Choc Up Another Good Race! Hot Cocoa Classic Sustainability Report

How do you attract runners to a November morning race with a steep climb in it? With chocolate, of course! With a “chocolate aid station” and hot cocoa for recovery, several hundred people cheerfully ran or walked up and down the Mt. Brighton ski hill.

The challenge for the Zero Waste team is handling a lot of waste in a short window, as the resort opens for general business later in the morning. Could we match, and even improve, last year’s landfill diversion of over 98 percent? Read on to find out!

Sustainability Report: Hot Cocoa Classic 2018
Date: November 3, 2018
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Mt. Brighton Resort
# Attendees: 500 runners + staff + spectators
Zero Waste Team size: 3

ResultsPie chart - Hot Cocoa Classic 2018

  • Compostables: 90.9 lbs.
  • Recyclables: 77.1 lbs.
  • Landfill: 0.9 lbs. (mainly hand warmers and baby wipes)

Comparison vs. 2017: Diversion increased from 98 percent to 99.5 percent. Total waste increased from 152 pounds to 169 pounds, with recyclables decreasing and compostables increasing.

Hot Cocoa Classic 2018 - Single baggie of trash
What less than a pound of trash looks like!

Race Overview

The Hot Cocoa Classic takes place at the Mt. Brighton ski and golf resort. Both the 5K and one-mile races are challenging, beginning with a long climb up the ski hill and ending with a steep downhill. Some brave souls do both!

Hot Cocoa Classic 2018 - Charging downhill

After the race, runners warm up in the cafe with cups of hot cocoa topped with marshmallows, sprinkles, and small peppermint candy canes. Pre-made bowls of Oreos, pretzels, a bag of potato chips, and small cups of peanut butter are set out for easy “grab and go” access. Also available are bananas, water bottles, and Twizzler licorice sticks.

Hot Cocoa Classic 2018 - Food tables

Zero Waste Plan

Bins for compost/recycle/trash was set up at the starting line, and at the bottom of the steps leading to the start/finish area. After race start, the starting line set was moved to the exit to the parking lot. Trash cans were covered and marked with “Bin Closed” signs.

Inside we set up one waste station near the café entrance/exit. But this year they opened the entire café to the runners, so later on we set up another station in the center. The post-race food bowls and cocoa cups were compostable.

Hot Cocoa Classic 2018 - Inside waste station by exit

We used water jugs and 6 oz. compostable cups at the start and finish lines, hoping to reduce the large number of half-empty water bottles in our recycling stream last year. Finisher medals were unwrapped during setup, and the volunteers were provided with a bin for the plastic wrapping.

The aid station used 6 oz. compostable water cups and individually wrapped chocolates.

Waste Streams Processed

Compostables: Cups, napkins, paper towels, food waste. Taken to Tuthill Farms after the race.

Standard recyclables: Cardboard, boxboard, paper put into Mt. Brighton recycling dumpster. Since Advanced Disposal services the dumpster, we could also include some waxed cups runners brought in. Whipped cream cans were emptied fully after the race and then recycled.

Special recyclables: Used cable ties, disposable gloves, and snack bag wrappers saved for TerraCycle, Styrofoam and plastic wrap taken to Recycle Ann Arbor.

What Went Well

Compostable materials for food and drinks meant no worries about landfill waste due to food contamination. But the plastic bags and wrappers were a challenge (see below).

Having two food lines this year greatly reduced wait time for runners to get food and cocoa. The second waste station in the center of the café was also a good move, reducing the exit line and stopping waste being put in containers marked for other uses.

Using cups instead of bottles at the start and finish lines made sorting and processing the outside bins much easier.


For some reason the Zero Waste team got left off the volunteer list. Fortunately, one volunteer freed up, and a runner and Zero Waste volunteer at previous races offered to help. Thanks, Kristen and Scott!

Hot Cocoa Classic 2018 - Helping runners at waste station

We overlooked giving a set of bins to the folks prepping the food. As a result, their waste was mixed. We sorted it and gave them a box for used disposable gloves.

The plastic bags and wrappers needed to be carefully sorted from the compostables, requiring active assistance from the Zero Waste team volunteers.

Twizzler box
Why, God, why?

As with last year, the pre-set bowls of food meant a lot of it was thrown away uneaten. However, it will go back to good use as compost.

Hot Cocoa Classic 2018 - Typical uneaten food

Opportunities for Improvement

Put a second waste station in the café into next year’s Zero Waste plan.

Inquire if there is an alternative to individual bags of potato chips and individually wrapped Twizzlers.

Remember to provide the food prep volunteers with bins for compostables and recyclables, and a box for used gloves.

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