A Perfect Day for an Invasion! Martian Races 2019 Sustainability Report

What a difference a year makes! From the freezing rain in 2018 to a cool, sunny day in 2019, conditions were much improved for both the runners and the people working the race.

The Zero Waste team also benefited from the great weather and more experienced help. While last year the sorting had to be cut short and a lot of bags were sent to trash, this year we were able to process all the waste and drop the landfill portion to below ten pounds! Read on to see how we did it, and the few challenges we faced.

Sustainability Report: Martian Invasion of Races 2019
Date: April 13, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Ford Field Park, Dearborn MI
# Attendees: 4,000 runners, with spectators and staff
Zero Waste Team members: 4

Results:   Compostables: 187.9 lbs.     Recyclables: 565.3 lbs.     Landfill: 6.6 lbs.

Pie chart - Martian 2019

Note on the trend chart: the 2018 recycling and landfill waste was estimated, and was heavier than average due to the all-day rain.

This year’s landfill waste consisted mainly of diapers, contaminated plastic, foamboard, waxy cookie boxes, non-recyclable wipes, and tape.

Race Overview

The Martian Invasion offers a variety of races from 5K through marathon, and some special recognition for combinations, such as the “Milky Way 26K” (5K + half marathon). There is also a kids race in a separate area of the park, where they complete the final 1.2 miles of an accumulated 26.2 over several weeks.

Sources of race waste include finish line water bottles and drinks, cardboard from the boxes of medals and shirts, and plastic wrap from medals and water bottle cases.

Martian 2019 - Earth Creatures who litter will be Disintegrated
If only. . .

Zero Waste Plan

This year we reserved 96-gallon recycling carts from the City of Dearborn (24 total) in place of a recycling rolloff. These were used for cardboard and non-cup recyclables. We brought a U-Haul truck to take away waxed cups and other non-standard recyclables.

Station setup was similar to last year but instead of tents at the finish line we set up two stations of open bins along the barricades. Three tents were spaced along the path that served as starting line and exit to parking. The volunteer pavilion trash cans were repurposed for recycling and compost. One tent was placed on the opposite end of the park near the vendors and porta-potties.

Martian 2019 - Finish Line waste station in use

The stations were set up for composting, recycling, and wrappers, and a pail for liquids. Trash, if any, was put in with the wrappers. To cut down on cardboard bin wear and tear, we used rubber “Slim Jim” bins at some stations.

We set up Ground Zero next to the registration tent, which was a good central location for servicing the stations. Here we placed twelve Dearborn recycling bins. A second sorting area for aid station waste was set up at the U-Haul truck, with the other twelve Dearborn recycling bins.

Martian 2019 - Morning ZW team group photo
The morning Zero Waste team.

For aid stations, we sent detailed instructions to the captains for keeping the waste better sorted; in particular, trying to keep Gu packets and other non-recyclables out of the bags of cups. New this year, a special “sweeper” team went out to clean up the course after the start of the half marathon. They dropped off collected waste at the aid stations.

Post-race food was bananas, bagels, bags of chips, and cookies. Bottles of water and chocolate milk were also available at the finish.

In the kids area it was too windy for a tent, so we set up a station of bins with weights on the bottom to hold them in place.

Martian 2019 - Zero Waste station in kids area

Post-Event Waste Processing

The cardboard and other standard recyclables were put in the Dearborn recycling bins. HPR took the bags of cups for Western Washtenaw, plastic bags/wrap for Recycle Ann Arbor, and special materials for the TerraCycle Zero Waste Boxes, such as small plastics and collected Gu wrappers and chip bags.

The bins in the kids area were unsorted due to lack of supervision, so HPR sorted them after the event.

Some items, such as chocolate milk bottles and plastic containers, required rinsing to make them clean enough to recycle. Some rinsing was done during the race and the rest in the days after the race by HPR.

What Went Well

It took more effort to fill the Dearborn bins with cardboard than we would have tossing it into a recycling rolloff. But we managed, and saved a considerable amount of money. We had just enough city recycling bins to hold the accumulated cardboard and non-cup recyclables.

The four people on the afternoon Zero Waste team were all experienced, so we were able to work through a large pile of aid station bags efficiently.

Martian 2019 - Afternoon ZW team sorting
Afternoon team sorting aid station bags. From left to right: Scott, Ed, Alicia. Great work as usual!

We recovered a large amount (over 35 pounds) of party decorations, including a box of deflated plastic “aliens” and a lot of plastic ribbons used as decorations. This waste, which would normally be landfilled, will be recycled via TerraCycle.


Kids area: in addition to unsorted bins, their pavilion was not completely cleaned up, so I had to complete the waste pickup there. And some race waste was placed in a trash can near the bathrooms instead of at the zero waste station.

The aid station sort quality was mixed. Some of the aid station bags required minimal sorting, while some needed quite a bit. Also, some bags were black instead of clear. These bags required additional time and effort to sort because the materials in them were not visible from the outside.

Opportunities for Improvement

Dedicate a volunteer in the kids area to staff the waste station and keep it sorted. Also put up a second station near the bathrooms.

Place an additional tent or set of bins closer to the porta-potties. The park trash can there accumulated a fair amount of cups and banana peels (which I recovered).

Provide additional training for the aid station teams. Also eliminate the use of black bags entirely.

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