Waste-free, Trouble Free: Ann Arbor Firecracker 5K Sustainability Report

“How are things going, Jeff?” someone asked me during this year’s Firecracker 5K.

“Really well,” I replied. “In fact, it’s going so well I’m worried!”

I was only half joking. I’ve worked too many events that seem to be going well, only to be hit with some hidden unpleasant surprise (for instance, volunteers filling up the Starbucks recycling bins with food waste). But all went smoothly, even though we had to clear out quickly for the 4th of July downtown parade. Read on for how we dealt with it!

Sustainability Report: Firecracker 5K
Date: July 4, 2019
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Downtown Ann Arbor, MI
# Attendees: 800 runners + staff and spectators
Green Team size: 3

Results: 94.6 percent landfill diversion
Compostables: 44.8 lbs.     Recyclables: 70.9 lbs.     Landfill: 6.6 lbs.
Pie and trend charts - Firecracker 5K 2019
Landfill waste increased quite a bit from last year, mainly from ice cream wrappers too contaminated to give to TerraCycle. Last year the Popsicle wrappers were mostly clean enough to recover, but the ice cream wrappers this year were not.

Race Overview

The Firecracker is held every July 4 in downtown Ann Arbor. As the promo says, “where else can you run a race that starts and finishes at Fourth and Liberty?”

The main event is a 5K, including a “hot dog” division, where you’re given 76 seconds to eat up to four hot dogs, then run!

Firecracker 5K 2019 - Hot dog eating contest
Larry (in the hot dog suit) and others get stuffed. (That’s not cannibalism, is it?)

There’s also a one-mile fun run and a “kids dash” of a couple hundred yards, where they try to beat the giant hot dog to the finish.

Firecracker 5K 2019 - Kids with Larry in background
Larry’s feeling the impact of those hot dogs!

Since a parade follows soon after the race, we need to get everything taken down and cleaned up quickly. This affects our decisions on how many Zero Waste stations to use, where to put them, and when to take them away.

Zero Waste Plan

Like last year, the “Ground Zero” collection area was set up on Fourth Street just south of Liberty, with a clear view of the start/finish line. The waste station coverage area was the two blocks on Liberty Street between Fifth Avenue (registration area) and Main Street. We covered City trash and recycling bins in that area for the event.

Firecracker 5K 2019 - station on Liberty near FifthFirecracker 5K 2019 - station at Fourth and Liberty by coffee truck

Stations consisted of cardboard bins (recycling, compost, trash) with a pail for liquids. We set up two stations flanking Liberty near Main, one at Fourth and Liberty next to the coffee truck, one on the opposite corner, and one between Fourth and Fifth Streets. The hot dog contest area had compost and recycling bins until the contest was over.

We also placed the 2018 Zero Waste infographic and other educational information in the the registration area.

Vendors were Ray’s Red Hots and Catered Coffee. Ray’s used compostable deli sheets for the hot dogs, and we collected their used disposable gloves as well.

We did not order a recycling dumpster from the City, due to a low amount of expected total waste. HPR brought a trailer to hold the collected recycling and compostables.

What Went Well

There were just two volunteers on the Green Team, but they pitched right in and did a great job! We had everything taken down and packed up well ahead of the start of the parade. Part of this was the decision not to use tents, which saved setup and takedown time. The large Zero Waste Station signs ensured the stations were visible.

Firecracker 5K 2019 - Natalie and Robin
Natalie and Robin. Strong women do Zero Waste!

Litter, such as abandoned water bottles, was minimal.

There weren’t any unlabeled bins at the finish line. The one used for plastic wrap got only minimal contamination. So there wasn’t any last minute surprise sorting to do.


None to speak of. I kept waiting for some, but they never showed up!

Opportunities for Improvement

Suggestions welcome here.

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