ROAR! Triceratops Tri achieves 95% Diversion

A famous long-extinct species was spotted everywhere at last week’s Triceratops Triathlon. But you know what’s hardly seen these days at an RF Events race? Garbage! Sending piles of event waste to a landfill is on its way to sharing the fate of the dinosaurs, although I doubt any future triathlons will be named after it.

So how did we host and feed 450 hungry triathletes while keeping a beautiful park pristine and the dumpsters empty? Read on!

Sustainability Report: Triceratops Triathlon 2017
Date: June 21, 2017
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Island Lake Park, Brighton MI
# Attendees: 450 triathletes
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 3

Race Overview

The Triceratops is the first of a set of three summer triathlons at the Island Lake Recreation Area. The others in the series are the Pterodactyl (July) and the T-Rex (August). All are sprint triathlons – half mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, 5K run – and follow the same course.

This is an evening event, starting at 6:00 p.m. and wrapped up by 9:00.

Zero Waste Plan

With three identical events like this per year, the plan is pretty routine at this point. We set up one tent next to the registration area and three tents in the post-race area. We covered the park’s waste cans near their dumpsters; otherwise they are used for all kinds of disposal. The sorting station was set up next to the dumpsters.

Triceratops Tri 2017 - runner checking out the tent 2

Two aid stations offer water and Gatorade. Most of their waste is cups and gallon jugs, with some cardboard and Gu packets. No wet cloths this time, as it was not too hot a day.

Post-race food included pita sandwiches, pasta, and cookies. Compostable “boats” and forks were supplied if needed. Plastic from medal wrappings, ice bags, etc. was captured separately. Gu and Clif bar wrappers were retrieved from trash when time permitted.

This park takes our collected recycling, so after weighing we placed it on the curb by the park’s dumpsters. Happy Planet Running took the plastic bags/wrap, Gu packets for TerraCycle, and the compost for dropoff at a local commercial composting farm.


A perfect evening for a sprint triathlon was also nearly perfect for Zero Waste!

Breakdown by waste stream:

  • Compostables: 17.7 lbs. (13.3 %)
  • Recyclables: 108.4 lbs. (81.7 %)
  • Landfill: 6.7 lbs. (5 %)

The following photos show how far this race has come! This first one is from 2015. Everything in the park’s pickup truck here is landfill trash.

2015 Triceratops Tri - Trash

In 2017, this is the collected recycling:

Triceratops Tri - collected recycling

And this is all the trash.

Triceratops Tri 2017 - single bag of trash

What Went Right

Just about everything! We had enough volunteers to staff the busiest tents, and even at the unstaffed ones, sorting was minimal. The participants this year are more careful about putting waste in the correct places, and the use of compostable containers and utensils helps reduce cross-contamination. The aid station waste was also very clean.

Opportunities for Improvement

There was a need to put some bins in the transition area that we didn’t pick up on right away. And the bins required more sorting during the race than the tents, but it was manageable.

Now that we are consistently producing so little trash, we should have time to examine that trash to see if it can be further reduced. For example, the trash contained some non-recyclable tablecloths. Perhaps a compostable or recyclable alternative can be found.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

Bins for recycling, compost, and Gu packets will be placed in the transition area at setup time.

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