Trail Marathon: A Great Anniversary Present

Happy Anniversary to RF Events! Despite the threat of lousy weather, the races went on, and the results were great both for the runners and for the environment. See below how we did vs. our very first Zero Waste event at this race last year.

Sustainability Report: Trail Marathon Weekend 2017
Date: April 29-30, 2017
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Pinckney, MI
# Attendees: 1,500 runners
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 3

Race Overview

On the Pinckney Rec Area trails, RF Events celebrated the 32nd anniversary of its first race, and its first anniversary as a Zero Waste company. And our grant provider (Can’d Aid Foundation) was onsite shooting a video promoting what can be accomplished using their Zero Waste grants.

TMW 2017 - Darren interviewing Randy
Can’d Aid interviews the RF Events “Head Goat”, Randy Step.

Trail Marathon is the original and oldest race put on by RF Events. This year was the 32nd running of the race. The races are split over two days to balance the load on the trails. Saturday is the half marathon, and Sunday is the 5-mile, marathon, and 50K races.

TMW 2017 - Half marathon start
Start of Saturday’s half marathon.

Waste is generated from aid stations (five on Sunday), water bottles, food waste, and cardboard from the boxes. Last year Zero Waste was the last part of the event cleanup to finish on Sunday, requiring help from several additional staffers to get it all weighed and into the rolloff. And we had a shortage of volunteers signed up to help this year. Could we keep up?

Zero Waste Plan

Due to the anticipated bad weather and shortage of volunteers, we deployed just four tents in the start/finish area, in the areas where we expected the most people to linger, watch, or exit the park. On Sunday we moved the starting line tent to the marathon/50K loop aid station.

Each aid station deployed one tent, with extra bins some yards ahead for cups runners typically discard after leaving the aid station. We continued the use of 5-gallon buckets to collect Gu and snack bag wrappers that we’d started at the Martian races.

TMW 2017 - Happy woman by tent
Runners have been very supportive of our Zero Waste effort.

Finish food was cookies, oranges, and pretzels. The Sunday home base aid station added peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, candy, and salted potatoes. Packaging and serving materials were minimal, and compostable, by design.

Medals were made of wood, which required much less packaging.

For recyclables, we rented a 20-yard rolloff from Advanced Disposal. Last year it was in the parking lot some distance away from the event area. But this year the park allowed it to be parked closer to our sorting station near the park’s existing dumpsters.

Compostables were collected in our 96-gallon bins for Tuesday pickup by My Green Michigan. Gu/snack bar wrappers and bags of plastic bags/wrap were taken by Happy Planet Running for sending to TerraCycle (wrappers) and Recycle Ann Arbor (bags).


In 2016 our first Zero Waste effort resulted in a 90 percent diversion rate and only 46 pounds of landfill trash. This year we reduced trash to under 20 pounds and improved our diversion rate to 95.8 percent. Happy anniversary to us!

Breakdown by waste stream:

  • Compostables: 125.2 lbs. (27.1 %)
  • Recyclables: 318.2 lbs. (68.7 %)
  • Landfill: 19.4 lbs. (4.2 %)
TMW 2017 - One bag of Saturday trash
Saturday’s single bag of trash! (And Sunday was even better.)

What Went Right

The material from the aid stations was much better separated by waste stream this year. The volunteer coordinator was a big help letting the aid station teams know what went where. When I ran the marathon on Sunday, I checked each aid station twice, and found things in good general order. This was a huge benefit at the end of the day when all the aid station waste bags came in at once, but the amount of extra sorting needed was light.

We had three volunteers per day on the Zero Waste team, which proved sufficient to finish in a timely manner each day, thanks to the reduced number of tents and the support from the aid stations.

TMW 2017 - Sunday Zero Waste team

The reduced number of tents in the start/finish area worked fine. There was very little trash left on picnic tables or on the grass.

Having the recycling rolloff closer to the start/finish area was also a big help. The walk from the sorting area to the rolloff was much reduced.

There was very little packaging waste associated with the post-race food, and it was served either on napkins or compostable papers.

The 20-yard recycling rolloff was the right size for this event. We filled it to about 75 percent. Compostables fit into two 96-gallon bins.

Opportunities for Improvement

Not too many! The next step for this event appears to be reducing overall waste as opposed to diverting more of the existing waste.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

Future discussions to be held about this.

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