Great and Getting Better: Trail Marathon Weekend 2018 Sustainability Report

Despite lousy weather in 2017, Zero Waste at Trail Marathon Weekend improved significantly from 2016, cutting landfill waste in half and improving diversion from 90 percent to 95 percent. Could we improve even more on this in 2018?

We did indeed! Read on to find out how we did it.

Sustainability Report: Trail Marathon Weekend

Date: April 28-29, 2018
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Silver Lake Recreation Area, Pinckney MI
# Attendees: 1,500 runners
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 4+ per shift

Race Overview

The Potawatomi Trail in Pinckney Rec Area is the site of Trail Marathon Weekend. A rolling 13-plus mile loop and a brutal five-mile segment make up its constituent parts. Races include a half marathon on Saturday, and a full marathon, 50K, and 5-miler on Sunday. There are also two options to run both days: the “No Wimps” half + full or 50K, and a new “No Wimps, Jr.” half + 5 miler.

Trail Marathon is oldest race put on by RF Events (33 years), and also the first of their events to go Zero Waste (2016). In 2017 it was featured in a video by the Can’d Aid Foundation promoting their recycling grant program, which you can view here.

The majority of recyclables comes from cardboard boxes holding food, shirts, and medals, and cups used by runners at aid stations. Although the cups are PE-lined and not recyclable everywhere, we are fortunate to have a recycling provider who accepts them. Banana peels and other food waste is composted, and we continue to collect Gu wrappers and other hard-to-recycle materials to send to TerraCycle.

Zero Waste Plan

We deployed four tents in the start/finish area and one on the way to the parking lot to capture last-minute waste disposal. On Sunday the tent next to the starting line moved to the marathon/50K aid station at the end of the large loop.

Checking out a tent and our ultracool 2017 Zero Waste infographic.

The three full-service (food, water, Gu) aid stations on the large loop each got a tent in addition to bins dedicated to cups. Gu wrappers would be collected in 5-gallon pails set next to the tents.

Finish food was basic, with pretzel bags the only packaged item. A special bin was set up for collecting plastic wrap and bags from water bottle cases and medals. As a bonus, the medals are wooden with a cord loop instead of metal with a nylon strip, which reduces weight and packaging needs

Advanced Disposal provided a 20-yard recycling rolloff. Compostables were collected in 96-gallon bins for pickup by commercial composter My Green Michigan. Gu/snack bar wrappers and bags of plastic bags/wrap were taken by Happy Planet Running for sending to TerraCycle (wrappers) and Recycle Ann Arbor (bags).

On the publicity side, RF Events stressed in its communications that this was a Zero Waste event, and encouraged the runners to support use of fewer cups.


Steady improvement continued, with total trash nearly cut in half from 2017 (10.3 pounds vs. 19) and diversion rate increasing from 95 percent to 97 percent. Total generated waste from all sources also decreased from 463 pounds to 380 pounds, thanks mainly to reduced use of disposable cups.

Two days of races, one bag of trash!

Breakdown by waste stream:

  • Compostables: 77.2 lbs. (20.4 %)
  • Recyclables: 291.7 lbs. (76.9 %)
  • Landfill: 10.3 lbs. (2.7 %)

What Went Right

Setup on Friday meant we didn’t have to put up tents and signs in the dark on Saturday morning and scramble to have everything in place by race time.

We had enough Zero Waste Team volunteers on both days to put someone at the three main aid stations to pre-sort and keep the litter under control. And when the aid station waste came in, they dove right into final sort and data collection. As a result, we wrapped up in record time. (The featured photo is me with a troop of Pinckney Girl Scouts, who did us proud on Sunday morning.)

Sorting aid station waste on Saturday.
Team Zero Waste holding down the fort at the Glenbrook Rd. aid station.

Reduced overall waste meant less sorting and tent management. The 20-yard recycling rolloff looked to be only about 50 percent full, down from over 75 percent the past two years. Compostables fit into a single 96-gallon bin, down from two last year.

Opportunities for Improvement

Consider ways to further reduce disposable cup use. Many races around the country have gone completely cupless.

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

See if aid station tents can be given to the aid station crews directly rather than being dropped off very early Saturday morning (by me, Jeff – yes, I’m being selfish here).

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