Could You Cover Your Glass, Please? Super 5K Sustainability Report

A snowy Sunday morning in Michigan, but over 1,000 runners came out to get in a 5K before the Big Game. And all of them would want to grab hot dogs, cookies, pint glasses and awards, and be on their way soon afterward. In past years the rush has been very challenging for the Zero Waste team. Could we keep up this year, and improve on last year’s 93 percent diversion? We were going to find out!

Sustainability Report: Super 5K 2018
Date: February 4, 2018
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Novi High School, Novi MI
# Attendees: 1,150
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 6

Braving the cold and the snow!

Race Overview

The Super 5K is held on the roads around Novi High School the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. Runners gather inside Novi High School to keep warm until the 8:30 a.m. start, then go back inside afterward for post-race food and awards. Hot dogs and meatballs are the hot dishes, along with cookies and bananas.

The Zero Waste team is busiest from about 9:15 to 10:30, when the runners are eating, checking out a few vendors, and gathering for the awards. In addition to food waste and containers, there are the empty boxes from the finishers award of pint glasses.

The “halftime entertainment”. Lord, I hope there wasn’t a wardrobe malfunction.

Zero Waste Plan

Like last year, all the materials in the kitchen area – hot dog serving papers, boats and toothpicks for meatballs, and napkins – were certified compostable. Recyclable materials included plastic water bottles and cups for the volunteer coffee & hot chocolate, as well as all the cardboard and the water cups from the aid station. We also captured the plastic bags and wrap from various race material packaging.

New this year: Signs and infographic in the food service area.

We deployed three Zero Hero Advocates inside the main area, each staffed with a volunteer. In the serving room we set up a set of signed cardboard bins by the exit doors, and staffed them with two volunteers. The trash containers from the high school were concealed or covered to ensure we captured as much of the event waste as possible.

The Zero Waste team helps a runner. (In the background is the 2017 waste stream infographic.)

Novi High School took the collected recyclables. Compostable materials were returned to RF Events for pickup and delivery to the Ann Arbor composting facility. HPR (Jeff) took the plastic bags and the linings from the volunteer coffee boxes (to be sent to TerraCycle).


A terrific 98 percent diversion. But without the broken glass, the landfill would have been less than one pound (a few wrappers, some tape, and a couple of hand warmers). Darn clumsy runners!

Breakdown by waste stream:

  • Compostables: 92.9 lbs. (26.1 %)
  • Recyclables: 53.3 lbs. (71.9 %)
  • Landfill: 7 lbs. (2 %)

What Went Right

Using compostable materials simplified disposal and reduced the need for sorting.

Applying lessons learned from last year, we used fewer and larger containers for mustard and ketchup, reducing the need to rinse them out before recycling them. We also posted signs at the food tables informing runners that their food and containers were all compostable.

Having sufficient volunteers to staff the Zero Waste stations and keep control of things in the kitchen area meant we got everything sorted and weighed in record time.

Zero Waste team member Paula holding down a station.

Last year we overlooked weighing the boxes that had contained the pint glasses. This year we captured that information (nearly 170 pounds).

Opportunities for Improvement

Cover the outside trash bins earlier. By the time we went to cover them, they already contained some race-related waste.

Find a way to keep people from dropping their pint glasses. Despite annual urgings to put them in a bag or somewhere else safe, several glasses are dropped and broken each year. We can’t recycle them, as their chemical composition is different from glass bottles and jars, so they have to be landfilled. Plus the broken glass is dangerous.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

Not much. The process seems to be well established.

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