The Dexter-Ann Arbor Run is one of Ann Arbor’s longest-running events. This is the 47th year of the event, and the third using a Zero Waste approach. Once again we achieved over 90 percent landfill diversion, officially making it a “Zero Waste” event per ZWIA guidelines!
Attendance was down from previous years but still healthy, with 425 running the 5K, 527 runners in the 10K, and 1,347 doing the half marathon.
Waste streams include cardboard and plastic wrap from various sources, water bottles and disposable cups from the finish line and aid stations, and food waste and pizza boxes from the food tents. Disposable gloves were heavily used by the Zero Waste station teams and the food tent staffers, and we collected over one hundred Gu wrappers, which go to TerraCycle along with small plastics, race bibs, and the gloves.
This year we had just two Zero Waste stations: one across from the food tents, and one near the finish line at Main and Ann St. Runners put their waste into “All Waste” boxes on the tables, and the station staff sorted them. This approach prevented the heavy cross-contamination we experienced in previous years, such as plastics in the compost carts and food in the recycling bins.
Boxes for recycling, compost, and disposable gloves were given to the food tent volunteers, and periodically checked by the Green Team. The finish line had a bin for plastic wrap from medals and cases of water bottles, which was covered by cardboard to keep runners from using it as a trash can.
Challenges included people using existing City trash cans. We covered the big ones, but a couple escaped notice at first and were cleaned out and sorted. And, as usual, the aid station bags had to be carefully sorted to remove Gu packets and other contaminants from the bottles and cups.
We had enough volunteers to staff the stations during the event, but post-event waste processing made for a long afternoon for a few dedicated folks. Additional volunteers would have been greatly appreciated for afternoon sorting, weighing, and recycling dropoff at WWRA.
In a change from previous years, the City of Ann Arbor informed us that they no longer supply compost carts or recycling dumpsters for events. Fortunately, we had solutions. Since we already take waxed cups to Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA), we just took the other recycling there as well. We rented 20 compost carts from Unlimited Recycling.
Overall waste was about half the 2019 total, due mainly to lower attendance. We had fewer pizza boxes and less food waste, and fewer cups and bottles. We took about thirty bags of recycling to WWRA, plus cardboard. Once again, we had just one bag of landfill, although the vinyl tablecloths used by the food tent made up another bag. It may be possible to find a recycling solution for them, but for now we are also counting them in the landfill totals.
Improvements identified for next year include: training the aid stations to pre-sort, using paper tablecloths instead of vinyl, and recruiting volunteers specifically for the afternoon.
P.S. ZWIA = Zero Waste International Alliance. Read more about their definition of Zero Waste, and their standards and policies, at https://zwia.org/policies/.