Waterloo Grit & Gravel Sustainability Report

Spring bike races are almost guaranteed to generate a lot of dirty cyclists, and such was the case last Saturday. But the Zero Waste team kept the grounds clean and finished the day without enough trash to fill a swag bag. Read on to find out how we did it!

Sustainability Report: Waterloo Grit & Gravel Bike Races 2019
Date: March 16, 2019
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Portage Lake State Park, Grass Lake MI
# Attendees: 500 runners + staff + spectators
Zero Waste Team size: 2 (various throughout the day)

Pie chart - Waterloo Grit and Gravel 2019Results: 99 percent landfill diversion

Compostables: 7 lbs.
Recyclables: 76.1 lbs.
Trash: 0.8 lbs.

Trash consisted of tape, a couple of cups too soiled to recycle, some wet wipes, and the requisite bag of dog poop.

Comparison vs. 2018:  All three waste categories dropped. Compostables went from 26 pounds to 7 due to fewer food choices and hot drinks in wax-lined cups rather than compostable ones. Recyclables dropped from 81 pounds to 76 pounds, and landfill trash from 3.8 pounds to under one pound.

Waterloo GnG 2019 - Single bag of trash
The now-standard single bag of trash!

Race Overview

The Waterloo Grit & Gravel is the first in the “Michigan Gravel Road Series” bike races, which take place on local roads and park trails. The trails had some muddy patches but were overall in good condition. As usual, the cyclists got dirty, which they expect and all seemed to be in good spirits about.

Waterloo GnG 2019 - Muddy finisher
Yep, it was dirty out there.

Cyclists had their choice of 10 mile, 50K, or 100K courses, and categories included single-speed, fat bike, and even tandem in addition to standard bikes.

Waterloo GnG 2019 - Wild outfit
Not to mention the occasional wild outfit. Oh, wait, I guess I just mentioned it.

It was chilly throughout the day, ranging from sunny to snow flurries. We had campfires in the post-race area to keep everyone warm.

Zero Waste Plan

We set up two Zero Hero tents: one in the grassy area next to the bike racks, and one in the post-race area with the campfires. The finish line got a bin for plastic wrap from medals and water bottle cases. The single aid station used water/Gatorade cups.

Trail mix and mini-pretzels were available post-race, as were the ubiquitous Twizzler sticks. Shorts Brewing Co. provided a beer table for adults, and Catered Coffee brought a truck serving coffee, hot cocoa, and smoothies. Ray’s Red Hots provided hot dogs on compostable deli sheets.

Waste Streams Processed

The park does not recycle, so we took the collected recyclables to Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority recycling dumpsters. Compostables were taken to WeCare in Ann Arbor. Special recyclables, such as small plastics and disposable gloves went into Happy Planet Running’s TerraCycle boxes.

Post-event waste processing was minimal, mainly wrappers and small plastic items such as straws and loose bottle caps.

What Went Well

We put out a “FREE” box of hats, gloves, and water bottles collected from previous races. People took four bottles, but we collected ten more off the course. Not sure why this happens.

In addition to recovering our race waste, we collected and processed the disposable gloves and food waste from Ray’s.

We gave out pint glasses at the beer tent following the race, instead of at the finish line. This cut down the risk of breakage and eliminated the need for plastic beer cups. A win all around!

Despite the challenge of two different snack cup types (see below) having just two waste stations proved sufficient and the low total waste made for quick takedown at the end.


The snack cups used two different types of plastics. The trail mix was in recyclable plastic, and the mini pretzels were in compostable plastic cups. They looked virtually identical, so the participants tossed both types in both bins, requiring frequent sorting.

The coffee truck brought “biodegradable” plastic cups for smoothies, which are not certified compostable and pose a problem to recycle as well. We gave them compostable cups, although due to the cold weather they actually sold only two smoothies.

Opportunities for Improvement

Settle on one type of plastic for snack cups, preferably compostable.

Encourage our food vendors to avoid “biodegradable” plastic and use either standard plastics or (preferably) certified compostable materials.

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