The music was grooving, the weather was cool, and the trails were in top condition. Sounds like a perfect recipe for a weekend of camping and trail running! And so it proved for this year’s Run Woodstock at Hell Creek Ranch.

But with a record number of campers, could the Zero Waste Team stay on top of things all the way from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning? A trashed campground would be most uncool, so it was on us to keep the right vibe. How did we do? Find out below!

Sustainability Report: Run Woodstock 2018
Date: September 7-9, 2018
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Hell Creek Ranch, Pinckney MI
# Attendees: 1,500 runners, plus campers and spectators
Zero Waste Team size: Varied

Pie chart - Run Woodstock 2018Results

  • Compostables: 700 lbs.
  • Recyclables: 1,192 lbs.
  • Landfill: 390 lbs.

Comparison vs. previous years: Despite a record number of campers, total waste decreased from over 3,000 pounds in 2016 and 2017 to 2,282 pounds in 2018, mainly due to a 1,000 lb. decrease in recycling weight. Compostable weight remained consistent in the 600-700 pound range.

Trash was consistent with 2016, but up a lot from 2017. The difference is likely due to campers putting more trash in our tents on Saturday night and Sunday morning, instead of the camp’s dumpster or our trash rolloff. Treating wrappers as trash also contributed to total trash weight and volume.

Race Overview

Run Woodstock bills itself as “a weekend of peace, love, music, and running,” with over 2,000 runners and campers occupying Hell Creek Ranch and the Pinckney Recreation Area trails. The featured races are the ultras – 50K, 50 miles, 100K, and 100 miles, but shorter options are available, as are “fun runs” Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday morning. Live music, yoga, and lots of tie-dye are regular features.

Run Woodstock 2018 - Half marathon start

Run Woodstock 2018 - Ukelele band
The RF Events staff rocks out the ukelele jams.

Main sources of waste are the campground and stage/party area and the three ultramarathon aid stations, which provide hot and cold food and drinks Friday and Saturday. Aid stations for the shorter races (marathon, half, etc.) provide water and Gu. Food vendors also give out some materials, and we encourage them to use compostables where possible.

On Sunday many campers drop off their collected weekend waste, which is often mixed together and can be hard to sort.

Zero Waste Plan

Two sorting stations were set up: one at the dumpster/rolloff area, where aid station bags and camper trash were dropped off, and one in the campground near the pavilion.

We rented a 30-yard recycling rolloff and 20-yard trash rolloff from Waste Management. As they cannot accept waxed paper cups, I also rented a U-Haul 5×10 enclosed trailer to transport those bags to a nearby Western Washtenaw dropoff facility. Compostables were collected in 96-gallon bins for Tuesday pickup at RF Events by My Green Michigan.

In the campground we set up a tent near the bathrooms, two next to the finish line, one to the left of the stage, and one near the retail tent and food vendors. The two sets of porta-potties on the entrance and exit roads each got a tent. Near the “trading blanket” we added a bin to collect discarded shoes and clothes.

Run Woodstock 2018 - Closeup of Zero Waste sign

Run Woodstock 2018 - Tent setup with RF Keep Camp Clean sign

This year we added more signage to improve awareness of the need for clean and dry recyclables, and empty water bottles. We also added small lights to make the signs readable at night: green for compost slots, blue for recycling, red for trash.

Run Woodstock 2018 - Tent lit up at night

In a change from previous years, we used only bins at the ultra aid stations, to cut down on overhead. At the race director’s request, we also put all the cardboard bins inside clear bags to save them from ground moisture. We put lights on these bins as well.

Due to the volume of waste expected, we treated wrappers as trash, attempting to collect them separately only at the campground aid station where Gu wrapper use is high. We pulled wrappers out of the other aid station bags when they arrived at the rolloffs.

On Sunday morning, we faced the usual pile of aid station bags and camper trash bags at the rolloffs. We made the decision to only sort camper waste if it would be easy and quick. If their bags were too mixed, we put them in the trash unsorted.

Run Woodstock 2018 - Sunday Zero Waste team in action

What Went Well

This year, unlike 2017, we had sufficient time and volunteers to weigh the waste before putting it in the rolloffs. This made our final numbers more solid. We also had someone to staff the bins in the campground aid station during the Friday overnight shift, which kept that waste under control. (Man, do I owe my wife a huge favor.)

The U-Haul trailer proved useful in many ways: taking bags of cups to WWRA, hauling bags from the campground to the rolloffs, and transporting compostables back to RF Events for Tuesday pickup.

The Zero Waste team volunteers did their usual great job, pitching in to sort through a lot of messy bags to maximize our recovery of recyclables and compostables. It’s a tough job. But we got a lot of thanks and compliments from runners and campers.

Run Woodstock 2018 - Sunday Zero Waste team photo at end

Challenges

While the Friday night waste was kept under control, the tents were unattended during the Saturday night partying due to lack of volunteers. This resulted in a lot of extra sorting Sunday morning.

The food vendors were mixed in their use of compostable materials. Two (My Little Honey Pot and Simply Spanish) used 100 percent compostables. One used some compostables but used foil for hot dogs (which had to be trashed) and one used plastic cups for smoothies that had to be either saved for rinsing or put in the trash.

The aid stations discarded a large amount of food that could have been donated instead of composted.

Unattended tents are at risk of getting filled quickly during peak periods, and having cross-contamination of materials – food in recycling, plastic in compost, etc. The most troublesome times there are Saturday evening as the ultras finish, and Sunday morning as campers exit and the race staff does takedown and site cleanup.

Post-Event Waste Processing

This included washing the jars of peanut butter and jelly used to make aid station sandwiches, cups and containers with residual oil or greasy materials, and the collected clothing to prepare it for donation. The materials saved for TerraCycle – party decorations, small plastics, disposable gloves, cable ties, etc. were put in the appropriate Zero Waste boxes.

Opportunities for Improvement

A volunteer for Saturday night until 11:00 p.m. would help greatly with reducing sorting on Sunday morning, when cleanup activities keep us fully busy.

It would be very helpful to have all the ultra aid stations keep their waste sorted as much as possible. Currently that isn’t part of the expected duties of the aid station staff.

Many campers and runners are still unaware of what can be composted and recycled. If we can educate them further, and have them bring us sorted waste on Sunday morning when they leave, we could recover more materials and save time.

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