Ann Arbor Marathon 2021 Sustainability Report

The Ann Arbor Marathon was back this year, with a good turnout, and the threatened rain politely held off until the afternoon. Good news for runners, and especially the staff: if you think running in the rain for hours is no fun, just try standing around in it. Either way, the Green Team was there to make sure we’d be environmentally friendly!

We set up a Zero Waste Station past the finish line across from the food tent. We gave the post-race beer area a cart for cans, and a small box for all other waste. We kept the food prep and beer areas under control with periodic sweeps, and patrolled the entire start/finish area to pick up abandoned water bottles and other litter. I was grateful to have a hardworking team of volunteers.

The team in action at the main Zero Waste Station.

Thanks to compostable plates and forks used for the pancakes and mac & cheese, landfill was limited to the large plastic mac & cheese bags (full of cheese residue), tape, fast food wrappers, PPE masks, and the inevitable diaper.

Finish food: hot mac & cheese, and pancakes, using compostable containers and utensils. Also available: bananas (compostable) and snack bags and candy (recyclable thru TerraCycle).

Things in the start/finish area went smoothly, with just a couple bumps in the road. One was discovering a few trash cans from the previous day’s tailgate, which runners were using. We pulled them out of sight and recovered the race waste from them. And there was enough discarded material near the finish line to consider putting a small station there next time.

Aid station waste management had some issues. We’d prepared a sorting guide, and trained the captains before the event. But their quality varied from nearly perfect (thank you!) to a few where there was apparently no attempt at all to sort. For next year we should put aid station numbers on the bags, or I can help with aid station pickup and grade them real-time. And the bags arrived after the volunteer shift, so I ended up taking them home and going through them later. Next year we need a separate afternoon team.

Some of the aid station bags. The ones in front have mixed compostable and recyclable cups, plus disposable gloves and Gu wrappers. The ones in back were nearly perfect – compostables only.

And while sorting out the specialty items for TerraCycle was easy at the main station, it took a long time to process them in the aid station bags. With relatively little weight (less than 20 lbs.) recovered, I’m wondering if it was worth the return on investment, as our diversion rate would still be over 95 percent. Something to ponder for next year’s event.

Some of the specialty items we collect and put in TerraCycle Zero Waste Boxes.


Runners wearing Mylar “space blankets” to keep them warm after finishing. We recycle those, too!

Overall, another great event with a world-class Zero Waste result!

Published by RunBikeThrow

By day, I'm a mild-mannered Director of Training at a software company in Ann Arbor, MI. By night - I sleep, mostly. In between, I do other things I feel the need to write about. Check out to view my thoughts on running, cycling, Aikido, and other things that keep me going.

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