Mars Shows Earth How to Go Green!

GREETINGS, EARTHLINGS. Now that we have successfully invaded and occupied Earth, we will show you that we love it more than you do. Case in point: we came to Dearborn last Saturday – Earth Day – and ran one of the “greenest” marathons on the planet.

Sustainability Report: Martian Invasion of Races 2017
Date: April 22, 2017
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Dearborn, MI
# Attendees: 6,000 runners
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 6-10

Race Overview

The Martian Invasion of Races is held annually at Ford Park Field. Runners can choose from a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or full marathon. In addition, over 2,500 kids showed up to complete a “marathon” by running the final 1.2 miles after accumulating 25 over the last few months.

Martian - kid with alien.jpg

Waste is generated from several sources: plastic wrap from the medals (there’s got to be a better way), cups from eight aid stations, water and chocolate milk bottles, food waste, and lots of cardboard from the boxes everything comes in. It would be a challenge to keep on top of it all.

Zero Waste Plan

We set up tents along the finish line spectator area, near the registration tent, and toward the park exit. Two of the finish line tents were hardly used, as was, surprisingly, the one at the park exit.

Finish food was cookies, bananas, and hummus with pita. No need for forks or other utensils. We purchased compostable hummus cups to save sorting time.

We tried two new ideas for aid stations. Each one was given a 5-gallon bucket for Gu packets to try and reduce final sort. Also, the waste would be brought to the sorting station in stages, instead of all at once at the end of the race.

The kids race provided the finishers with ready-to-go backpacks with treats instead of a food line.

Due to the expected volume of recyclables, we rented a 20-yard recycling rolloff from Advanced Disposal instead of using City of Dearborn bins. Compostables were collected in our 96-gallon bins for Tuesday pickup by My Green Michigan. Gu packets and bags of plastic wrap were taken by Happy Planet Running.


Alien Zero Waste practices resulted in a 94.3 percent diversion rate, saving nearly 1,000 pounds of reusable material from the landfill. What a great way to celebrate Earth Day!

Breakdown by waste stream:

  • Compostables: 228.2 lbs. (22.4 %)
  • Recyclables: 734.9 lbs. (71.9 %)
  • Landfill: 57.8 lbs. (5.7 %)

Martian - race start

What Went Right

Using compostable hummus cups, and no need for utensils, made food waste management a lot easier. Big plus here, although a surprising number of hummus cups were thrown away unopened.

Delivering aid station waste in stages meant we weren’t swamped with a mountain of unsorted bags at the end.

Initially we didn’t have volunteers to staff all the tents. Fortunately, at the last minute a kids basketball team arrived. With their help we got early sorting issues under control and kept the tents staffed after that. They did a great job!

Martian - staffing a tent

Providing the kids race with ready-to-go backpacks with treats instead of a food line saved a lot of potential waste. Really good idea.

The 20-yard recycling rolloff was a good size. We filled it to about 75-80 percent. Compostables fit into two 96-gallon bins.

Opportunities for Improvement

People began to throw stuff away sooner than expected, even before they left the finish food area. A bin meant for volunteer use quickly filled up with bottles and food waste. We moved that aside and set up a staffed tent there, which solved the problem.

Another oversight was leaving a few City waste cans in the race area, which, quite naturally, got used. It led to some extra sorting, but we recovered.

The 5-gallon buckets at the aid station had mixed results. A lot of Gu packets were recovered this way, but the bins of cups still had a fair number mixed in, resulting in additional work at final sort.

The finish area cardboard was piled behind some fencing to keep it out of sight. However, nobody flattened it first. But the basketball team did a great job breaking down the boxes for transport to the recycling rolloff.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

Improve tent location.

The sorting area volunteers weighed a lot of bags individually. We can save time by piling bags into 96-gallon bins, then weighing the bins.

Instruct finish line volunteers to break down boxes, or assign a Zero Waste volunteer to do that real-time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: