Volunteers from the “Green Patriots” sort the trash after a George Mason University basketball game at the Patriot Center on Saturday. Of the 3,000 pounds of trash collected, 1,500 pounds were recycled. (Craig Bisacre/Creative Services/George Mason University)

It’s a time-honored tradition: You’re at a ballgame, you drink a soda, you throw the cup under the seat. And the popcorn bag. And the candy wrappers. And everything else.

George Mason University decided to try an experiment Saturday at the Patriot Center, with its first ever “Green Game.” The Green Patriots student sustainability group launched an effort to recycle as much trash as possible from the men’s basketball game against George Washington, a daunting task because the crowd was projected to be large — in fact, it was more than 7,700 people, close to a full house. The plan was not only to urge spectators to disregard their time-honored traditions and actually recycle their own trash, but to go through the Patriot Center after the game and not only find recyclable material, but also use 65 volunteers to spend three hours separating the recyclables from the trash. “Green Game” t-shirts were given out, a pre-game tailgate was held (with many fine juices and waters, I’m sure), and sustainability-themed contests were staged during the timeouts. All this in addition to a first-ever Atlantic 10 conference game between the Patriots and Colonials, where fans could argue over whose mascot had more revolutionary cred. The Colonials won on the court, 75-69, but Patriots is a cooler nickname and when it comes to band leaders, no one tops the Green Machine’s Doc Nix.

So then the Green Patriots went to work, and Mason spokesman Preston Williams informs us that of the 3,000 pounds of waste generated in the Patriot Center, 1,500 pounds was diverted to recycling. That, for you non-math majors, is half of the trash that did not have to be burned or dumped in a landfill. If you’re wondering what the discard rate would usually be, Williams said a previous Mason game had a recycling rate of .014 pounds per attendee. On Saturday, the rate was .07 pounds per person, or a 400 percent increase in recycling.  If that were to occur regularly at the Verizon Center, with crowds twice the size of Mason for a Caps or Wizards game, the sustainability impact could be significant. 

Mason has an Office of Sustainabilitand its director, Margaret Lo, said that “We had numerous attendees share their excitement about the efforts and expressing that they would love to see these efforts continue. It was an exciting and rewarding event.”

DISCLOSURE: I teach a class at Mason as an adjunct professor. I was not paid for this item and did not discard or pick up any trash at this game.

One of 65 “Green Patriots” who went through George Mason University’s Patriot Center after a nearly full-house basketball game on Saturday and collected recyclable trash. (Craig Bisacre/Creative Services/George Mason University)