Cupless and Trashless! Trail Marathon Weekend 2019 Sustainability Report

While I was holding down a Zero Waste station last weekend, someone approached me holding a small bag of dog poop and looking confused. “I can’t find a trash bin anywhere,” he told me.

I assured him that was the idea.

For this was Trail Marathon Weekend, which has been Zero Waste since 2016, and we don’t generate enough trash to need a bin. The bag went into a 5-gallon pail, which comfortably held all the landfill waste from the entire two-day event. And this year we went cupless, too! How did that go? Read on!

Sustainability Report: Trail Marathon Weekend
Date: April 27-28, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Pinckney, MI
# Attendees: 1,200 runners
Zero Waste Team volunteers: 2

Results:   Compostables: 109.9 lbs.     Recyclables: 219.3 lbs.     Landfill: 3.1 lbs.

Pie chart - TMW 2019

Landfill waste consisted of plastic bags too dirty to recycle, a few shop towels, waxed fast food wrappers, and the above-mentioned dog poop.

Race Overview

Trail Marathon Weekend features a rolling 13-plus mile loop and a brutal five-mile segment on the Potawatomi Trail in Pinckney. Saturday is the half marathon (one full loop). Sunday is the marathon (two loops), 50K (two loops plus five-miler), and a 5-mile sprint. Those brave enough to run both days earn the “No Wimps” medal and shirt.

TMW 2019 - Me with Tamar and Alex
Me (center) with fellow PR Run Club runners Tamar (left) and Alex after our Sunday races.

Trail Marathon was the first RF events race to go Zero Waste (2016), and is now the first of their events to go cupless!

Zero Waste Plan

It was too windy to use the Zero Hero tents, so the stations consisted of three labeled cardboard bins (recycle, compost, plastic bags and wrappers) with a 5-gallon pail for trash and small plastics. We put a hand weight at the bottom of each bin to hold them upright, and placed the stations in areas sheltered from the wind.

TMW 2019 - Meg at waste station

But even that didn’t always work. . .

TMW 2019 - Waste station affected by wind

We set up three waste stations on Saturday. On Sunday, one more was set up at the base camp aid station serving the marathon and 50K runners. Ground Zero was set up next to the office building station. Unlike previous years, we did not set up a station at the starting line or between the finish area and parking lot.

Recyclables were taken away with a U-Haul trailer instead of ordering a recycling rolloff. This saved about $300.00.

Post-race food was bananas, bags of pretzels, and cookies. The aid stations had peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix (served in compostable cups), and other snacks. A coffee truck (Good Sense) was there on Saturday.

At the aid stations, volunteers were ready with jugs of water and Gatorade to fill water bottles. In place of cups of liquid on the tables, large containers were set up with fast-fill valves.

TMW 2019 - Aid Station Ahead sign

TMW 2019 - Aid station volunteers

TMW 2019 - Aid station table and volunteers

Post-Event Waste Processing

The recyclables were taken to WWRA, 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. Compostables went to WeCare in Ann Arbor.

The 5-gallon pails contained mixed materials, so they required sorting. And the bags of wrappers needing some additional sorting to remove the plastic bags.

What Went Well

Going cupless was a success! I heard no complaints from the runners, and my refills at the aid stations (I ran both days) were quick and easy. And much less waste came in from the aid stations, making onsite sorting easier and faster. (Cups take up a lot of space in bags, and hide things like Gu wrappers and banana pieces inside them.)

I gave the race staff a dedicated box for cut cable ties at takedown, which reduced the time spent collecting them.

The U-Haul worked out well, as a WWRA recycling station was nearby and the recyclables could be conveniently dropped off each day.


I had only one volunteer on Saturday, and none on Sunday (my wife came to help). Usually I have plenty of help at this race. Fortunately the reduced amounts of waste and fewer waste stations meant two people could manage.

The aid station sort quality was mixed. The Gu wrappers were supposed to go into the pails, but we still found some in the bags. On Sunday some green bags were used for both recyclables and compostables. I sorted them the day after the race along with the TerraCycle materials.

Opportunities for Improvement

Put out a separate “plastic wrap only” bin with the finish line station instead of having one bin for wrappers and plastic bags. I usually give the finish line a “plastic bags only” bin but it gets contaminated with other waste. Putting it with a full station it might work better.

See if the aid station teams can improve their sorting, and make sure they have enough clear bags so they don’t use green ones for recycling.

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