Freedom from Trash: Firecracker 5K 2018 Sustainability Report

A beautiful Fourth of July, perfect for a morning 5K, viewing a parade, and then spending the day eating and hanging out with family and friends. What could be better than that? All that, plus nearly zero waste at the race!

Sustainability Report: Firecracker 5K
Date: July 4, 2018
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Downtown Ann Arbor, MI
# Attendees: 800 runners + staff and spectators
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 4

Pie Chart - Firecracker 5KResults

  • Compostables: 21.6 lbs.
  • Recyclables: 91.1 lbs.
  • Landfill: 1.9 lbs.

Overall landfill diversion rate: 98.3%

Largest contributor to trash: Disposable diaper (0.6 lbs.)

Race Overview

The Firecracker is held every July 4 in downtown Ann Arbor, with its start and finish at, appropriately, Liberty Street and Fourth Avenue. In addition to the 5K, there is a one-mile fun run, a “kids dash” of a couple hundred yards, and a special division where people attempt to eat four hot dogs in 76 seconds, then run the 5K!


The race is followed immediately by the parade, so Liberty Street must be clear by 10:00. Last year was a close call, as we took down our final Zero Hero tent and sprinted across the street as the floats came into view. We hoped for a little less excitement this time.

Zero Waste Plan

As the City doesn’t take the waxed paper cups we use at aid stations, we took them and the other recyclables to Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority. Compostables were taken by Zero Waste Washtenaw after the event. Wrappers and small plastic items were collected to send to TerraCycle.

The “Ground Zero” collection area was set up on Fourth Street just south of Liberty. The hot dog stand was directly in front so runners didn’t have to view a lot of trash bags.

These guys went all-compostable with serving materials for this race. They’re also phasing out Styrofoam. Good work!

Four Zero Hero tents were set up on Liberty Street – one for registration and starting line traffic, two at Liberty and Fourth (kitty-corner) for finish line and food vendors, and one farther down for people leaving the area.

We set up two cardboard bins for a truck handing out samples of Starbucks “Doubleshot” coffee smoothies.


We covered City trash and recycling bins in the race area, and added one at the corner of Liberty and Fifth to cover an overflowing City recycling bin

What Went Well

The Zero Waste team was small, but we got some extra help with final sorting, including one of my run club members who pitched in after running the 5K. Thanks, Michael!

Takedown went smoothly, and we had the tents off the street and all waste bags in the Ground Zero area with plenty of time to spare.

The mayor of Ann Arbor was there, and we were able to show him what a Zero Waste event is capable of. Here he is with our single bag of trash!

Left to right: Me, Eva (Epic Races owner) and Mayor Christopher Taylor.


Someone put a couple of unlabeled bins near the finish line water. Predictably, they quickly filled with all kinds of waste and needed sorting.

Noosa yogurt also showed up again, and sticky yogurt cups appeared in our recycling bags. We sorted them out and put them in a bin to rinse after the event, along with the smoothie bottles.


Opportunities for Improvement

When race staff puts out extra waste boxes, they should notify the Zero Waste team so the bins can be labeled and/or staffed.

Cover the word “TRASH” on the cardboard bins. Even when we put signs on them, people think they are for actual trash.

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