Kaboom! Firecracker 5K hits 99 Percent Diversion

What’s better than a Fourth of July 5K followed by a parade? A Fourth of July 5K that left no trash behind. That’s worth celebrating!

Sustainability Report: Firecracker 5K 2017
Date: July 4, 2017
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Downtown Ann Arbor, MI
# Attendees: 700 athletes + staff + spectators
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 4

The Firecracker is a 5K and kids run on the morning of Independence Day. It takes place in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor and is followed by the parade.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, the 5K had two special divisions: one for people who would carry an American flag the entire distance, and a “Hot Dog” division, where a few brave souls attempted to eat four hot dogs in 76 seconds, then run the 5K. There were quite possibly some early fireworks going off in their stomachs!

Firecracker 5K - Hot Dog Division
There was a time penalty for uneaten food, but not for barfing.

HPR was on-site at 5:30 a.m. to set up the tents and bins for waste collection. The corner of Fourth Avenue and Liberty Street would get crowded in a hurry, and we needed to be ready!

Challenges – “Competition” and Time Crunch

The Zero Waste team faced a couple of special challenges. First, we’d be competing with City trash bins for waste disposal. At previous downtown events, the City bins rapidly filled with mixed waste streams, which we were only able to partly recover and was a messy job.

Our other challenge was time. The 5K was supposed to begin at 7:55, but due to a rush of last-minute signups it was delayed by about 15 minutes. We still had to be off the street before 10:00 a.m. due to the parade coming through. This meant rapid takedown, regardless of the state of the waste streams. Staying on top of things would be vital.

Zero Waste Plan

We set up two tents on Liberty Street past the food area, and a third on the corner of Fourth and Liberty near the start/finish line, which was an area of heavy traffic before, during, and after the race. We set them for Recycle / Compost / Wrappers, with a bin for trash hidden in the back of the tents to use as needed.

The food area got three bins (same setup without a tent) and a bin for plastic bags and medal wrappings.

To eliminate the “competition” with City bins, we took them away and covered them.

Post-race food included “bomb pops” which melted quickly, so post-event sorting promised to be sticky and messy. Fortunately we had enough volunteers to put someone by each tent, so sorting could be done real-time.

Firecracker 5K - Staffing Zero Waste bins
Zero Waste team member Terry helps runners with proper disposal. (Sorry for the head cutoff, Terry!)


Because we were able to capture the snack bag wrappers, there was almost no actual trash. We achieved an incredible 99 percent diversion!

Firecracker 5K - single bag of trash
An 800-person event with total trash you can hold up with two pinkies!

Breakdown by waste stream:

  • Compostables: 52.9 lbs. (27.4 %)
  • Recyclables: 137.9.5 lbs. (71.6 %)
  • Landfill: 1.8 lbs. (1 %)

What Went Right

Removing the City trash cans meant that racegoers used our tents and bins exclusively, so we were able to capture the great majority of the waste generated in the race area. In fact, when I did a final sweep after the parade I discovered we’d left one bin on the sidewalk, and parade watchers had taken advantage of it. I sorted its contents later but didn’t include them in the event metrics.

Having a Zero Waste team large enough to staff all the tents helped tremendously in keeping the waste streams clean. This was especially important with our time limitation.

While setting up I noticed several unlabeled cardboard bins had been placed in the finish area. An unstaffed, unlabeled bin is an invitation to toss anything and everything in it, so I relocated them and attached signs to each. This turned out to be a really good move, since that area received the most waste by way of volume.

Opportunities for Improvement

We weren’t able to take down the final tent and the sorting station until the last minute (literally – the parade was coming down the street). Part of this was due to having the post-race food in the parade route, and as it was such a nice day, people stuck around.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

It’s likely we’ll move the post-race activities off the parade route, so there will be no pressure for people to leave the area or for us to quickly take down the tents.

One thought on “Kaboom! Firecracker 5K hits 99 Percent Diversion

  1. This looks so awesome! I’m from Ann Arbor and my husband and I were actually there for the holiday weekend–we saw the signs for this race downtown. Unfortunately we couldn’t participate cause we had to fly out on the 4th. Looks like a great event, we will have to plan on a race there sometime. Thanks for sharing 😊.

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