Sustainability Rocks! Run Woodstock 2019 Report

A weekend of peace, love, music, and running, Good vibes and good weather made for a groovy time, as 2,000 runners and campers got their hippie on. Lemon James belted out the Hendrix-style national anthem as usual, and the trails hosted race distances from 5K up to 100 miles.

A rocking weekend also meant a busy one for those behind the scenes, including the Zero Waste team, which worked long and hard to keep the campground clean and the landfill dumpster as empty as possible. Did we rock it out, or go down in flames? See below!

Sustainability Report: Run Woodstock 2019
Date: September 6-8, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Hell Creek Ranch, Hell MI
# Attendees: 1,700 runners, plus family and spectators
Zero Waste Team size: Varied

Results: 84.5 percent landfill diversion

Compostables: 803.6 lbs.     Recyclables: 1,300 lbs.     Landfill: 386.8 lbs.
Pie and trend chart - Run Woodstock 2019.jpg
The numbers are roughly in line with the 2018 results.

Event Overview

Run Woodstock is a weekend-long ultrarunning occupation of Hell Creek Ranch and the Pinckney Recreation Area trails. The featured races are the ultras – 50K, 50 miles, 100K, and 100 miles, but shorter options are available, as are “fun runs” Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday morning. Live music, yoga, and lots of tie-dye are regular features.

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This is the largest event of the year for RF Events, and poses the greatest challenge to the Zero Waste program. Food is provided to the runners, campers bring in their own food and adult beverages, and the food trucks are kept busy. Waste comes in nearly continuously from Friday through Sunday, and the stations can get out of control quickly.

Main sources of waste are the campground and stage/party area and the three ultramarathon aid stations, which provide hot and cold food and drinks Friday and Saturday. Aid stations for the shorter races (marathon, half, etc.) provide water and Gu. We encourage the food trucks to use compostable materials if possible.

Zero Waste Plan

We rented a 30-yard recycling rolloff and 20-yard trash rolloff from Modern Waste Services. I rented a U-Haul 6×12 enclosed trailer to take away compostables and recyclable items that MWS cannot process (plastic bags, waxed cups, and Styrofoam), and specialty items that go to TerraCycle.

As we expected a small Zero Waste team, we reduced the number of tents to a triangular “pod” of three in the finish area, one by the water bottles, and one near the left of the stage (as viewed from the pavilion). The pod was also the “Ground Zero” station, where we collected specialty items and set out a bin for discarded clothing and shoes.

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Dawgs on the Run provided cans for compost, recycling, and landfill at their site, and the main ultra station received a set of bins. Next to the dumpsters we set up a double set of bins to help with sorting and for exiting campers to use. No stations were set up by the porta-potties or the camp’s bathrooms.

We put out several bins and 96-gallon carts specifically for deposit bottles and cans, to avoid overflowing the tent recycle bins. They served their purpose well.

The full-service ultra aid stations – campground, Gracie’s and Richie’s – got sets of bins for compost, recycling, and landfill, with some lighting for Friday night.

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Based on improvement ideas from last year, we also did the following:

  • Added an “education station” at the central pod, explaining the Zero Waste program and showing more specific examples of waste item types.
  • Staffed the campground until after 10:00 p.m. Saturday night, so the tents were well sorted during and after the dinner rush.
  • Asked the aid stations to more thoroughly sort their waste, and provided a specific waste stream guide for them. They also switched to compostable cups for soup and coffee
Run Woodstock 2019 - Joyce and me at main ultra station
Joyce after staffing the aid station all night.

We tested translucent orange bags for landfill, which provided some visibility of contents from the outside and would not be confused as a bag of recycling.

Vendors were Dawgs on the Run, My Little Honey Pot, Shimmy Shack, Simply Spanish and Catered Coffee,. All are familiar with the Zero Waste program and are at least party using compostable items.

Post-Event Waste Processing

On Saturday I took a load of compostables to Tuthill Farms and recycling to Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority, and another load of recycling Saturday night. Turned out to be a good decision, as the trailer was packed full on Sunday. Remaining special recyclables were taken to WWRA on Sunday, and compostables to Tuthill on Monday.

Run Woodstock 2019 - Me at WWRA Saturday night
Jeff, the Mysterious Midnight Recycler.

Extra processing was done the week following for Gu wrappers, party supplies, disposable gloves, and other TerraCycle items, and items that needed rinsing (peanut butter and jelly jars, soup cans, and chafing fuel cans).

What Went Well

Once again the Zero Waste team did a terrific job, keeping tents sorted and assisting runners and campers with proper disposal. Special thanks to my wife Joyce, who once again monitored the main ultra aid station overnight Friday. My brother and sister-in-law and two of my nieces also helped out. What a great family I have!

Run Woodstock 2019 - Sunday Zero Waste team
The Sunday Zero Waste team. My nieces Alyssa and Robin are second and third from left, respectively.

Thanks to the Saturday processing and an experienced team on Sunday, we were able to get everything weighed onsite, except for items needing extra processing (see above) and we finished campground cleanup by 1:00 p.m.

The reduced number of waste stations worked out fine. I’d worried about dumping at the porta-potty handwashing stations, because last year our bins had quickly overflowed with bottles, cans, and trash. But with no bins there, the bags provided by the service served their purpose of collecting paper towels, and people took their other waste elsewhere. And fewer stations meant we could keep them better sorted and maintained.

The central pod of three stations worked very well. They were heavily used in all directions, and we were able to keep the pod staffed just about all the time. And the education station attracted a lot of interest and many positive comments.

Run Woodstock 2019 - Me at education station
Expounding on the virtues of sustainability.


The quality of aid station bags was mixed. Friday’s bags were very well sorted, but Saturday’s ranged from good to hopeless. We had to landfill several bags of potentially recoverable items because everything was immersed in watermelon mush.

Run Woodstock 2019 - Sunday morning at the dumpster
What awaited the Sunday morning team.

Lasagna is served on Saturday to finishers and volunteers. The aluminum pans are crusted with baked-on food waste but there is no convenient way to soak or rinse them onsite. So many of them were moldy by the time I got to them.

Sandwiches for the staff lunches during setup and the event arrive in Styrofoam boxes, which need to be rinsed out and kept separate in order to recycle them.

When things got busy I got less careful about separating the different specialty items. So Gu wrappers got mixed with plastics and other things, resulting in a messy sort-out later.

Opportunities for Improvement

More training for the aid station teams. Perhaps a visit on Saturday to the ultra stations to make sure they have the instructions and understand them.

Bring a box for soaking the empty lasagna pans and find a way to get warm water in there. Perhaps an immersion heater or electric teakettle? Do the same for soup cans at the main ultra aid station, if possible.

More boxes at Ground Zero to hold the different specialty items.

I wonder if I can persuade the lunch place in Hell to switch to compostable boxes.

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