What’s better than an early morning run that ends in a vineyard? Getting to have wine afterwards, of course – with live jazz and food thrown in. And you get a shirt, and a race-branded wine goblet to enjoy the vintages of your choice!

With all that pampering comes hundreds of pounds of cardboard boxes, banana peels, water bottles, cups, and other stuff that, for some reason, the runners would rather not take with them. So it’s up to the Zero Waste team to make sure as much of that as possible is returned to productive use instead of the landfill.

With a large turnout and a small team, were we up to the challenge? Find out below.

Sustainability Report: Running Between the Vines 2019
Date: August 17, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson MI
# Attendees: 1,600 runners, plus family and spectators
Zero Waste Team size: 3

Results: 98.9 percent landfill diversion

Pie and trend charts - Running Between the Vines 2019

Compostables: 222.8 lbs.     Recyclables: 667.7 lbs.     Landfill: 11.2 lbs.

Main contributors to landfill trash were dirty plastics, tape, broken glass, fast food packaging, wet wipes, and waxy paper. Landfill also contained some amount of chip bag wrappers, due to their number and the high cost to recycle them through the TerraCycle Zero Waste Box. We recovered and recycled Gu and energy bar wrappers as usual.

Race Overview

Running Between the Vines offers a 5K, 5 mile, and half marathon starting and ending at Sandhill Crane Vineyards. Afterward, runners can taste the vineyard’s wines and enjoy local specialties while listening to live jazz. It’s the second in a series named the “Thirsty Three” along with Hightail to Ale and the Scrumpy Skedaddle.

Vines 2019 - Race start

Vines 2019 - Wine table

The event is spread out through the vineyard’s property, which poses a challenge to the Zero Waste team to keep all the waste stations in order. While the finish area has mainly cardboard, water bottles, and limited food, the party area has a wide variety of compostable and recyclable items. The porta-potty area also receives a substantial amount of mixed waste in addition to paper towels from the handwashing stations.

Zero Waste Plan

We’d planned to rent a recycling rolloff from Emmons Services as in previous years, but they told me plastics would have to be separate from cardboard, which would require two containers. As waxed cups needed to go to Western Washtenaw Recycling anyway, we decided to just take all recycling there in a U-Haul trailer.

We set up two Zero Hero tents (Compost / Recycle / Landfill) in the finish area, and three tents roughly surrounding the party area. One tent was at the top of the ramp from the finish line to the party area. We placed bins next to the porta-potty handwashing stations for paper towels and recyclable items. A recycle bin served the starting area and the transition path for those running the “Cellar Slam” of the 5K followed by the 5 mile run.

The Ground Zero sorting station was centrally placed near the registration tent, with a set of compost / recycle / trash bins. This location also blocked the vineyard’s trash bins and dumpsters from use by the attendees.

The vineyard set up a sandwich and coffee tent for the event, staffed with their employees. They were very supportive of our Zero Waste effort and agreed to keep the compost and recycling bins we gave them sorted. They used compostable coffee cups, and we gave them compostable forks.

Vines 2019 - Coffee and sandwich station

We asked the aid station staff to keep their cup bins sorted as much as possible, in particular keeping Gu wrappers separate.

Post-Event Waste Processing

Two trips to WWRA were needed; one for the finish line cardboard, and one for the party area recycling. The second trip included a stop at Tuthill Farms to drop off the compostables. After the event I processed the small plastics, disposable gloves, and other TerraCycle materials.

Vines 2019 - Weighing and sorting cardboard
Weighing and loading the finish line cardboard.
Vines 2019 - Some recycling and compostable bags
Some of the collected recycling and compost.

What Went Well

We got great help from other volunteers and support crew. The finish area team broke down and packed all the cardboard, and kept their tents in good order. The aid station bags were very well sorted, saving the Zero Waste team much time at the end of the event.

The coffee station staffers (vineyard employees) did a reasonable job keeping their waste bins sorted, with some coaching. Their supportive and helpful attitude was welcome, too.

I had just two other team members, but they worked hard and did a great job keeping things in order and getting everything weighed. Thanks again, Yuki and Robin!

Vines 2019 - Yuki at Ground ZeroVines 2019 - Robin at tent helping runner

This year there were only a few water bottles discarded along the starting line, which have been plentiful in previous years.

Challenges

Our tents are marked with signs, with compostable and recyclable examples clipped to show which bin they go in. Nevertheless, I witnessed many people taking a long time to figure out where to put their waste when someone wasn’t there to help. I wonder if there isn’t too much information on the signs, instead of too little.

Vines 2019 - Runner looking at tent signage

The vineyard used plastic cups for serving wine to people without finisher goblets. They looked very similar to the compostable hummus and olive oil cups, so the party area bags needed to be carefully sorted.

Paper wine tickets got mixed in with race bib strips and wine corks. As they are all recycled differently, it had to be sorted out by hand.

Vines 2019 - Mixed wine tickets and corks - 2

The porta-potty stations, despite signage, had many water bottles, wrappers, and other items in the paper towel bins. Sorting through them is not the most desirable activity.

Opportunities for Improvement

Larger and clearer signs for the paper towel bins.

Ask the folks serving wine to place corks, paper tickets, and race bib strips in separate boxes or pails instead of combining them.

Next year we will offer to provide the vineyard with compostable cups for serving wine, so all cups can be put in the same bin.

At an upcoming race I am going to test signage with less wording and larger print, and rely more on the clipped examples.