Strong and Sustainable: Women Run the D Zero Waste Report

The women came to Belle Isle to celebrate their strength and run in the beautiful park. A little bit of inclement weather didn’t dampen their enthusiasm! And the Green Team was there to make sure we left the park cleaner than we found it, with as little as possible going to landfill. After the heat and yellow jacket invasion of last year, did we have the fortitude to get it done? Bee-lieve it!

Sustainability Report: Women Run the D 2019
Date: September 15, 2019
Event company: Epic Races, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Belle Isle Park, Detroit MI
# Attendees: 1,100 runners
Zero Waste Team size: 3

Results: 96.5 percent landfill diversion

Pie and trend charts - Women Run the D 2019.jpg

Compostables: 95.6 lbs.     Recyclables: 223.2 lbs.     Landfill: 11.7 lbs.

Total weight of waste continued a steady year-over-year decrease. Compostables were cut nearly in half, mainly due to reduced food waste (no boxes of spoiled bananas or uncooked pancake batter). Recycling showed a very large drop in waxed cups; other than lower attendance than last year, the reason is unclear. Landfill increased slightly due to including most wrappers.

Race Overview

Women Run the D (formerly the Detroit Women’s Half Marathon) runs through Belle Isle Park, with views of the Detroit River and its shorelines. The main event is the half marathon, but 5K and 10K distances are also offered.

The race celebrates the strength of women and girls, and in particular those who have survived major health challenges and are now healthy and fit enough to run one of the events.

Women Run the D 2019 - Finishers celebrating

Post-race food includes pancakes, breakfast egg and cheese wraps, fruit, chips, and cookies. There is also a “chocolate station” on the course handing out Sanders chocolate covered caramels. Bearclaw Coffee supplies caffeine using compostable service items, and Truly hard seltzer was available for those over 21.

Zero Waste Plan

Two significant changes this year: the post-race area moved to the parking lot by the fountain, eliminating the narrow vendor area of previous years. And we did not order a recycling rolloff, since last year it was used mostly just for cardboard. Instead we rented a U-Haul trailer to take away the recycling.

The more spread-out food and finish area allowed us to set up a central “pod” of three waste stations (bins for compost / recycling / landfill) in the middle of the layout. We placed another station next to the Bearclaw Coffee truck and one more by Ground Zero, which was along the fence by the trailer.

Women Run the D 2019 - Staffing the Central Pod
Warren helps a runner at the central station.
Women Run the D 2019 - Robin sorts the Bearclaw station
Robin keeps a station in good order.

To simplify sorting, and because of cost changes to recycling wrappers, we saved only Gu packets for TerraCycle. Chip bags and other wrappers went to landfill.

What Went Well

The central pod worked very well. Just one volunteer could efficiently keep three stations in order, and the runners seemed to find the location convenient. The small amount of waste at the finish line was picked up with just a couple of sweeps.

There were far fewer yellow jackets pestering us this year, due in part to a rain shower. We were thus able to complete sorting the standard items onsite before they showed up in force.

Women Run the D 2019 - Bee-Cause charms
Some of the charms from the “BeeCause” vendor – much more friendly than the flying kind.

The Green Team (Robin and Warren) was terrific, working diligently and keeping the stations in good order. We got thanks and compliments from many people, including a park ranger, so while the job is messy, it wasn’t thankless!

The trailer (6×12) was large enough to hold all the collected compostables and recycling.

Post-Event Waste Processing

Recyclables went to a Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority dropoff station, compostables to Tuthill Farms, and plastic bags and Styrofoam to Recycle Ann Arbor. Special recycling (party items, used Gu packets, disposable gloves, cable ties, etc.) were saved for TerraCycle.


I set up bins for compost and recycling in the food area for the food prep staff to use. But they were close enough to the food line that many runners used them as all-purpose trash. A trash can used at the finish for plastic wrap had some of the same issues. In both cases I removed the bins, which ended the problem.

The aid station teams received extra instructions and guidance on the Zero Waste program. Most of the aid station bags were well sorted, but the final few bags received were in bad condition and required a lot of sorting. (I forgave any bags in which I found unopened chocolate.) One challenge was a mixing of waxed cups with compostable cups, but most stations properly segregated them.

Women Run the D 2019 - Robin with a badly sorted aid station bag
Robin expresses her opinion of one of the less sorted aid station bags.

Opportunities for Improvement

Continue to communicate  to aid station staff that we have a Zero Waste program and need them to do their part to make it happen. Also ensure we’re only using one type of cup at any particular station.

Keep waste stations intended for staff well out of reach of the runners.

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