. But any improvement over previous years, where all waste went to the landfill, would be a win.
The 100K and 100-mile runners have until 10 p.m. Saturday (30 hours) to finish. The 50K and 50-milers begin at 6 a.m. Saturday, and the shorter distances after that. There are also untimed fun runs in the evenings and on Sunday morning before shutdown and cleanup.
Zero Waste Plan
We deployed twelve Zero Hero tents around the campground in high traffic areas, such as the start/finish area, aid stations, registration area, and by the porta-johns. We also had some extra recycle bins posted here and there.
We ordered two 40-yard rolloff containers from Advanced Disposal for the weekend. In the past, both were for trash, and they would fill up. This year we ordered one for recycling and one for trash. We set up “Sorting Central” at the rolloff site and took the bags from the tents there for final sort, and the aid station staff dropped off their bags there as well.
Food waste and compostable containers were collected in 96-gallon bins. We hired My Green Michigan to haul away the collected compostables. For this event we had some food trucks providing snacks and drinks for the campers. We required them to use compostable or recyclable containers, cups, and utensils. But the aid stations used Styrofoam for hot liquids (soup, coffee) requiring extra sorting effort.
We were light on volunteers Friday night into Saturday (which ended up causing some difficulties). Saturday and Sunday we had teams of Boy Scouts assisting us. Their active and dedicated effort was key to making the Zero Waste effort successful.
Run Woodstock by far generated the most waste of any of our events this year, with over 3,000 lbs. total. (That’s a ton and a half.) Given the amount of waste we processed with the staff we had, we achieved a very remarkable diversion rate of 88 percent.
Breakdown by waste stream (amounts rounded):
- Compostables: 672 lbs. (22 %)
- Recyclables: 1,617 lbs. (64 %)
- Donated food and clothes: 54 lbs. (2 %)
- Landfill: 366 lbs. (12 %)
What Went Right
We retrieved a lot of useful material that runners and campers threw away. The more memorable saves included:
- Two portable canopies that needed minimal repairs to make fully functional again;
- A director’s chair in perfectly good condition;
- 10 pairs of running shoes;
- Many items of clothing, pairs of socks, and towels;
- Lots of leftover edible food
The clothes and shoes were donated via the North Face “Clothes the Loop” program, and one of the repaired canopies will be used for future Zero Waste events.
The Boy Scouts got an extra bonus for their efforts in the form of collected returnable bottles and cans. We didn’t get an exact count, but a rough calculation came out to several hundred dollars worth. Both the Saturday and Sunday teams got a massive haul.
Opportunities for Improvement
Friday night, with the 100-milers and 100K runners active, needs more volunteer help to stay on top of the rapidly accumulating waste. I snuck away to get some sleep and when I returned early Saturday morning, the main aid station bins were overflowing and completely unsorted. “Sorry,” the race director said to me, “looks like people just tossed their [crap] everywhere.” The bags were changed out and sorted later.
During exodus on Sunday morning, a number of people drove to the dumpsters and tossed in bags that could have contained anything, including recyclables and returnables. We elected not to dive after those, but if we saw someone coming with bags, we intercepted them and looked to see if anything could be recovered.
Sorting lots of bags can be hard on the back. Some tables at Sorting Central would have been very helpful.
What We’ll Do Differently Next Time
Increase the use of compostable containers and replace Styrofoam with something compostable that can handle hot liquids.
To help reduce the throwing away of shoes and clothes, I will suggest putting out a special box where runners can put the items they no longer want. There will be a sign indicating that the unwanted items will be cleaned and then donated.
More volunteers for the first day and night, especially watching the main aid station, where waste quickly piles up and no one is reading the signage.
More education for the campers, so they either “pack out” their waste, or sort it themselves to help us out.