The aftermath of a home football game is a sight that makes many environmentalists shutter: A stadium littered with empty pizza boxes and soda bottles. Trash cans loaded with pounds of stuff that could have been recycled or composted. Stray red and blue plastic cups blowing through tailgate lots.
The Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging schools to make college football and tailgating less wasteful through its annual Game Day Challenge. To participate, schools are asked to design a waste reduction plan and measure its effectiveness during a home game. In December the agency will announce winners in a number of categories, including highest recycling rate and least amount of waste generated per attendee.
Last year more than 75 schools participated and kept 500,000 pounds of waste out of landfills. How exactly did they do that?
A group of Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate researchers contacted many of the participating schools, asked about their programs and compiled a toolkit for other schools, “Starting from Scratch: Greening Your Game Day.”
Here are just a few of the many green ideas mentioned in the report:
* Put recycling and compost bins next to trash cans: At Folsom Field at the University of Colorado at Boulder, there are no trash cans. Even the dumpsters are locked to prevent anyone from trashing stuff that could be composted or recycled. In 2008 the university launched “Ralphie’s Green Stampede,“ one of the first and most aggressive sustainability initiatives of its kind. Officials anticipate that at least 90 percent of waste generated at the stadium (which holds more than 50,000 fans) will be recycled or composted this year.
* Donate money made from recycling: For 13 years, Pennsylvania State University has had a recycling program at Beaver Stadium. In 2008, they collected more than 100 tons of recycling. Proceeds from selling those materials has raised more than $54,000 for the local United Way.
* Get the athletic department on board months ahead of time: The student researchers found that while the athletic department is often one of the most important stakeholders, it can be difficult to get them involved. Less than 10 percent of collegiate athletic departments had developed a formal sustainability plan in 2009, according to a report by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. That same report found that nearly 75 percent of athletic programs expected a greater emphasis on environment programs in the future.
* Give tailgaters bags to collect their own recycling: At Penn State, student volunteers walk through the more than 100 acres of parking lots and hand out hundreds of translucent blue bags to tailgaters. Allowing fans to sort their own trash and recyclables doubled the amount of recycling in tailgate areas.
* Set goals and get fans involved: Ever since 2007, Ohio State University has been working toward being the country’s largest Zero Waste stadium. Last season, they diverted 46.4 percent of waste from the stadium and 58.3 percent from tailgate lots. By the end of the 2012 season, they want to be at 90 percent or more. Inside the stadium, the zero waste logo is plastered everywhere and recycling statistics pop up on the scoreboard.
* Make it easier for fans to bike to the game or car pool: Another idea from Colorado is “valet parking” for bikers.
* Give fans an incentive to recycle: At Wake Forest University, organizers found that the more alcohol fans consumed, the less willing they were to do the right thing. Student volunteers rewarded fans who made an effort to recycle with free koozies branded with “Go Deacs. Go Green.” They also promoted the program on Facebook, mailed recycling tips to season ticket holders and partnered with greek houses.