Swim, Bike, Run, Recycle: Island Lake Triathlon 2019 Sustainability Report

The summer triathlon season kicks off with an energetic event, live music, and beer. And we got it all in before the rain came! The Zero Waste effort had its share of challenges, but at least we stayed dry, and had a solid diversion rate.

Sustainability Report: Island Lake Triathlon 2019
Date: June 1, 2019
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Island Lake State Recreation Area, Brighton MI
# Attendees: 500 athletes + staff + spectators
Green Team size: 1

Results: 93.5 percent landfill diversion
Pie and trend charts - Island Lake Triathlon 2019
Compostables: 49.9 lbs.     Recyclables: 119.2 lbs.     Landfill: 12 lbs.

Comparison vs. 2018:  Total waste dropped by 25 percent. Compostables dropped from 74 pounds, and recyclables from 156 pounds. Trash increased a bit. A major contributor was the foil used to wrap the breakfast burritos, which was contaminated with cheese. Ice cream wrappers, disposable wet wipes, and diapers also contributed. (And dog poop! How could we get that when I never saw a dog?)

Race Overview

The Island Lake Triathlon takes place at Kent Lake Beach at the Island Lake State Park. Race options include Olympic and sprint triathlon, aquabike (swim/bike) and duathlon (run/bike/run). A live band provides calypso music, and beer and fresh pancakes and cups of “26.2” beer await finishers.

Zero Waste Plan

We set up Zero Hero tents on the way to the beer area and at the checkout exit in the transition area. Compost and recycle bins were set up at Ground Zero (far end of the food table) and in the beer area, and at the two main transition area entrances/exits.

Island Lake Tri 2019 - Waste station at transition entrance

Island Lake Tri 2019 - Me helping at Ground Zero station

Post-race food was egg and cheese wraps, pancakes, bananas, cookies, ice cream, and bags of chips. Plates and forks were compostable. Bearclaw Coffee supplied hot drinks in all-compostable containers, and 26.2 beer and “Truly” hard seltzer were served in cups.

Due to lack of staffing I left the park trash cans near the parking lot alone, but afterward I recovered some race food waste and recyclables from the cans.

As litter in the transition area was a problem last year, we posted signs around the boundary asking athletes to pick up their areas at checkout. We put waste stations at each entrance/exit.

Island Lake Tri 2019 - Transition waste station with cleanup sign

Island Lake Tri 2019 - Closeup of cleanup sign

Waste Streams Processed

Collected recyclables were taken 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.

Due to lack of staff and time, I finished final sorting at home, including rinsing out the chafing fuel cans and other items to make them recyclable, and pulling Gu wrappers out of the bags of cups.

What Went Well

Changes to the course meant the athletes were not running by the food table in mid-race like last year, so we didn’t have to scramble to put another station up.

The transition area had less litter on the ground at checkout than at previous events, so it appears the posted signs helped. We still completely sweep the area clean, though!

Island Lake Tri 2019 - Me sweeping the transition area.jpg

The cooking team tried out chafing cans that used a “greener” fuel. I don’t know if it’s any more environmentally friendly, but the used cans were easier to rinse out for recycling.


The event was short on volunteers so I worked solo, although the volunteer director helped out by staffing a busy station during the rush (thanks again, Pat!) . I was able to keep the other stations under control, but final sort was time-consuming.

The park can no longer take our standard recyclables (cardboard, water bottles, cans) as they no longer have a recycling dumpster. I ended up taking it away for disposal. Fortunately the trailer was large enough to hold it all.

The coffee truck folks dropped a large bag of mixed waste into one of our waste stations. Oops! Disappointing because this company has been to many of our events but their workers don’t always know our policy on sorting waste.

Opportunities for Improvement

Prepare a handout explaining our Zero Waste program to give to all vendors, no matter how many times they’ve been at one of our events.

Find a way to recruit a couple more people for the Green Team at this event.

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