Uber Ober: Oberun Ypsilanti 2019 Sustainability Report

A beautiful summer evening, live music, food, running – and beer. Does that sound to you like a formula for a popular event? You would be right! And that makes for a very busy few hours for the Zero Waste team. Could we avoid the near calamities of the past two years, and manage whatever new surprises awaited? Find out below!

Sustainability Report: Oberun 5K Ypsilanti 2019
Date: June 21, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Wiard’s Orchards, Ypsilanti MI
# Attendees: 2,500 runners, plus family and spectators
Zero Waste Team size: 4-6

Results:  98.8% landfill diversion
Compostables: 187 lbs.      Recyclables: 767.4 lbs.     Landfill: 12 lbs.

Pie and trend charts - Oberun Ypsi 2019Landfill trash included tape, diapers, foil, non-compostable wrappers, broken glass, and wet wipes.

Race Overview

The Oberun is a Friday evening beer party with a 5K thrown in, run on the trails in and near Wiard’s Orchards in Ypsilanti. Runners get a can of Bell Brewery’s Oberon or Two-Hearted Ale with their registration, and beer is also sold before and after the race. Unsurprisingly, the race sells out every year.

Proceeds support Karen’s Trail, a public campaign supporting the building of the Border-to-Border (B2B) trail, a set of non-motorized pathways traversing Washtenaw County.

Oberun Ypsi 2019 - HWPI and Karens Trail booths

Water bottles and bags of potato chips are provided at the finish. Beer and food trucks are in a fenced-off party area. This year’s food trucks were Holy Smokes BBQ, Shimmy Shack, Simply Spanish, and Chihuahua Chili.

Oberun Ypsi 2019 - Busy food trucks
And busy they were!

Zero Waste Plan

Last year when the recycling rolloff failed to show up we rented a U-Haul truck for the cardboard, water bottles, etc., and took it to a recycling center the next day. This year we rented the truck again, saving RF Events a lot of money and HPR a lot of stress.

Waste stations were Zero Hero tents (compost, recycling, chip bags) with a pail for trash. We put stations at both exits from the party area, at either end of the beer tables, and in the center by the water/Gatorade table (bins but no tent). One more was initially next to registration, then moved to near the finish line where people were relaxing on the grass.

We used 96-gallon carts instead of tents for empty beer cans, reducing the need to change out full bags. We put a cart by each station, with a pail for pouring liquids and a large BEER CANS ONLY sign.

Other waste included cardboard from boxes of medals, pint glasses, and T-shirts, boxboard from the cases of beer, and waxed cups from the aid station on the course.

With only a small confirmed Zero Waste team, we asked the finish line and beer table teams to keep their areas sorted and the waste consolidated. This allowed us to focus on the party area stations and the tsunami of food waste and empty beer cans.

Oberun Ypsi 2019 - Maria sorting station at center of party area - 2
Team member Maria holds down the center station.

Post-event Waste Processing

With limited time to sort the collected waste at the event, I went through all the compost and recycling bags again the following morning. There was some contamination but not a large amount. I processed the snack bags after dropping off the recycling.

Compostables went to WeCare in Ann Arbor. Recycling went to Western Washtenaw Recycling in Chelsea. A staff member took the beer cans for a local youth sports team. Snack bag wrappers, disposable gloves, and small plastics were saved for TerraCycle, as were a lot of race bib bottom strips exchanged for cans of beer.

What Went Well

There were several big improvements this year over previous years:

  • Using 96-gallon carts for the beer cans instead of cardboard bins meant we had to change out bags less often. And there was less cross-contamination in them.
  • Disposable tags on the party area wristbands used to result in hundreds of little plastic pieces on the ground to pick up. Tagless wristbands this year. Hooray!
  • All the food trucks used compostable materials, so there was no scrambling to remove plastic forks or sauce cups from the compost bins. One vendor used non-compostable wrappers, but they were easily identified and sorted out.

Thanks to some additional volunteer help during the race (thanks, Maria!) and at the end (thanks, Yuki and James!), the party area was cleaned up and waste weighed and loaded into the truck right as it got dark. And extra special thanks to my wife Joyce, who drove straight from work in Auburn Hills through Friday rush hour traffic and jumped right in to help us stay on top of things. Love you!

Oberun Ypsi 2019 - Robin and James sort compost bags

Thanks also to the beer table and finish line staff for keeping their areas in good order.

Oberun Ypsi 2019 - Finish line cardboard all sorted
The finish line team with their cardboard neatly broken down and organized. Well done!

Unloading the truck at the recycling center Saturday morning went smoothly, with Robin’s help.

Oberun Ypsi 2019 - Me at WWRA tossing cardboard
I show off my highly trained cardboard-tossing skills.
Oberun Ypsi 2019 - Robin at WWRA tossing cardboard
And then my niece outdoes me. Hmmph. Show-off!


We had one mini-disaster at the far end exit of the party area when the compost and recycling bins both overflowed. Cleaning up the spilled compostables took a while.

Oberun Ypsi 2019 - Overflow at far exit station

The collected bags/wrappers took a lot of effort to sort. Hundreds of potato chip bags had to be handled individually to remove leftover chips and other food waste runners put in them.

Opportunities for Improvement

Check on the far exit station more often. Ideally, place a Zero Waste team member there once the party area gets busy.

The Bell’s staff providing the beer mentioned that they have an environmental team, and that perhaps next year they could be part of the event’s Zero Waste team. Let’s see if we can make that happen!

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