Peace, Love, and Zero Waste: Run Woodstock Sustainability Report

Billed as, “a weekend of peace, love, music, and running,” Run Woodstock is the largest RF Events race of the year. It also generates the most waste of the year, with enough work to keep the Zero Waste team busy from setup on Thursday through takedown on Sunday.

In 2016 we achieved 88% landfill diversion and filled a 40-yard recycling rolloff to the top. How could we improve on that? Read on to see what we did, and if it worked!

Sustainability Report: Run Woodstock
Date: Sept. 8-10, 2017
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Hell Creek Ranch, Pinckney MI
# Attendees: approx. 2,000
Zero Waste Team volunteers: Varied

Race Overview

Starting on Friday, over 2,000 runners and campers occupied Hell Creek Ranch and the Pinckney Recreation Area trails. There were many race distances to choose from, but most runners were there for the ultras – 50K, 50 miles, 100K, and 100 miles. Live music, first-class aid stations, and a supportive vibe keep everyone going.

Run Woodstock 2017 - Lemon James
Lemon James, rock guitarist extraordinaire, shows her Woodstock spirit.

The first races (the 100s) started at 4 p.m. Friday. The other races began Saturday morning, and all were done by 10 p.m. On Sunday morning there was a final informal 5-mile run, followed by takedown and exodus of the campers.

Zero Waste Plan

The overall plan was essentially the same as 2016, with a few significant changes.

Recycling and trash: As the trash 40-yarder was only 25% full last year, we reduced it to a 20-yarder. We actually wound up with a 30-yarder for trash and two recycling rolloffs with 50 yards total capacity, so we weren’t worried about potential overflows. We also decided not to weigh the recyclables this year, but to rely on the tonnage report from Advanced Disposal following pickup.

Composting: Our aid stations switched from Styrofoam and plastics last year to all compostable materials this year (except for Dixie cold cups). We increased our 96-gallon bins for compostables from three to five, and hired My Green Michigan again to pick them up.

Tents and stations: Last year we deployed 11 Zero Hero tents in the campground area. We reduced that to seven, based on actual usage and to reduce overall tent service effort. The aid stations on the trail got one tent each. The campground aid station had a line of bins instead, based on limited space and to make on-the-spot sorting easier.

Additions to recycle/compost/trash streams this year included: snack bag wrappers (to be sent to TerraCycle), discarded shoes and clothing (to donate to The North Face Clothes the Loop program), and deposit bottles & cans.

Run Woodstock 2017 - Tent Clothes Bin and Deposit Cans

We set up two sorting stations: one at the rolloff site, and another in the campground near registration, so we could more easily service the tents and stage the filled bags.

Vendors: Three food trucks supplied the campers with food and coffee. We contacted them ahead of time to confirm they knew we were Zero Waste and that they would use compostable materials.

Team members: Jeff (Zero Waste Captain) did setup and was the sole Zero Waste team member onsite until Saturday morning, and worked the Friday overnight shift at the campground aid station. Volunteers worked Saturday and Sunday shifts with him. We chose not to recruit Boy Scout troops this year.


Thanks to incredible efforts by our Zero Waste team, especially on Sunday morning sorting the compostables and bags dropped off by exiting campers, we achieved over 97 percent diversion!

Breakdown by waste stream (amounts rounded):

  • Compostables: 618 lbs. (19 %)
  • Recyclables: 2,523 lbs. (77.5 %)
  • Donated food and clothes: 20 lbs. (0.5 %)
  • Landfill: 89 lbs. (3 %)

Note: the landfill weight is the trash generated as part of the event and put into our tents and bins. Many campers added their own bags as they left, much of it being materials they had “packed in.” We recovered what we could but did not count the residual trash toward our metrics. The total landfill weight was 560 lbs.

Run Woodstock 2017 - Tackling Sunday Trash
The Sunday morning team sorts the collected recycling and compostables.

What Went Right

The compostable materials saved time in sorting, especially with aid station waste, where the main contaminants were Dixie cups in the compost and Gu packets in the bags of cups. But we didn’t have to sort plates and utensils out of the food waste, or throw away soiled plates, and there was no Styrofoam to deal with separately.

Staffing the campground aid station waste bins overnight Friday-Saturday kept the bins from getting out of control. It was also good exposure of the ZW program to the aid station staff, who supported the effort and assisted with keeping things properly sorted.

Run Woodstock 2017 - Friday night aid station 2
Campground aid station around 1:00 a.m.Saturday, serving people nuts enough to run through the night.

Not weighing the recyclables saved a lot of time and effort for improved sorting and policing of the tents and bins.

The marked bin for clothing and shoes wound up with about a dozen pairs of shoes, as well as socks and shirts. Unlike last year, almost no clothing was pulled out of trash bags.

The Zero Waste team volunteers worked hard and did a great job keeping things in order over the weekend, and especially Sunday morning when the compost bags were sorted.

Run Woodstock 2017 - Saturday Zero Waste team
Me with just a few of the awesome ZW Team members on Woodstock weekend.

We received many thanks and compliments from the runners and campers throughout the weekend.

Run Woodstock - Clean Campground
Leaving the campground cleaner than we found it. (This is from 2016, but it was the same this year.)

Opportunities for Improvement

The reduced number of tents worked fine, with minimal residual trash discarded in the campground itself.

On Friday and Saturday nights there was still a lot of activity after sundown, but the signs on the tents became unreadable, increasing cross-contamination. Lighting would have helped.

The sets of porta-johns included hand sinks with water and paper towels, but no receptacles for the waste. At one we put a full tent, and one bin at the other for paper towels only. As we left them unattended, both required sorting, but especially with the single bin, where people tossed in everything despite the sign.

Despite the advance notice, two vendors showed up with non-compostable materials. One vendor agreed to purchase compostable plates from us. The other arrived Saturday afternoon, so the impact of their materials on total waste was minimal. Better communication and having some extra materials on hand could help here.

As with last year, on Sunday morning many campers dropped off unsorted bags of waste, which we either had to sort or just “write off” and toss in the trash rolloff. If campers sorted their waste, we could recover more of it.

Run Woodstock 2017 - Sunday at Ground Zero
“Ground Zero” on Sunday morning: still a lot of work to do. (The golf cart was a big help moving stuff from the campground to the rolloffs.)

Also on Sunday morning, campers left their bags of trash next to a tent rather than take it to the rolloffs, which meant the Zero Waste team had to move them. We fixed this by removing some of the tents, but we could start takedown earlier to prevent the problem.

Run Woodstock 2017 - Sunday at Ground Zero - all done
Early Sunday afternoon: all done. Amazing effort by the team!

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

Increased communication with the food vendors, with stronger offers to obtain compostable materials for them if needed.

Put a full tent at both sets of porta-johns.

Direct requests to the campers to pre-sort their waste when leaving to help us recover as much as possible.

Earlier tent removal on Sunday, leaving just a couple of tents for the morning runners and the event staff during takedown and cleanup.

Light the tents when it gets dark, including at the aid stations.

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