Supporting Zero Waste at any running event is challenging. But how about a three-day point-to-point race that crosses an entire state? What would be the greater challenge – running the race, or applying sustainable practices for 150 miles? We were going to find out!

Sustainability Report: Veterans Memorial 150 2019
Date: May 25-27, 2019
Race director: Kurt Adams
Location: Ludington, MI to Bay City, MI
# Attendees: 26 solo runners + 2 relay teams
Green Team size: 1

Results: 86.8 percent landfill diversion

Compostables: 40.3 lbs.     Recyclables: 46.8 lbs.     Landfill: 13.3 lbs.

Note: the waste totals are from the starting line, finish line, and ten of the fifteen aid stations.

Race Overview

The Veterans Memorial “Lake to Lake” 150 takes place over Memorial Day weekend each year. It raises money for Victory Gym, a nonprofit that provides free training for veterans and first responders, and support services for those struggling with PTSD.

The race begins Saturday morning at the Ludington Pier on Lake Michigan, passing through the Manistee National Forest, along the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail, and through many small towns on the way to Bay City State Park on Lake Huron. Runners have until noon Monday (52 hours) to complete the 150 miles, or as many as they wish to run. To earn a belt buckle, one needs to run at least 100 contiguous miles.

Personal note: Jeff ran the race last year. You can read about his adventure on his personal blog here.

Zero Waste Plan

This was the first year of this event’s sustainability effort and the longest “footprint” Happy Planet Running has ever supported, so we knew it would be a learning experience and did not set any goals or expectations for landfill diversion.

The fifteen aid stations would be the source of most of the waste. Each station received green bags for food waste and compostable materials, and clear bags for recycling and trash. A waste stream guide was provided with the most common items captured at running races. Some waste was also expected from the crews supporting the solo runners and relay teams.

World Centric 6 oz. compostable hot cups were used at the aid stations for both cold and hot drinks. To simplify things, use of plates and utensils was minimal. Hot breakfast foods were available at the finish line.

We planned to bring all the collected waste bags to the finish line for final sorting. It did not quite work out that way (see below).

Waste Streams Processed

Jeff took the collected waste back to Ann Arbor for final sort and weighing. Recyclables went to Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority. Compostables went to WeCare in Ann Arbor. Special recyclables, such as small plastics and disposable gloves went into Happy Planet Running’s TerraCycle boxes.

Some post-event waste processing was needed, mainly wrappers and small plastic items for TerraCycle.

Veterans Memorial 150 - Sorted waste
The total waste collected.

What Went Well

The process worked smoothly given its newness, minimal training, and not much direct supervision.

The bags generated up to the Clare aid station (the 100-mile mark) were left there for later pickup, as the RV holding them was getting full. Jeff picked them up on the way to the finish line Sunday night.

Challenges

A large variety of non-recyclable waste ended up in the bags, especially fast food containers and wrappers. As the race has no control over this, we accepted it as part of the nature of the event.

Some bags were well sorted, while others had significant cross-contamination. Part of this was due to the variety of waste. To keep things simple, we’d defined only two streams – compost and everything else – assuming (wrongly) that landfill trash would be light.

HPR was unable to take the bags from the remaining aid stations. The finish line was scheduled to be open until noon Monday, but the last finisher arrived at 3:30 a.m., and people were sleeping in the RV where the bags were stored. Takedown was complete by 4:00 so the decision was made not to disturb them, and Jeff left for home.

Opportunities for Improvement

Capture the waste from all sources next year.

Have a third bag or bin dedicated to landfill trash.

More formal training of the aid station staff to improve sorting.

(And to answer the question in the teaser: running the race was harder. Much harder. But like Zero Waste, very satisfying!)

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