This year’s Dexter-Ann Arbor Run was back at its normal date of early June, with increased attendance and a perfect day for running. And for the fourth consecutive year, we achieved over 96 percent landfill diversion, qualifying it per ZWIA [1] guidelines as a true “Zero Waste” event! (90% Diversion is considered Excellent and 95% is considered World Class.)

Waste streams included:

  • Cardboard, plastic wrap and water bottles from the finish line;
  • Disposable cups from the aid stations and food tents;
  • Food waste and pizza boxes from the food tents;
  • PPE (disposable gloves and masks), and hundreds of Stinger and Gu wrappers, which all went to TerraCycle along with small plastics and race bibs.

Landfill was mainly tape, medical waste, and vinyl tablecloths used on the food tables. Overall, 1,174.4 lbs. of waste was generated at the start lines, aid stations and finish line / food tent areas. The 21.8 lbs. total landfill is our lowest to date.

As we expected a small number of morning volunteers, we set up just one staffed Zero Waste station on Main St. across from the food pavilion. Like last year, we set out “All Waste” boxes on tables and the Green Team did the sorting.

An unmanned station with two All Waste boxes was placed near the finish line. “Ground Zero,” our sorting station, was in its usual place in the covered parking area at Ann and Ashley.

In addition to our Green Team we had help from the finish line team, which did a good job sorting out the plastic bags and plastic wrap from medals and water bottle cases, and the aid station crews, which improved their sorting over previous years.

Many thanks to our morning volunteers Joyce, Sue, Randy, Ken, and Dave, some of whom stayed the entire time. In the afternoon we had several volunteers from the City of Ann Arbor Office of Sustainability and Innovation, who dove right into the aid stations bags and sorted like maniacs until it was done. Great job Zach, Tara-Sky, Claire, Maggie, and Emily!

We made several improvements from last year:

  • In the food pavilion we set up bins for food waste and pizza boxes, one for general recycling, and one for PPE (masks and gloves) and dedicated a Green Team member there. She kept them sorted and helped the staff put waste in the right bins.
  • We covered City trash cans on Main St. so the race waste would not go into the city trash and recycling. Last year people piled things on them anyway, so we put All Waste boxes on top and rotated them out periodically, taking everything back to the main station to sort. This approach worked really well.
  • Aid station crews had been specially briefed this year to sort their waste, in particular to separate Gu packets from cups. Results were mixed. Some stations did a great job, others had small amounts of mixing, and at least one station’s bags were an unsorted mess. Unfortunately, not all the bags were numbered, so we couldn’t always identify which bags came from where. An overall improvement and an opportunity to do even better next year.
  • Many thanks to Clint, the race director, and his staff for supporting the Zero Waste effort by renting a 20-yard recycling dumpster and 20 compost carts from Unlimited Recycling. This saved us from trucking the recycling to a dropoff center as we had done in previous years.

Just one minor challenge: the medical tent staff seemed disinterested in the “Zero Waste” concept and let people mix recyclables in with their biomedical waste. And at the end, they left 3 bags of trash for us to pick up. They were light, so it was just a minor contributor to landfill.

Total waste was up slightly over 2021. However, waste generated per 100 runners decreased from 50.7 lbs. to 43.5 lbs. – a drop of over 15 percent. Both years were a significant improvement over 2019’s 89.4 lbs. per 100 runners.

Improvement opportunities for next year include:

  • More strongly labeled aid station bags.
  • Hand out Stinger 200 feet before the aid stations, and put a labeled bucket just before the aid station for runners to throw their Stinger / GU packets into. This should reduce the amount of sorting needed.
  • Label the downtown recycling and compost bins on both front and rear.
  • Label the All Waste boxes that are on top of the covered city trash cans on front and rear.
  • Using compostable or recyclable tablecloths instead of vinyl ones would cut landfill by about half.
  • Ensure the medals are bulk wrapped rather than individually wrapped, to cut down on plastic wrap waste.

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[1]  ZWIA = Zero Waste International Alliance. Read more about their definition of Zero Waste, and their standards and policies, at https://zwia.org/policies/.