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Running Between the Vines Sustainability Report

The run at Sandhill Crane Vineyards returned this year, and conditions were perfect for both the races and the post-race party. “It’s almost like cheating,” the race director said of the weather.

The event features a half marathon, 5-miler, and 5K. After their race, runners head behind the vineyard to enjoy live jazz, wine tastings, and local goodies such as hummus, meatballs, olive oil, and chocolate. RF Events used compostable cups for all the treats they served.

This year we made some changes to our Zero Waste setup. Instead of unstaffed tents we had two staffed stations, one near the registration tent and one in the party area. This was all we could handle, due to just two staffers and no volunteers, a consistent problem at all events this year. People were instructed to put their waste in boxes marked “All Waste” and we sorted from there.

Zero Waste pro Debbie at the station near registration.
Some random guy working the main station.

A temporary station was set up and staffed near the porta-potties until the races had all started. And for those runners doing both the 5K and 5-miler, there was a recycling bin for their water bottles.

It’s staffed, honest! But someone had to take the photo.

This setup reduced the mixed waste problems we had with using tents. Still, we had a couple of unexpected curveballs tossed at us. First, the vineyard did wine tastings with small plastic cups instead of using the finisher tumblers. So we had to pick out those cups from the compostable ones.

Pop quiz: Which of these cups are recyclable, and which are compostable?

Second, no doubt due to good intentions, someone set up additional trash cans among the snack tents. By the time someone pointed this out to us, there was a significant amount of completely mixed waste, resulting in a lot of extra sorting, plus removing food and oil from the recyclable cups. (This was accomplished by using a washing machine.) For next year we’ll have to coordinate more closely with the vineyard staff.

Total waste was down significantly from 2019. While less waste is good, it can be chalked up nearly entirely to lower attendance, as waste per 100 runners remained consistent with previous years.

P.S. To answer the “pop quiz” above – the three cups on the left are recyclable, and the three on the right are certified compostable. And you can’t mix the two types in either stream. Simple, right?

The Legend Races 2021 Sustainability Report

The image you see above is of a Zero Waste Station that was unattended through an entire event. In earlier years I would not have dared to attempt this. And yet this year it has been successfully managed twice! In both cases the waste bins required only minor sorting before dropping them off at the recycling and composting centers.

Several things made this possible. For one, The Legend is a trail race, and trail runners in general seem more attuned to Zero Waste practices. And RF Events has been doing zero waste races since 2016, meaning the staff and the repeat runners are familiar with the process. And the overall waste this year was way down from previous years (less than half the previous low in 2019), which meant no bags needed to be changed out.

My thanks to everyone who ensured the station was in good order!

Battle of Waterloo 2021 Sustainability Report

What’s better than a triathlon – a three-stage swim/bike/run event? How about a ten-stage swim/bike/run event? Over a hundred athletes thought it was a good idea. And what’s even better than that? A ten-stage event that goes Zero Waste, of course.

And such is the Battle of Waterloo, so-called because it traverses the trails, roads, and lakes of the Waterloo Recreation Area. And the Green Team made sure we left it cleaner than we found it, and sent as little as possible to landfill.

With only 71 pounds of total waste generated, Epic Races did a great job of minimizing environmental impact from the start. And we recycled or composted all but five of those pounds. I’d say everyone there was a winner of this battle!

Pterodactyl Triathlon Sustainability Report

The third triathlon in the RF Events T-Rex series kicked off on a beautiful evening in the Island Lake Recreation Area.

While attendance was nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, total waste dropped to its lowest ever – under 100 pounds! Contributing factors include optional, order-ahead T-shirts (reducing packaging), lighter medals with no inner plastic wrapping (and now sourced locally), and serving post-race sandwiches on napkins instead of plates.

The new model of just two waste stations – one by the parking lot and one in the finish area – continues to work well. “All waste” pails in transition replace full stations there. We also removed a recycle bin near the medals area, using only a bag for collecting plastic wrap from ice bags and bottle case wrap. There was only mild contamination. The only glitch was a lot of takedown as it was getting dark. For the August T-Rex, we may consider earlier takedown of the pavilions and some tables.

Triceratops Triathlon 2021 Sustainability Report

The RF Events T-Rex Triathlon series was back to normal last Wednesday, after a pint-sized Stegosaurus Tri earlier in June. Back to standard attendance, post-race sandwiches and live music, and the vibe of an athletic event!

With a team of just two people, we set up a single Zero Waste Station near the parking lot, and one in the party area instead of three Zero Hero tents. We focused on keeping the stations in order, and left “all waste” pails in the transition area. A bag for plastic wrap and a large recycling bin near the water bottles completed the setup.

                        Green Team volunteer Veronica mans the main station, while I took the party area station.

The approach had some interesting effects. No one had a problem with using the single station in the party area, and we ended up with less “outside” waste that usually comes from the beachgoers. The transition pails needed quite a bit of sorting and were really not large enough, so we’ll be looking for improvements there. Aid station waste was mainly  ups and water jugs, and did not require much sorting.

The trend chart below the report shows we had a dramatic drop in total waste, particularly food waste and compostables – a 75 percent drop from 2019. One reason was serving sandwiches on napkins – no plates or wrappers – which worked just fine. There also seemed to be less overall food consumed by the athletes. We’ll be looking to see if this continues.

Overall, a great result on a beautiful day!

Epic Races Goddess Weekend 2021 Sustainability Report

The forecast for last weekend at Portage Lake predicted a soggy mess for the Epic Races Goddess 5K on Saturday and the Tri Goddess Tri on Sunday. But the weather goddesses were smiling down on us, and both days were (nearly) rain-free, making for happy athletes and happier staff.

We set up our Zero Waste Station between the finish line and the food pavilion, so it was convenient for both the athletes and staff. The food tent had an “all waste” bag or bin, which we periodically swapped out. The bike transition area had a bin for water cups. Waste collection followed our new model of “All Waste Here” boxes on tables at the station. From there, the Green Team would ensure the compostable items, recycling, and landfill items were properly sorted.

The Saturday Green Team, ready to go!

The report is posted below, featuring staffers Libbie and Amber holding the usual SBoT (Single Bag o’ Trash) from an Epic Races event. Just over two pounds from the entire weekend, resulting in landfill diversion of 97.5 percent! The effort was helped by Epic’s heavy use of compostables, which makes cleaning or scraping off food unnecessary. Kudos also to the Bearclaw Coffee truck, which uses compostable cups, lids, and straws.

Also see the trend chart showing a significant reduction in overall waste over the four years we’ve been tracking this event, in particular from 2019 to 2021. Whatever the causes (and we’ll try to figure them out), it’s a great trend to have. Recycling has its place for sure, but producing less waste to recycle is the best approach!

The New Running Reality: Scrumpy Skedaddle 2020

Sustainability Report: Scrumpy Skedaddle

Date: October 4, 2020
Event company: RF Events
Where: Almar Orchards, Flushing MI
# Attendees: 400
Zero Waste Team size: 1

It’s been quite a while since Happy Planet Running has had an event to report about. Since February the great majority of running events have been virtual, and the few live events haven’t had much waste – which is not all bad.

There have been any number of logistical challenges to face. How do you keep people safe at a running event during a pandemic? And how to deal with the limits on the number of people who can be gathered in one place?

The good news is that live events are happening, albeit under very different rules and practices than the year before. We’re adapting and adjusting, as people do! When this crisis has passed, and it will pass, it will be interesting to see which adjustments will be discontinued and which will remain because they’re worth keeping.

Read on to see how RF Events put on a safe, fun 5K at Almar Orchards!

Continue reading “The New Running Reality: Scrumpy Skedaddle 2020”

We’re Still Here!

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve had an event to work. But Happy Planet Running is still here! And when racing resumes, so will my work to keep events as Zero Waste as possible.

The last event I helped with, the Super 5K in February, seems like it happened years ago. Now it’s a different world, and who really knows what lies ahead post-pandemic.

One casualty has been recycling. While curbside collections have continued in my area, the dropoff centers were closed for a while, and are just now starting to reopen to the public. Some items, like Styrofoam, need to be taken there, so it was piling up in my garage until recently.

We’ve seen another reversal away from reusables to disposables, with the banning of reusable bags at many stores. Some are using paper, but big stores like Meijer offer only plastic bags. And coffee shops are dispensing into disposable cups only. Fortunately I have ways to recycle or compost these items, but in general it means more trash going to landfill, or ending up by the side of the road. Hopefully we can return to reusables in the future.

Good news on the compost side, however – the two commercial composting facilities in my area remained open, with some adjustments and restrictions, so when events restart we’ll be able to process food waste and other organics as usual.

And the Ann Arbor Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), three years after its shutdown, is  going to be updated and reopened! This is terrific news. Currently, the recyclables collected by Recycle Ann Arbor are trucked to Cincinnati for processing. Having this done at our local MRF means a lower carbon footprint and they can charge for processing materials instead of paying someone else to.

I’m also working on some new guidelines for hosting a Zero Waste event, and developing a way to recognize smaller events who can’t afford formal certification for their hard work.

So while there may not be any events at present, things are happening! Stay tuned to this website for updates.

How I Failed a Cupless Race

All right, I’m just going to come out and say it right here.

I failed my first cupless race.

Meme - rabbit saying Noooo

Yes, me. Mister Zero Waste, owner of an event sustainability company and decrier of our current throwaway society. Here I will confess all, so you can learn from my sad experience and avoid similar shame.

Continue reading “How I Failed a Cupless Race”

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