“This is the best race EVER!” a woman excitedly told me at the Zero Waste station. “You guys thought of everything! And recycling, too!”

Realistically, the Zero Waste program at Swim to the Moon played only a small part of a very well-run event. Most of her thanks belongs to the first-rate staff of Epic Races and their volunteers. Still, I’d like to think seeing the recycling and composting bins was what drove her over the top.

So was her exuberant statement justified? Read on to find out!

Sustainability Report: Swim to the Moon 2017
Date: August 20, 2017
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Halfmoon Lake, Pinckney Recreation Area
# Attendees: 600 athletes + staff + spectators
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 2

Race Overview

Swim to the Moon is a set of swimming races held in the Pinckney Recreation Area. Halfmoon Beach is the starting area for the 1.2 mile and 10K swims, and the beach at North Star Reach campground is the starting area for the 5K. All races end at Halfmoon Beach.

Post-race entertainment included a live band (which actually started before the races did) and a brunch of egg and cheese burritos, peanut butter wraps, and ice cream bars.

The morning was cool and partly sunny and the lake was still and peaceful – a perfect day for a competitive swim.

Zero Waste Plan

I arrived at Halfmoon Lake at 5:30 a.m. and set up some bins in the registration area. The post-race area was relatively small, so I planned to set up two tents later. After the 10K race began, I took some bins and signs out to North Star Reach, where the 5K started.

There were some trash bins already set up there, but they were unlabeled and filling up with all types of waste. I set up compost, recycle, wrappers, and trash bins and sorted out the existing waste. There were also some park trash cans near the porta-potties. I retrieved the recyclable materials from them, then covered them up. I then attended the bins until the swimmers had left and we broke down the location.

When I returned to Halfmoon, I moved the registration bins to a more visible location. There didn’t seem to be concentrations of people in other areas needing additional bins, so I stuck with the single set, and decided not to bother with setting up a tent.

Swim to the Moon - Me helping someone at bins

Results

We achieved 91.9 percent landfill diversion and had less than 20 pounds of trash, a lot of which was the coated paper bowls used to serve food in. Disposable plastic tablecloths also made up some of the landfill trash.

Breakdown by waste stream:

  • Compostables: 49.7 lbs. (20.6 %)
  • Recyclables: 172.5 lbs. (71.3 %)
  • Landfill: 19.7 lbs. (8.1 %)

What Went Right

Staying at North Star Reach until the 5K race started proved a wise choice, as I was able to keep the waste bins sorted there while not much was happening yet at Halfmoon Beach.

Having only one waste station at Halfmoon turned out to be sufficient, which was a pleasant surprise.

We recovered a lot of reusable and recyclable material from the unclaimed “special needs bags” rather than tossing them into the dumpster.

We got a number of positive comments and thanks from the participants, including the lady who told me this was “the best race EVER”.

Swim to the Moon - Me with Best Race Ever lady
Me with said lady. I had no idea Zero Waste had this effect on people!

And here’s some karma at work: while sorting a bin in the registration area, I found a black magic marker in the trash. It still worked, so I added it to my supplies. Then at North Star Reach a woman came up to me desperately needing to be body marked for the swim. I pulled out the marker and came to her rescue.

Opportunities for Improvement

Zero Waste was short-staffed during some of the post-race activity. Unattended bins filled up with food waste, recyclables, and trash, no matter what the signs on the bins said. We recovered, but one or two more available volunteers would have helped a lot.

There was more waste in certain areas than expected. A finish line bin set out for plastic bags and medal wrappings also got banana peels and water bottles. The cup collection bin in the beer tent also got food waste, which was remedied by adding a bin for compostables.

The food service items were a mix of recyclables and compostables. The burritos were served in foil, and the compostable coffee cups came with recyclable-only lids. Constant real-time sorting was needed to keep the waste streams in order. Moving to entirely compostable materials would make things easier for both volunteers and participants.

The first year of a zero waste program is a learning experience for everyone involved. More on-site education would be helpful, such as additional “Zero Waste Event” signage, and a pre-race announcement to look for the proper bins for waste disposal.

Swim to the Moon - Eating Ice Cream
I tell you, this job is tough!

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

Hopefully use more compostable materials, reducing the need to sort as well as the amount of trash.

Additional Zero Waste information and signage.

Assign a volunteer to manage the bins at North Star Reach, so someone can remain at Halfmoon and monitor the bins there.

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