Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: Taking out the trash

South Dakota News

STURGIS, S.D. (KELO) — Drop a few hundred thousand people into a town of about 7,000 people and there is going to be a lot more trash.

“An unbelievable amount of garbage is (created),” Sturgis city manager Daniel Ainslie said about the garbage dumped during the annual 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The 2020 rally started on Friday, Aug. 7 and continues through Sunday, Aug. 16.

The city tracks waste over 24 designated days related to the rally. Garbage amounts are tallied in weekly periods. The city designates one week as Rally Week, although the rally expanded to 10 official days in 2016.

The city hauled 551.39 tons of garbage to a landfill about 30 miles away in Belle Fourche in 2019. That is an average of 22.97 tons per day over 24 days, according to the city.

The residential weekday daily average was 11.30 tons in 2019.

The cost to unload that 551.39 tons of waste in 2019 was $59.27 per ton. That’s about $32,680.89, according to city data. The fee increased to $62.23 per ton this year.

“That’s a tremendous cost for a city of 7,000 people,” Ainslie said.

The city recoups some of the cost by charging businesses for the extra dumpsters used during the rally. The vendor fee also takes into account garbage removal costs, he said.

The city hauled 753.4 tons of garbage over 24 days in 2015 which was a record year for attendance at more than 730,000. The city data specifically designated Aug. 3 through Aug. 9 as rally days when 396.35 tons of garbage were hauled at cost of $19,888,84.

The city hauled 252 tons of garbage during its seven designated rally days from Aug. 5 through Aug. 11, 2019. That was an increase from the 245.46 tons collected in the comparable week in 2018.

The total Sturgis related garbage for 2019 was higher than in 2018 (525.69 tons), which had 5,000 (495,000) more people.

A 2019 rally report from the city of Sturgis’ rally and events department said just over 35% of rally attendees were in the area for six days or longer. More than 40% indicated their stay was six days or longer in 2018 and 2017.

Attendance at this year’s rally is expected to be less than last year’s 490,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Traffic counts and other data is used to help determine attendance.

The amount of trash generated during the 10-day event is also used to help determine attendance, Ainslie said. He added that the city uses data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which says the average amount of waste produced per person per day is 4.5 pounds.

A Columbia University study shows that Americans throw out 4.48 pounds of material each day. Some studies illustrate in different ways such as 600 times more than their body weight over a lifetime.

“Various other universities have similar studies showing a range of 3.7 to 4.9 pounds per day,” Ainslie said.

Ainslie said the city of Sturgis and its rally department do not officially estimate the crowds for each year’s rally. But based on the coronavirus pandemic and other factors, they unofficially expected the crowd to be about 300,000 to 350,000 this year, he said.

The increased tonnage over three weeks is also used to help determine the number of visitors who stay in town, the amount of time a visitor stays in downtown Sturgis, crowd counts and other factors.

The first three days of this year’s rally, Aug. 7-9, generated more than 73 tons of trash, according to city sanitation figures. It cost about $4,500.

The three-day total vehicle count for the rally this year was 160,788, compared with 167,222 in 2019.  

The three day rally day trash total for 2020 is more than in the past three years. These are figures based on official rally days and not the city’s seven-day rally count week.

Roughly 65 tons were hauled in the first three days of the rally last year. Roughly 68 tons were hauled in 2018. The city hauled about 70 tons in 2017.

Garbage isn’t the only waste created by rally attendees.

When nearly a half million people attend a 10-day event in town, there will be more wastewater.

The city’s wastewater treatment system will still need to handle more wastewater from the rally even if attendance is down this year because of COVID-19.

The city’s wastewater treatment plant, built in the 1990s, was designed to handle fluctuations in capacity, but it can’t keep up with daily treatment of rally wastewater, Ainslie said.

The city’s system has treatment ponds to store wastewater. Rally wastewater is pre-treated and stored in those ponds until it can be treated in the plant, Ainslie said.

The city could not afford to build and maintain a plant big enough to handle wastewater from a 10-day rally, Ainslie said.

Rally attendees and businesses use water during the event, but there is no real increase over the prior month, Ainslie said.

“The interesting thing, it’s not as large an increase as in July,” Ainslie said.

By July, many residents and property owners are watering their lawns so the amount of water used increases significantly, Ainslie said.

Since a good share of Sturgis residents leave town during the rally, they don’t water their lawns for those 10 days, Ainslie said.

Any potential increase in water used during the rally is offset by the decrease in sprinkler use, Ainslie said.

The wet weather of 2019 was an exception as less water was used for sprinklers, he said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss