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Zero Waste Pays Dividends

While serving as event manager for UC Davis Athletics, I was fortunate enough to be on staff the same time a new football stadium was opened…fresh for the 2007 football season. The new facility, compared to larger FBS football stadiums, lacked luxury items such as suites, giant video screens, creative variety in concession offerings, and even lights for night play. However, what it lacked in luxuries, Aggie Stadium made up for in one admirable policy…zero waste.

Zero waste practices, while in place at some college dining commons around the nation, are still nearly impossible to find in athletic facilities. Not to be confused with a standard recycling programs that handle plastic bottles and sometimes paper, zero waste, in this context, simply means that all products of the facility (from the concession stands to the restrooms) are either recyclable or compostable. In theory, if no outside “items” are allowed into the stadium, the standard trash dumpsters after a home football game will be empty. Food wrappers, cups, paper products sold or distributed are all recyclable and uneaten food and other specialty items (such as eating utensils made of potato or corn byproducts*) are compostable.

Zero waste programs were designed with one goal in mind: to have a smaller impact of the environment due to the disposal of garbage from an athletic event. However, as noted in the November 10th issue of the Sports Business Journal, like programs can also save facilities money on waste disposal. Although not a college facility, the Seattle Mariners have apparently saved over $40,000 in trash fees by implementing a more aggressive recycling program at Safeco Field.** With the incredible benefit to the environment and to the facility/universities involved, it is surprising that more schools are not catching on.


The University of Colorado, Boulder’s Folsom Field is likely the largest college facility that has a zero waste program in place, proving that even a FBS-sized stadium is capable of such an undertaking. Locating other FBS schools that are attempting to become zero waste, however, isn’t easy.

This sacrifice on behalf of such an aggressive program is measureable, however, mostly in effort. The implementation of a zero waste program requires the participation of numerous entities on a college campus. The athletic department, facility staff, university waste management, city or county recycling programs, and, of course, the patrons of the facility must be informed and all must “buy into” a zero waste program

Primarily, patrons and staff must be educated. It is not everyday that one approaches five to six different receptacles for disposal of “trash.” Plastic, paper, compost, aluminum, and garbage all go to different locations and, thus, must be separated.

Campus waste management divisions are also a key piece of the puzzle, as their participation and commitment must be concrete. Not only will their employees be involved in many steps of the process, but they will be the group actually transporting and sorting most of the waste.

Of course, 100 percent effectiveness may not be unattainable. Certain waste products in press-boxes, training rooms, and team space are not yet be recyclable or compostable. However, solutions to these problems may not be too far off in the future.

My thought is simply this, with the ever-growing concern of our environment and the amount of waste that a single home football game can generate, it is a disappointing that there are not more schools adopting a zero waste program. Universities, as institutions of higher learning and progressive actions, should be paving the way towards more eco-friendly policies. I certainly hope that in five or ten years that we will not be able to count schools implementing zero waste programs on one hand.

*ECO Products of Boulder Colorado (for example) is a vendor of such products with eating utensils made of corn, containers derived from sugarcane fibers (instead of Styrofoam), and hot cups that will decompose in less than 60 days, according to their website. http://www.ecoproducts.com

**http://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/article/60566

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January 6, 2009 - Posted by | Facilities and Events, Football |

2 Comments »

  1. Excellent article, and a topic that I’m glad you’ve addressed. It’s great to see significant sized schools – like Colorado and UC Davis – are taking the initiative to go 100% “green,” and hopefully more programs will follow suit- on every level. I think OU, with its excellent recycling program and focus, would be perfect candidate to start a Zero Waste policy of its own. I know the office of sustainability has already taken great strides in reducing waste at football, volleyball, and basketball games by collecting recyclable items both during and after home events. It would be great to see the Athletic Department get more involved with this and establish greater encouragement at every event, for every sport.

    Looking forward to reading more.

    Comment by Juris Cooper | January 11, 2009 | Reply

  2. This topic was timely in that it is also being addressed at the NCAA Convention which held a session called “Best Green Practices at Work on Campus”. The article “Green Teamers work to sustain athletics” can be accessed at http://www.ncaa.org/wps/ncaa?ContentID=43898

    Yale University researchers are working on developing documents in the following areas to help athletic departments become more green.

    • A strategic plan for sustainability.
    • Sustainable-event guidelines
    • Student-athlete engagement
    • Creating a transferable model
    • Building a best-practices database.

    This is such a cool project, it will be something to watch in the future as the researchers finish the project and begin educating others about what can be done within the realm of intercollegiate athletics.

    Comment by Heather Lawrence | January 15, 2009 | Reply


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