A small school dedicated to student involvement and sustainable practices decides to host a 5K. Naturally, they want it to be done in line with their guiding principles. Who they gonna call? Happy Planet Running, of course! And how did it go? Read on!
Upland Hills is a K-8 school tucked into the woods in Oxford, MI. The school’s mission statement includes a commitment to “encourage children to know themselves and to connect with themselves and with their environment as responsible world citizens.” So when they decided to put on a race, they wanted it to be as sustainable as possible.
Teacher and event organizer Robert Crowe had met me at another race earlier this year, and when he reached out for assistance with his event, I was happy to help, including a visit to the school to talk to the kids about sustainable races and how I was counting on them to transform our “throwaway society” into a true circular economy. I think they liked it.
The main event was the 5K, but there was also a small 10K and a one-mile for the younger kids. The trail went from the farm in and out of the woods, with enough climbs and descents to make it interesting. I ran the 5K (to check on the water stops, you see) and really enjoyed it.
The teachers involved the kids directly in planning the race, and I got a number of excellent questions from them as part of planning it. They also participated at the event, as evidenced by the shirts many of them were wearing.
Zero Waste Plan
We expected the largest component of the race waste to be water cups. Standard waxed paper cups would have been difficult to recycle in the Oxford area, so the school accepted my suggestion to use compostable cups. I purchased 6 oz. hot cups from Bgreen Today, which are better for races than clear PLA cups as hot cups can be “pinched” by runners on the go.
We placed one Zero Hero tent near the food tables, and one on the way to the parking lot. We put a couple of cardboard bins at the water table near the start/finish line to collect cups and any recyclables.
The school’s sustainability practices include waste avoidance and reduction, which showed itself in several ways. The post-race food (bananas, bagels, grapes) did not need utensils or containers. The medals were wooden and handmade by the students; no fancy packaging or plastic wrap required. And course markings were sprayed rather than using utility marking flags, which are technically reusable but are often thrown away after an event due to rust or damage.
The result was just one bag of each major waste stream (compost, recycle, trash).
Thanks to the use of compostable cups, by far the majority was compostable materials (21.8 pounds). Recyclables were less than three pounds, consisting mainly of a few water and soda bottles, some miscellaneous plastic, and coffee cups brought in by the runners and parents. And trash? Less than one pound – about 14 ounces.
Other standard race waste, such as cardboard, plastic bags, and disposable decorations, were hardly to be found. The few bits of special items we collected were tossed in a pail for HPR to send to TerraCycle.
What Went Right
Just about everything. Other races could learn from this one!
Opportunities for Improvement
Better signage at the finish area water table, so plastic water jug caps aren’t mixed in with the compostable cups. Other than that, not much!