Brrr! Holiday Hustle Sustainability Report

It was Holiday Hustle time in Dexter, where several thousand diehard runners showed up, hustled their way through a mile or three, and then hustled out of there. And supporting them was over a hundred diehard staff and volunteers determined to help them enjoy the experience.

The Zero Waste team was fired up to finish the year on a strong note. But a late afternoon winter race meant a dark, cold takedown. And we had to keep moving fast just to stay warm. Did we get everything taken care of before we all turned into ice sculptures? Yes! – sort of. Read on!

Sustainability Report: Holiday Hustle
Date: December 9, 2017
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Monument Park, Dexter MI
# Attendees: 2,200
Zero Waste Team members: 4

Race Overview

The Holiday Hustle is a late-afternoon romp through the streets of Dexter, a picturesque village near Ann Arbor. Two races are featured: a one-mile mainly for kids, and a 5K for runners and walkers. Costumes are prevalent, and spirits are always high.


As usual, it was a cold blustery December day. While it wasn’t difficult keeping warm during the race, a cold wind and wet snowy ground kept me ducking into the warming tent. Even with gloves I had to thaw out my hands so I could put the Zero Waste tents up.

Water bottles were handed out at the finish line, and a food tent provided cookies, bananas, and KIND bars. No hot drinks were served, although we got some hot cups from the nearby coffee shop in our recycling bins.

Zero Waste Plan

We were expecting over 2,000 participants, but as it’s cold and dark by the end of the 5K, most of them leave either after their race or the award presentations. The post-race food is also minimal, just bananas, cookies, and KIND bars. So we decided three tents would be sufficient to capture the waste. The “Ground Zero” sorting station was placed between the registration area and my car to allow for easy loading and unloading.

We covered the park’s existing trash cans and set up tents nearby, using bins for compostables, recyclables, and wrappers. Trash bags were clipped in the back of the tent for use if needed. One additional bin was set at the finish line to capture the plastic wrap the cases of water bottles came in.

The aid stations served only water and Gatorade, so the waste was limited to cups, gallon jugs, and cardboard. All recyclable, and minimal sorting.

Based on the total waste from the 2016 event, I decided a recycling rolloff would not be needed. Western Washtenaw Recycling has a recycling station just four miles from the park, so I planned to cart the recyclables there, handling plastic bags separately. Things did not work out quite as planned (see below).

I took the collected compostables to Tuthill Farms.


Over 2,000 runners and just five pounds of trash. A diversion rate of nearly 97 percent. A great way to finish off a great year!

A terrific team helped get it done on a cold day!

Breakdown by waste stream (amounts rounded):

  • Compostables: 12.9 lbs. (8.4 %)
  • Recyclables: 135.2 lbs. (88.3 %)
  • Landfill: 5.1 lbs. (3.3 %)

Note: some of the recyclable weight was estimated. Due to the cold and dark, I did not attempt to weigh anything at the event. I was able to weigh the compostables and remaining recyclables later. I estimated the weight of the cardboard we recycled the day of the event, as well as the plastic wrap the medals came in (which had been taken care of the day before).

What Went Right

Although the tents seemed well placed, water bottles did start to accumulate in the street just past the finish line. I put a bin out there for them, which helped.

We had enough volunteers to staff the tents, although (for once) they didn’t get a lot of traffic. Many people must have taken their water bottles and food with them. So we broke down the tents early, which proved wise given that it got dark and cold very quickly.

Opportunities for Improvement

While the tents didn’t collect a lot of waste, there was much more than expected in the registration and food tents. The KIND bars were new this year, and the boxes in which they came, while thin and light, piled up quickly. That plus the additional cardboard from t-shirt and medal boxes filled up both my Jeep and my wife’s. We took as much as we could to the recycling center that evening and I took the rest over the following Monday.

Anna helps with box collection.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

If we stick with the KIND bars next year, we should consider a recycling rolloff. That means we’ll need a way to comfortably sort and weigh the recyclables. Perhaps we can set up shop in a heated tent.

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