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.

Ainslie shared figures the city compiled this year back to 2014. The city tracks waste over 24 designated designated days. Garbage amounts are tallied in weekly periods. The 24 days include set up days for the rally, pre-rally days, rally days and post-rally days. The city designates one week as rally week although 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 amount of garbage recorded by the city are the tons over the average daily residential tons hauled each day, Ainslie said. For example, the residential week day 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 2018 (525.69 tons)which had 5,000 (495,000) more people. Attendance dipped in 2016 after the record set in 2015 and so did garbage until 2018. But, while attendance was 466,769 in 2010, it produced more garbage (769.55) than in 2015.

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.

How much trash is generated during the 10-day event is also used to help determine attendance, Ainslie said.

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, Ainslie said.

A Columbia University study says 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, it unofficially expected the crowd to be about 300,000 to 350,000 this year, he said.

The attendance figures and tons of trash hauled from Sturgis from the rally don’t exactly match a pounds per day production per person but, again, it’s part of how the city plans for staffing and how it determines overall attendance.

The city uses the prior two months of collected garbage to determine the average weekly haul to establish a baseline, according to the 2019 rally report. The increased tonnage over three weeks is used to help determine attendance along with the number of visitors who stay in town, the amount of time a visitor stays in downtown Sturgis, crowd counts, S.D. DOT counts and other factors.

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

The first three days of the 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 to 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 trucks can haul about 10 to 12 tons each load, depending on how wet the trash is. The city has three trucks it replaces every nine years at a cost of about $300,000 each, Ainslie said.

Garbage trucks start hauling at 2 a.m. and continue until a break at 7 or 7:30 a.m. when employees eat, Ainslie said.

Crews need to start that early because garbage from main street and other sites needs to be removed before traffic starts to pick up, he said.

Crews spend part of the morning picking up residential garbage. Frequent residential pick up is needed because a good share of Sturgis property owners rent lawns or their houses to rally attendees, Ainslie said.

Crews make numerous trips throughout the city to pick up garbage to keep up, Ainslie said.

The city pays the tipping fee of $62.23 per ton but there is additional cost. “…for every ton dumped at Belle Fouche it’s gas and staff time. It’s waiting in line…wear and tear on trucks,” Ainslie said.

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 was built in the 1990s. While it was designed to handle fluctuations in capacity, there is no way it can 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 plan, 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.