Hightail to Ale is one of those iconic examples of the truism, “If you provide beer, they will come.” Held at the Atwater Brewery in Detroit, runners enjoy a 5K along the riverfront, followed by free beer after they finish, along with live music and food from Simply Spanish, Little Caesar’s, and Atwater.
Attendance was down from previous years, but still healthy, and there would be plenty for the Green Team to handle. Along with beer cans, there were snack bags of chips and cookies, water bottles, food waste, plastic wrap from medals, and cardboard from multitudinous boxes.
I set up one station in the parking lot that held the food trucks and the band, and another on the street that served the line for the beer.
So far, so good. But what would an event like this be without a crisis or two?
On race day afternoon, we found out the recycling company’s dispatcher did not receive the paperwork, and thus we had nowhere to put the thousands of empty beer cans we expected along with the standard recycling. But wait, there’s more! The brewery was under new management, which decided not to license and insure the parking lot where we gave away the beer. The runners would have to consume it on brewery property.
In this case, two disasters made for harmony! It meant we wouldn’t be handling most of the beer cans, which eliminated the need for a recycling dumpster. I could take the remaining recycling back in my trailer. One bullet dodged.
The other crisis I faced was a lack of assistance. I had zero volunteers (they were scarce across the board), and the folks I can usually count on for paid staff were unavailable. So I reached out to my friend Ellen, owner of zero waste company Pink Elephant Events, to see if she was available to help. She and her son Grant showed up just in time to handle the post-event beer and food rush, so I could police the starting line and finish line. Whew!
The three of us had our hands full (literally) until takedown, but we kept things under control. But we witnessed what can be called an unfortunate event. As we weren’t managing the beer area, the brewery was taking all that trash to its landfill dumpster – including all the beer cans they collected. Ellen and I were stunned. Aluminum is in high demand, it’s easy to recycle, and recycling it saves 97 percent of the energy needed to produce it from ore. I confronted one of the brewery employees after a dumpster delivery, and asked him why. Staff shortages, he said. I gave him a business card and asked them to call me. We can do better.
Special thanks to the Simply Spanish and Little Caesar’s Pizza food trucks, who used all compostable materials. And to Ellen and Grant for their diligent and expert help getting everything processed.