Dirty Racers, Clean Race: Waterloo G&G Bike Race Sustainability Report

Epic Races kicks off their 2018 bike season and second year of their Zero Waste program. How “clean and green” could we make a race notorious for getting people dirty? Read on to find out!

Sustainability Report: Waterloo G & G Bike Race
Date: March 17, 2018
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Waterloo Recreation Area, Portage Lake
# Attendees: 600 cyclists + staff + spectators
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 3

Race Overview

The Waterloo G&G (stands for, “Grit & Gravel”) is the first in the Michigan Gravel Race Series bike races, which take place on local roads and park trails. Spring weather in particular gets the cyclists good and dirty, which given the nature of the race shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Finishers receiving their pint glasses – in plastic bags. Perhaps not the best option for Zero Waste, but a wise decision, IMO.

Cyclists had their choice of 10 miles, 50K, or 100K courses, and categories included single-speed, fat bike, and even tandem in addition to standard bikes.

The morning began cold, but was sunny and warmed up quickly, perfect weather for a bike race. The trails were somewhat muddy but overall in good condition. At the finish, warm fires, hot drinks, hot dogs, and beer awaited the gritty & gravelly racers.

Zero Waste Plan

We set up three Zero Hero tents: one by the hot dog stand, and two in the grassy area between the start/finish line and the awards area. The finish line got a bin for plastic wrap from medals and water bottle cases. The single aid station used water/Gatorade cups and a few energy bars.

Post-race food was bananas, trail mix and pretzels in compostable cups, and energy bars. Ray’s Red Hots set up a hot dog stand. They overlooked bringing compostable papers for this event, so they served the dogs on sheets of aluminum foil. In addition to water bottles we served hot cocoa in compostable cups, and Zoup broth in their branded cups, which are recyclable but not compostable.

A beer stand was set up in the finish area. Racers could use their pint glasses for their beer, or hard plastic Epic-branded cups which we collected for washing and reuse. We set up two bins at the exit, one for cups and the other for compostables.

As the park does not have a recycling program, we took the collected recyclables to the Western Washtenaw recycling dumpsters. Compostables were taken to Epic HQ and picked up by Zero Waste Washtenaw after the event.

Another new wrinkle: giving away hats, gloves and socks recovered from other races and washed. A lot was taken!


Another great effort, with over 96 percent diversion, and under four pounds of trash. The largest contributors to the trash were foil sheets too messy to rinse and recycle, hand warmers, and some laminated paper sheets. And one bag of dog poop for good measure.

Eva (Epic owner) with staff members Michael and Jenn, holding the SBoT (single bag o’ trash), which is the norm for an Epic Race!

Breakdown by waste stream (numbers rounded):

  • Compostables: 26.3 lbs. (23.8 %)
  • Recyclables: 80.5 lbs. (72.8 %)
  • Landfill: 3.8 lbs. (3.4 %)

What Went Right

The number and location of the tents and bins turned out well, which was a pleasant surprise given this was the first year of the Zero Waste program for this event.

The announcer mentioned “this is a Leave No Trace event” several times, and reminded everyone to put their waste in the proper places. And Jeff and the team received several thank-yous from the racers.

Compostable cups for cocoa saved much effort since they didn’t require rinsing. And the reusable cups reduced overall waste and materials cost.

Jeff was ably assisted by two dedicated volunteers, Gabe and Elsa (on the right in both photos), who kept the tents sorted and helped the runners put their waste in the correct places. Elsa has a strong interest in sustainability, and I shamelessly invited her to help me with some other upcoming events.



Opportunities for Improvement

Jeff assumed that since the hot dog vendor had been to a Zero Waste event before, they would naturally bring compostable materials. Oops. Lesson learned: always check with outside vendors prior to the event.

Most racers were unaware that the plastic cups that held the trail mix and mini-pretzels were compostable, and a lot of them were put into the recycling bags, requiring sorting.

The beer tent bins weren’t permanently staffed and had quite a bit of cross-contamination. One more volunteer here would have helped.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

Improve communication with vendors regarding materials, and with participants letting them know which materials are compostable and recyclable.

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