Wind, Water, and Waste: Martian Invasion of Races 2018 Sustainability Report

There are some events where the Zero Waste effort goes exactly as planned. The day is beautiful, the volunteers are engaged and enthusiastic, and you achieve more than you thought possible.

This year’s Martian Invasion of Races was not one of them.

Sustainability Report: Martian Invasion of Races
Date: April 14, 2018
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Ford Field Park, Dearborn MI
# Attendees: 4,000+
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 1 or 2, briefly

What happened? It was near freezing, it rained all day, the wind played havoc, and my volunteers didn’t show. But thousands of runners still showed up to run distances from 5K through full marathon. And hundreds of kids were counting on us helping them with completing their accumulated “marathon” with their final 1.2 miles. The invasion, show that it is, had to go on!

Lined up for the half marathon.

The horrendous conditions had been forecast for over a week, so I prepared as best I could. I set up the Zero Waste stations the day before, using plastic “Slim Jim” bins in place of cardboard, and covered my sorting table with a 10-foot canopy.

I placed 96-gallon bins at the finish area to transport the cardboard to the recycling rolloff and keep it dry as long as possible. I covered the park’s yellow trash barrels and placed signs on them:

“This Bin Closed: Please Use the Zero Waste Stations.”

I arrived at 6 a.m. race day in a full rain suit, with temps in the 30s, rain, and a nasty wind. Conditions would only get worse. Still, the incredible RF Events crew had everything in place for the runners, and all the morning races went off without a hitch.


The Zero Waste effort didn’t start too badly. Although my morning volunteer never showed, I was able to borrow a couple from the finish line. With their help we got the starting area clear, mainly of broken umbrellas and plastic bags used as ersatz raincoats. The volunteer check-in pavilion had been used as a shelter by lots of runners, so that area needed attention as well. I then headed to the finish area to collect cardboard and watch the tent there, as the first wave of runners were finishing.

Then nature took over. All four “Zero Waste Station” signs blew down, despite reinforced poles, and several tents partly collapsed from constant wind. The finish area tent flooded. Water bottles, many of them unopened, littered the covered areas, and with no supervision, runners ignored the “Bin Closed” signs and tossed all manner of trash onto the covered barrels.

And this was before the wind really got serious.

The nasty conditions did provide a small benefit; as the number of spectators was down, and runners tended to leave as soon as their race was over, the tents did not accumulate as much waste as last year, when good weather and live music kept people there much longer.

I began taking down the stations around noon. With numb fingers and everything soaking wet, it was a slow process. But several high schoolers were scheduled for the afternoon shift, and I was looking forward to their help sorting the bags. I had all the stations cleaned up by 2:30.

And then the aid station trash got dropped off. And my volunteers didn’t show.


Last year some experienced volunteers and I had handled all of this jut fine. This year I was alone, the cardboard was soaked through, heavy, and falling apart, and for some reason they’d used black bags instead of clear ones. This meant I had to tear each one open to check its contents instead of just looking from the outside.

I got to work, but it was slow going and I kept ducking into my Jeep to warm my hands up. Some compromises needed to be made.

The easy decision was not to bother weighing the waste. Much more difficult was minimizing sorting the bags, which meant some bags of cups went into the rolloff before I could remove all the included Gu packets. Any bags too cross-contaminated with wet food or non-recyclables were sent to trash.

With the help of some RF folks, everything got packed up by 4:00. We distributed the trash among the park’s yellow barrels, many of which sprouted colorful bouquets of dead umbrellas.

Statistics: None. Better luck next year. However, we did collect food waste for compost and recycled the cardboard, most of the cups and water bottles, most of the plastic bags, and several bags of discarded clothing. And the park was clean at the end. Not a disaster by any means. Still, actual spring weather can’t come too soon!

Cold? No. Why do you ask?

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