Stuff Turkeys, not Trash Bags! Ann Arbor Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot Sustainability Report

What’s one way to really appreciate a hot Thanksgiving Day dinner with family and friends? Run a cold 5K in the morning!

This Thanksgiving Day 3,400 runners toed the line in downtown Ann Arbor for a turkey trot and warmed up with cookies, coffee, and hot chocolate afterward. So despite hand and feet-numbing cold, the Zero Waste team had to be on the job. Last year we kept the total landfill trash under three pounds and achieved 99 percent diversion Could we repeat it? Find out below!

Sustainability Report: Ann Arbor Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot
Date: November 22, 2018
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Downtown Ann Arbor, MI
# Attendees: 3,400
Zero Waste Team members: 3

ResultsPie chart - RF Events Turkey Trot 2018

  • Compostables: 110.6 lbs.
  • Recyclables: 127.0 lbs.
  • Landfill: 4.9 lbs.

Main contributors to landfill trash were 3 bags of dog poop, some medical waste, and a lot of disposable hand warmers.

Comparison vs. 2017: Total waste dropped by 35 percent, with recyclable materials cut by half. The reason is still unclear, as attendance was down only slightly. Landfill waste increased from 2.8 lbs. to 4.9 lbs. as colder temperatures resulted in more use of hand warmers.

Race Overview

The race takes place in downtown Ann Arbor on Thanksgiving morning. The 5K is the main event, with a 1K run for kids. Many people show up in holiday costumes.

The start/finish line, food tables, Bearclaw hot chocolate/coffee station, and Santa’s Village were all located on two blocks of Liberty Street between Division Street and Fourth Avenue. The 5K started and finished at Liberty and Fourth, with runners continuing on to the refreshments. The kids ended the 1K at Fifth Avenue, picked up packaged cookies and turned right onto Liberty toward the hot drinks and Santa’s Village.

RF Turkey Trot - Start of kids race

Zero Waste Plan

We ordered one 4-yard recycling dumpster and four compost carts from the City of Ann Arbor. The recycling dumpster was placed at the corner of Liberty and Division. The compost carts were moved behind Ground Zero for the race, and to Liberty Street for pickup after the race.

Ground Zero was set up behind the registration tent in the back of the parking lot. This location helped conceal the compost carts and prevented use of the lot’s private recycle and trash dumpster by runners.


Waste stations were placed at the registration tent (moved to the hot chocolate/coffee station after race start), two near the food tables, and one between Fourth and Fifth Avenues to catch the waste from the 1K kids race. Due to the cold conditions we used signed sets of bins (compost, recycle, trash) instead of tents.

City trash and recycling bins between Division Street and Fourth Avenue were covered or temporarily moved. The corner of Fourth and Liberty was left alone, as little waste was expected there.

Tables with bananas and water bottles were between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. The hot chocolate/coffee station also included large boxed cookies. Compostable cups were used for the hot drinks, and at the aid station for water. We expected (and got) some non-compostable waxed cups from Starbucks, etc. which were sorted out and sent to Western Washtenaw Recycling, as Ann Arbor does not accept them.

What Went Well

Unlike last year, very few waste items were found outside the bins, just a few water bottles and caps here and there, and no banana peels left on fire hydrants. And the decision to leave Fourth and Liberty alone turned out fine. Some City bins may have received race waste, but none were full or overflowing.

I put signs marked, “Starbucks cups HERE” on the recycling bins, and “Cocoa Cups HERE” on the compost bins, along with examples of each clipped to the sides. It seems to have helped, although the bins did need regular sorting (see below).

I was short of volunteers for most of the event. However, two “regulars” showed up to help near the end, and the staff pitched in during takedown to help with final sorting and disposal. Much appreciated!

RF Turkey Trot - Data collection at Ground Zero
Data collection and final sorting at Ground Zero. Note the propane heater on the table to warm hands when needed. (And it was needed.)

We ended up using only two of the four compost carts. The 4-yard recycling dumpster seemed an appropriate size.


Some runners tossed their waste into the nearest container rather than reading the signs. As a result, the trash bins contained many compostable cups and banana peels. Also, runners were not as good at emptying their water bottles before disposal as they’ve been at other races.

Post-Event Waste Processing

Small plastics, race bibs, and disposable gloves were sorted into their corresponding TerraCycle Zero Waste boxes. Some of the Starbucks cups needed rinsing due to chocolate residue before recycling. Two large bags of plastic bags/wrap and a few pieces of Styrofoam were taken to the Recycle Ann Arbor dropoff station.

Opportunities for Improvement

It may be helpful to make an announcement before the start of the 5K to remind the runners of the Zero Waste program and to please put their trash into the proper bins. The reminder could include a request to empty water bottles before disposal.

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