Detroit Women’s Half Marathon 2018 Sustainability Report

The Zero Waste effort at the Detroit Women’s Half was abuzz with activity – not all of it helpful, unfortunately. But despite that, we ended up with a bee-utiful day and a “honey” of a result! See below for the scoop!

Sustainability Report: Detroit Women’s Half Marathon 2018
Date: September 16, 2018
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Belle Isle Park, Detroit MI
# Attendees: 2,400 runners
Zero Waste Team size: 3


  • Compostables: 170.3 lbs.
  • Recyclables: 324.5 lbs.
  • Landfill: 9.6 lbs.

Comparison vs. 2017: Total weight of waste decreased from 894 pounds to 504 pounds, due in part to a large decrease in compostables (no crates of spoiled bananas this year). But recyclables also dropped across the board – cardboard, cups, bottles, etc.

Diversion percentage decreased slightly from 99.4 percent to 98.1 percent. While there was a small increase in landfill trash (4 lbs.), the main reason was the reduction in total waste, thereby increasing the landfill contribution percentage.

Race Overview

The Detroit Women’s Half Marathon, which includes 5K and 10K distances, runs through Belle Isle Park, with views of the Detroit River and its shorelines. The day started cool, perfect for running, and did not get overly warm until most runners had finished.

The race celebrates the strength of women and girls, and in particular those who survived major challenges such as heart failure and cancer, and were now healthy and fit enough to run one of the events.

Detroit Womens Half 2018 - Half marathon start

Post-race food included pancakes, fruit, chips, and cookies. There was also a “chocolate station” on the course, because why not? Bearclaw Coffee brought a truck to serve coffee and smoothies, using all compostable service items (yes!). The gelato vendor from 2017 did not come back, saving the effort of rinsing cups.

Zero Waste Plan

The main race area is set up as two fairly narrow strips of pavement separated by a short cement barrier. One strip is the start/finish area with food tables, and the other is set up for registration, retail, and service (e.g. massage, medical).

Last year two tents were set up on the finish line pavement, directly in the path of the finishers. This year the food table layout changed somewhat, so we placed waste stations at intervals along the tables and at the end of the row.

Detroit Womens Half 2018 - waste station
Typical station setup.

In the registration, retail, and service area, we set up one station at Ground Zero next to registration and one at the Bearclaw Coffee truck.

Instead of tents we set up rows of bins for compost, recycling, and trash. In a couple of locations we attempted to collect wrappers as well. Special materials, such as cable ties and other small plastic, disposable gloves, tablecloths, and balloons were saved for TerraCycle.

Detroit Womens Half 2018 - Catherine assisting at station
Volunteer Catherine assists runners at a waste station.

Waste Management provided a 20-yard recycling rolloff container. Due to changes in the recycling environment, they accepted fewer materials than last year – no Styrofoam, plastic bags, or waxed paper cups. I brought along a U-Haul trailer to take those materials to recycling centers, and to transport the compostables.

What Went Well

The station locations appeared to work well. Some water bottles and other waste was left on the pavement or elsewhere, but not too much.

As with last year, we had a shortage of volunteers, so we did our best to rotate among the stations and keep them as sorted as possible real time. That worked reasonably well.

Detroit Womens Half 2018 - Catherine at station


All the food and sweet stuff attracted a large number of unwelcome visitors.

Detroit Womens Half 2018 - Yellow jackets

Fortunately, actual stings were few, but they were all over the waste bags, and became such a nuisance that we had to stop sorting. We processed the rolloff material first, then loaded all the other bags into the trailer, which I took back for sorting at my house.

Detroit Womens Half 2018 - Joyce and me sorting at home
My wife (and hero) joins me at work. Sorting waste together can be very romantic, you know.

The bags from the nine aid stations were mixed in quality. Some were well sorted, and some had a lot of mixed waste. And both the bags and yellow jackets were too numerous for them to be sorted on site.

Detroit Womens Half 2018 - Aid stations bag dropoff
The first of two waves of bags from the aid stations arrives.

The rolloff driver had trouble finding the right spot to drop it off, and I had to walk him to the spot on the phone. It wound up in a very good spot, however.

Food waste included a large tub of uncooked pancake batter which couldn’t be disposed of on site or put into the green bags. I ended up home composting it.

Opportunities for Improvement

Find a way to improve the sorted quality of the aid station bags.

Provide an improved map for the rolloff driver. The rolloff location is marked in relation to the porta-potties, which weren’t there at dropoff time.

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