Stuffing Runners, Not the Trash: RF Events Turkey Trot Sustainability Report

Over 4,000 runners and less than two pounds of landfill. Now there’s something to be grateful for!

RF Events continued its tradition of a Thanksgiving Day 5K in downtown Ann Arbor, and turkeys, giant fruit, and Christmas characters (even a Grinch) were there to run the 5K. (And some regular runners showed up, too.) We fed them bananas, cookies, and hot chocolate. Did we do all that with minimal waste? You bet your wattle. See below!

Sustainability Report: Ann Arbor Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot
Date: November 28, 2019
Event company: RF Events, Ann Arbor MI
Location: Downtown Ann Arbor, MI
# Attendees: 4,100
Zero Waste Team members: 3

Results:  99.5 percent landfill diversion

Compostables: 237.1 lbs.     Recyclables: 151.3 lbs.     Landfill: 1.8 lbs.
Pie and trend charts - RF Turkey Trot 2019.jpg
The sharp increase in compost was due to 135 lbs. of leftover bananas. Because they were pre-cut, they couldn’t be donated, so they went to compost.

Landfill consisted of snack bag wrappers, waxed paper from cookie box liners, duct tape (from posted race number sheets) and plastic bags contaminated with hot chocolate.

Race Overview

The race takes place in downtown Ann Arbor on Thanksgiving morning. The 5K is the main event, with a 1K run for kids. Many dress up in colorful costumes, and there are prizes for the most creative ones.

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Registration, food tables, the hot chocolate/coffee station (provided by Bearclaw Coffee), and Santa’s Village are located on two blocks of Liberty Street between Division Street and Fourth Avenue. The 5K starts and finishes at Liberty and Fourth, with runners continuing on to the refreshments. The kids 1K ends at Fifth Avenue and Liberty. They pick up packaged cookies and then head toward the hot drinks and Santa’s Village.

Zero Waste Plan

We set up a three-station “pod” on Liberty Street, near the coffee station, registration, and Santa’s Village. In past years we have placed stations at Fourth and Liberty, and Fifth and Liberty, but due to windy conditions and with only three Zero Waste team members, we decided not to add any other stations, and did not cover the City trash bins. (See below for how that turned out.)

RF Turkey Trot 2019 - Zero Waste station

We ordered a 4-yard recycling dumpster from the City of Ann Arbor, which was placed at the corner of Liberty and Division. We put cardboard, water bottles, and other standard recyclables in it.

We also ordered four 96-gallon compost carts. We were given mixed signals from the City (“we can’t provide those,” “yes, we’ll cover you,” etc.) so we brought our own carts just in case. Turned out the City gave us eight compost carts(!) of which we used three. Compostables were bananas, cookies, and World Centric coffee/hot chocolate cups.

Tables with bananas and water bottles were between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. The hot chocolate/coffee station also included large boxed cookies. Compostable cups were used for the drinks. Waxed coffee cups from Starbucks, Tim Hortons, etc. were collected separately.

What Went Well

The single multi-station pod worked very well, as it has with every event this year where we’ve used it. Because we kept it continually staffed (with one team member serving as “rover”), there was very little cross-contamination.

The team did a great job keeping everything sorted, and weighing everything at the end. We even had an extra volunteer help us at the end. Thanks, Marty!

RF Turkey Trot 2019 - Zero Waste team
Left to right: Alyssa, Kalynn, Jeff, Marty.

The staff and volunteers working the medals station and the banana and water bottle tables helped break down their cardboard for us, and also helped carry it to the Zero Waste station, saving us much time. Thanks!


There was a lot of race waste in the City trash bin at Fifth and Liberty, and banana peels left on the food table. There was also some in the City bin by the post office. This was a natural effect of not having waste stations in the area. We retrieved most of it, but it took time to sort out.

RF Turkey Trot 2019 - Banana peels on tableRF Turkey Trot 2019 - Trash can at Fifth and Liberty full of race waste

There were also some water bottles discarded on the sidewalks between the finish line and Santa’s Village. They were collected as part of a “sweep” of the area.

Post-Event Waste Processing

Small plastics, race bibs, and disposable hand warmers were rescued for TerraCycle Zero Waste boxes. Some of the Starbucks/Tim Hortons cups needed rinsing due to chocolate residue before recycling. Two large bags of plastic bags/wrap were taken to the Recycle Ann Arbor dropoff station. Waxed cups went to Western Washtenaw Recycling.

Opportunities for Improvement

Set up a station at Fifth and Liberty, with a compost cart for the banana peels and cookies. It should be staffed to avoid cross-contamination. The staffer can also assist with breaking down cardboard at the banana and water bottle tables.

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