A beautiful cool spring day, perfect for a gravel road bike race, with beer and hot BBQ afterward. What more could one ask for? How about a bike repair shop that offers house calls? And making the event sustainable, with a 99 percent landfill diversion rate?
Such were the happenings at this year’s Waterloo G&G race in the Portage Lake Recreation Area and nearby roads. This year the race management transitioned from Epic Races to Tris4Health. Many thanks to the new organizers for deciding to keep the event Zero Waste and hiring yours truly to do the job.
That pretty much sums up the Zero Waste effort at Trail Marathon Weekend this year. A great weekend of running out in nature, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Pretty hard to top that.
Back in 2016, this was the first Zero Waste race RF Events put on, thanks in large part to a grant from the Can’d Aid Foundation, set up mainly for recycling aluminum cans but happy to support a larger goal. That year we processed nearly 500 lbs. of total waste, with only 46 going to landfill – crazy good for a first effort. And it only got better from there. Have a look at the results since then, with big drops in overall waste along with steadily improving landfill diversion from 90 percent to nearly 99 percent.
Hello, Space Force? I’d like to report an alien abduction.
How many? Nobody. I’m pretty sure all the runners at our race last Saturday got home safely. But something is definitely missing. You see, I worked at the race, and I collected nearly five hundred pounds of waste. But at the end, I could account for only seven pounds. Yes, that’s right. Over four hundred pounds of trash is missing, and I think Martians stole it.
The Ann Arbor Goddess returned to downtown Ann Arbor after three years. An event that has raised over $190,000 for women-focused charities, it features a 5K, kids run, and a “Chocolate Mile” with treats supplied by Willy Wonka in person. And Congressional representative Debbie Dingell was handling out medals at the finish line. With all that going on, Epic Races just had to make it sustainable. Don’t make the Goddess angry!
Dear St. Patrick: Great job with the snakes and all. Anything you can do about snow?
The Shamrocks & Shenanigans 5K took place on a day where, unofficially at least, spring took over. But that was in the afternoon. Race morning was a final blast of winter fury – cold, windy, and snowing. Still, the show went on, and lots of brave, green-wearing souls showed up to run, so the Zero Waste team was there too. Gotta job ta do, laddies!
The Zero Waste station was set up in the parking lot near the finish line. With a pretty fierce wind, I did not set up a pavilion, and my tall sign blew over, so the setup was very minimal. No problem, as the runners easily found us when they had something to toss. We also patrolled the 5K starting line on Main Street. Several runners were holding coffee cups, but made no attempt to give them to us. I think this is the first race where I saw people starting still holding their coffee!
Total waste was way down from 2019, the last time this event was held – 38 lbs. total vs. over 100 the other three years measured. Several things contributed: slightly lower attendance, pint glasses and T-shirts being optional instead of included, and the weather conditions, causing many to leave quickly or head inside to Conor O’Neills. Landfill waste was minimal – just some tape and a few ice cream lids. Like previous years, we gave out ice cream (!) to the kids after their 1K run. Most chose, however, to take it back home rather than eat it there.
By afternoon the sun was out and the snow was gone, leading to several warmer days ahead. Nature will have her little joke.
For the first time in several years, Epic Races held their “Pi Day” race in person. (Technically two days early, but hey, it’s running plus pie. Sign me up!) Despite cold temps (13 degrees) and wind, about 200 people showed up at Hudson Mills Park to run the 5K or the kids race.
The race was held at the open-air pavilion instead of the activity center, which was hosting another event. So I did not feel the need to police their trash cans. And most people left right after the race, meaning there wouldn’t have been much to capture.
Post-race food was pancakes and hot chocolate. The finisher pies were individually boxed and most people took them home, which meant less waste at the event.
The biggest source of food waste was from the “Pie Division” runners, who had to eat a pie before they ran the 5K – hands-free, of course. Quite a bit of half-eaten pie was left over. In an inspired move, the contestants were given old T-shirts to wipe their faces with instead of disposables. They could either keep the shirts, or return them to be washed and reused.
The Super 5K was back on Super Bowl Sunday! Unfortunately, we were unable to secure a formal Zero Waste team, yours truly being out of town and other captains also unavailable. So the RF Events staff stepped up and did its best.
The good news is we recovered 110 pounds of race waste, most of it cardboard from pint glasses and hats and such. There was also about ten pounds each of food waste and compostable containers, and general recycling like water bottles and cups. TerraCycle items – hand warmers, snack bag wrappers, race bibs, and small plastics – contributed a small amount.
No official landfill, as everything that couldn’t be easily recovered was left in the school’s trash cans. So the recovery percentage is effective N/A. Still way better than nothing. We’ll call that a win, even if the Detroit Lions were once again watching from the stands or TV.
The Bigfoot Snowshoe race is something I can describe only as having an odd but irresistible attraction. I mean, running a 5K or 10K is hard enough in shoes on roads or trails. But run in snow? Who does that? Well, I have every year since 2014, along with about five hundred others who strap ‘em on and get out there in temps below freezing, and sometimes well below zero.
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/.