From franks to french fries and water bottles to beverage cans, college game days produce a large and valuable volume of recyclable material. UT Recycling took on the challenge to increase recycling and composting at football games, to shrink its environmental footprint, and to broaden sustainability efforts.
UT Recycling ranked first place in the SEC in organics recycling (composting) and second place in other categories such as waste minimization, per capita recycling, and greenhouse gas reduction. From the first five home games, UT recycled 111,487 pounds of material.
“Every game day is an opportunity to improve what didn’t work well in the past and to try new methods of collection,” said Bea Ross, UT Recycling’s outreach coordinator. “It’s also a challenge, but one that can be overcome with support and participation. Working behind the scenes may not be as glamorous as playing on the field, but that hasn’t stopped students from volunteering with us.”
UT Recycling averages twenty to thirty volunteers per game on Saturdays. On Sundays, ten UT football players dedicate their morning to helping volunteers remove recyclables from the stadium.
“Working with the football players has been great, but what I enjoyed most about it is having them work and interact with our other student volunteers,” Ross said. “It was truly a humbling experience watching wide receiver Drae Bowles work side by side with one of our most consistent and reliable volunteers, Elise Taylor.”
UT Recycling has been working with UT Athletics, Good Sports Always Recycle, and ARAMARK to simplify and increase recycling and composting efforts on game days.
This year, UT introduced fourteen dumpster locations throughout the designated tailgating areas where fans were asked to bring their bags of recyclables before or after the game. Next year, ARAMARK will transition to using plastic cups to serve beverages in Neyland Stadium, as the paper cups used now are not recyclable.
“UT Recycling hopes to see Neyland Stadium achieve zero waste by the year 2015 – ‘Recycle to Rise to the Top’ is a reminder to Vols fans that we aren’t there yet,” Ross said.
During this collegiate football season, more than eighty-five schools across the nation took on the challenge to collect cans and bottles, cardboard, food waste, and more from the tailgate areas, stadium seating, and concessions during at least one home game.
Schools measured and reported their results along with game attendance for ranking in five categories. The winners:
- Waste Minimization Champion – Central Connecticut State University
- Diversion Rate Champion – Ohio State University
- Greenhouse Gas Reduction Champion – Franklin College
- Recycling Champion – Franklin College
- Organics Reduction Champion – University of Akron
More than just a competition, Game Day Challenge is an opportunity for participating schools to demonstrate to students and team supporters that recycling and reducing waste are not activities limited to the home or office.
Many participating schools deployed teams of volunteers to collect cans and bottles from pregame tailgaters. Other schools engaged their mascots, set up zero-waste stations inside the stadiums to collect food scraps and more, or arranged for special recycling messages to be announced during the game.
Many schools will bring their recycling game from the football field to the basketball court this winter to compete in the Game Day Basketball category of the RecycleMania Tournament. RecycleMania is an eight-week national competition in which schools compete to recycle the most not just at games, but also in dorms, dining halls and classrooms. Kicking off February 2, the competition provides an opportunity for recycling coordinators, sustainability offices, and student groups to engage their entire campuses in recycling.
For more information, visit environment.utk.edu/recycling.