The Ann Arbor Marathon is an event Tree Town residents and fans can be proud of. Showcasing some beautiful nature areas and the Huron River, the race has also been Zero Waste since 2017. The 2022 event took place on a cool, gorgeous October morning, and over 1,400 runners took on a 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon, and even a 19-mile “training run” just for fun. (Yes, runners have different definitions of “fun” from most other people.)
We set up a Zero Waste Station near the food tables, in the expected flow of traffic from finish line to food to the ZWS. Periodically we swept the post-race area to pick up discarded water bottles and other litter. No coffee truck or beer tent this year, which simplified things for us. We moved most of the University’s on-site trash cans, but left a few in place and recovered what was in them later. This worked well, as they did not get too full.
One big change this year was the use of True Green treefree™ bamboo cups at the aid stations. Thanks to Gatorade for providing them, and for the alternative to standard waxed cups. But they posed a challenge. Quick, what’s the difference between the two cups pictured below?
I hope it’s obvious to everyone that the one on the left is compostable, while the one on the right is the standard PE-lined cup. 🤷♂️🤷♀️ There are actually two ways to tell, either by touch – the plain paper ones feel rough, the waxy ones smooth – or reading the text under the bottom of the cup. But it would be better to have an easily visible tell, to show the unlined cups have a different composition.
The good news is that they can either be composted, or recycled with other unwaxed paper products. We decided to compost them, so we watched for the waxed ones and put them in a separate bag for transport to MSU Recycling, which accepts waxed cups.
My original plan of a single Zero Waste station hit a snag during the rush. Due to wind gusts we took our tall sign down, which made it nearly impossible for people to find us. So we set up a second station between the finish line and food tables, which fixed the problem. Fortunately, a volunteer, Kyle from the UM School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), showed up at just the right time, and he and HPR intern Grace were able to keep on top of things there.
Thanks also to our other volunteers, Christine and Tim, for their hard work keeping the main station in order and tackling the first set of aid station bags.
Aid station bag management continues to provide challenges. My second shift volunteers were only able to process the first five stations before they had to leave, so the bags from the final four stations were just put in the trailer and taken back to HPR HQ. Many thanks to Rachael for helping me go through them the next day! Some bags were well sorted, others not. Next year the bags should include the aid station number, so we can tell who made the effort to sort and who did not.
Improvements for next year include a permanent second station closer to the finish line and food tables, and a way to make the stations more visible even in windy conditions. We also need some volunteers to stay later (to 4 p.m.) to tackle the final set of aid station bags.
The overall result of 98.4 percent waste recovery (composted and recycled) was right in line with the event’s historical average. The major contributors to landfill came from the egg & cheese wraps (foil with cheese stuck to it), and wet wipes. Overall, another great result for sustainability!