Freedom from Waste: Liberty Festival achieves 97% Diversion

Oh say, can you see. . .any trash? Not at this race!

Sustainability Report: Liberty Festival Races 2017
Date: June 17, 2017
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Heritage Park, Canton MI
# Attendees: 1,200 runners
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 2

Race Overview

The races are part of a weekend-long Liberty Festival held by the city of Canton at Heritage Park. There are carnival rides and attractions, a vintage car show, and more.

The races kick off with a 5K, followed by a 10K. Faster runners can sign up to run both races (called the “Uncle Sam Slam”) and get a special additional finishers award. Later in the morning there’s a one-mile kids fun run. After the races, runners often go elsewhere in the park to enjoy the festival’s other activities.

Liberty Festival 2017 - Kids run

Zero Waste Plan

Waste would be generated at the start/finish area where post-race water and food were served, and at two aid stations which offered water and Gatorade.

Food was bananas, cookies, and pretzels served on compostable papers. Main recyclables would be water bottles, cups and cardboard, with some water jugs.

We set up four Zero Hero tents in the finish line area, and near the food tent. The aid stations served only liquids, so they used bins, with a pail for Gu packets.

As the day would be hot, we also handed out wipes soaked in ice water to the 10K runners. Last year, the selected wipes were shop towels, that while sturdy, were not recyclable due to chemical additives. This year the staff cut up old cotton T-shirts to make the wipes, making them not only recyclable, but reusable. What a terrific idea! We set out additional bins to collect the used wipes.

Advanced Disposal provided a recycling rolloff container. The compost would be taken back to HQ for later pickup by My Green Michigan. Happy Planet Running took the plastic bags/wrap for dropoff at a recycling center, and the Gu packets for TerraCycle.


Another spectacular result, with a 97.5 percent diversion rate!

Liberty Festival 2017 - Single bag of trash
The total trash from a 1,200 person event. (And a lot of that is air in the bag.)

Breakdown by waste stream:

  • Compostables: 69.2 lbs. (24.1 %)
  • Recyclables: 210.5 lbs. (73.4 %)
  • Landfill: 7.3 lbs. (2.5 %)

What Went Right

Despite a shortage of volunteers for the Zero Waste team, the waste streams were manageable, even during the peak of post-race activity. Our runners this year are much better about putting waste in the proper location, requiring less sorting. Some bananas and cups wound up in the bins meant for wipes, which was corrected as part of a regular patrol of the tents.

Liberty Festival 2017 - Staffing a tent
Put litter in its place…or else!

The aid station waste required only minimal sorting to remove wipes and a few Gu packets tossed in with the cups.

The recycle rolloff was located in the park’s yard, some distance away from the race site. The park staff graciously offered to pick up the collected recyclables and take them to the rolloff.

Opportunities for Improvement

Find a way to attract more volunteers for the team. I believe there’s some hesitation due to the sorting required, but tent attendance is far less “hands-on” in that respect and reduces the final sorting effort.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

There were fewer bottles left lying on the grass this year, but still quite a few on the side of the road opposite the food area and tents. Putting a tent or recycle bin there should help.

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