And It’s Good! Super 5K 2019 Sustainability Report

This year’s Super 5K had decent weather and a good turnout, with football regalia all about, and a visit by the Detroit Lions mascot. The Zero Waste effort scored big overall, but had several annoying fumbles by the runners. I think we had more pint glasses broken than points scored in the Super Bowl!

Sustainability Report: Super 5K 2019
Date: February 3, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Novi High School, Novi MI
# Attendees: 1,600 runners, with about 100 spectators and staff
Zero Waste Team members: 5

Results:   Compostables: 78.4 lbs.     Recyclables: 243.9 lbs.     Landfill: Broken glass, 16.6 lbs., all other trash 0.5 lbs.

Pie and Trend Charts - Super 5K 2019

Race Overview

The Super 5K is held on the roads around Novi High School the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. Runners gather inside the school until the 8:30 a.m. start and return inside afterward for hot dogs, meatballs, bananas, and cookies served in the cafeteria.

Super 5K 2019 - Blind referee
You don’t suppose she’s making some kind of statement, do you?

The Zero Waste team is busiest from about 9:15 to 10:30, when the runners finish, eat, and gather for awards.

Zero Waste Plan

All food containers – hot dog serving papers, boats and toothpicks for meatballs – were certified compostable. Recyclable materials included disposable water bottles, cups for the aid station and volunteer coffee, and cardboard boxes from T-shirts, buffs, medals, and pint glasses. We also collected plastic bags and wrap from medals and cases of water bottles, aluminum serving pans, and Sterno cans used to heat the food.

We deployed three Zero Hero Advocates inside the main area, each staffed with a ZW team member. At the cafeteria exit, we placed three bins for compost and one for recycling, staffed by a team member, and unstaffed bins at the cafeteria entrance.

Super 5K 2019 - Scott at ZWS
Smile! You’re on Zero Waste Camera!
Super 5K 2019 - Cafeteria before the rush
The cafeteria braces for the onslaught of hungry runners.

Super 5K 2019 - People using a zero waste station

We covered outside school trash cans except for a conspicuous one which we lined with a clear bag, figuring it would be used regardless.

We used two 96-gallon carts to hold the compost bags, placing them behind Ground Zero so they wouldn’t be used by runners for general trash.

Post-Event Waste Processing

The school’s recycle bin was full, so HPR took the collected recyclables to Western Washtenaw Recycling. The finish line cardboard was picked up at RF Events on Monday and taken to Recycle Ann Arbor, as were the plastic bags. HPR took the compostables to the WeCare facility in Ann Arbor. Empty Sterno cans will be recycled, and those with fuel remaining will be taken by Washtenaw County Home Toxics.

HPR spent some additional time rinsing the meatball sauce pans and performing final sort of the recycle and compost bags, which turned out to be in pretty good shape overall.

Super 5K 2019 - Meatball pans and Sterno cans
The Sterno cans can be recycled after the fuel residue is cleaned out. The pans are either recycled or donated to the local Humane Society, who wants them.

What Went Well

Compostable materials made disposal easy, and using toothpicks instead of forks for meatballs greatly reduced waste.

The Zero Waste team was terrific, keeping the stations in good order and helping runners with where to stash their trash. Setup and takedown were done quickly and efficiently. Thanks to Mike, Kim, Scott, Jeff (no relation), and drop-in Alicia (below, in regalia)!

Super 5K 2019 - Zero Waste Team

Super 5K 2019 - Alicia in costume

Kudos also to the finish line staff and registration team, who broke down their cardboard boxes and stacked them neatly. The food crew neatly collected the plastic bags, trays, and boxes for us, a big improvement from previous years when everything was just tossed into the Ground Zero area. Many thanks!

Using school trash bins (with our liners) in the cafeteria reduced the need to set up cardboard bins, and also held more waste, reducing the need to change out bags.


Slippery fingers struck again! Despite encouragement for runners to take their finisher pint glasses straight to their cars, some are always dropped on the floor inside, resulting in a hazard and an immediate need to clean up.

Super 5K 2019 - Me sweeping up broken glass

There was still some trash on or near the covered trash bins outside, despite the covers and Zero Waste Station signs just inside the entrances.

Opportunities for Improvement

As it looks like people want to use the outside trash bins, we could put in our own liners for the race instead of covering them, or put labeled cardboard bins next to them.

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