Can Your School Talk Trash? EPA “Game Day Challenge” Encourages Waste Reduction at College Football Games

Sep 20, 2010

For many college students across the country, there’s nothing quite like watching the home football team take on the longstanding school rivals on a crisp, fall day in October. You and your friends – dressed in school colours, waving signs, and sporting face paint – have staked a spot in the stadium and are cheering like mad as another touchdown is scored. You’ve got program booklets to flip through, drinks a plenty, and snacks to keep your fuel up. At the end of the fourth quarter – hopefully a home team victory! – everyone heads home, chatting about the game, the plays, and maybe the wittiest trash talking you heard. But what about a different kind of trash talk? I’m talking about the trash that’s left in the stands, in the parking lots, and throughout the tailgating areas. What happens to all this garbage? And is there any way to reduce it?

The Game Day Challenge

The 2010 Game Day Challenge, an initiative of the United States Environmental Protection Agency ‘s (EPA) WasteWise program, is a “friendly competition for colleges and universities to promote waste reduction”[1] at home football games. Participating schools select a home game during the month of October, and implement a program to reduce waste and increase recycling at the stadium and in surrounding areas, such as parking lots and tailgating spots.

This year marks the second year of the Game Day Challenge program. In 2009, the inaugural year for the initiative, eight schools participated in the program and reduced the waste produced from their chosen eight games by over 40,000 pounds of waste[2]! Over the course of the last year word has spread. Currently, there are thirty two schools registered to compete in the 2010 Game Day Challenge, and there is still over a week left to register[3]. While the program’s number one direct goal is to reduce waste generated at college football games, the Game Day Challenge also hopes to increase awareness and participation by the school community in waste reduction programs.

Any college or university located in the United States with a football program is welcome to compete. Registration for the Game Day Challenge, which can be done easily online through the Challenge website, ends September 30, 2010. Countdown to program kickoff is well underway, so hurry if your school hasn’t registered yet! The Game Day Challenge takes place at participating schools nation-wide during the month of October. Once all the chosen games have passed, and schools have submitted their numbers, the results and winners will be announced by the EPA in November, and will be available online.

Competition Categories

The competition is divided into five categories, are results are measured using a standard set of methodologies and conversion factors, available on the EPA website. Awards are presented for each category outlined below.

Diversion Rate: Equivalent to the recycling rate, this measurement compares the amount of waste recycled to the total waste produced. The largest diversion rate wins.

Per Capita Waste Generation: Total waste produced, including trash, recyclables and compostables, is measured, and divided by the total attendance to get waste produced per person at the game. Aim low for this one – lowest per capita waste generation rate wins.

Gross GHG Reductions through Waste Reduction: Greenhouse gases, primarily methane, are emitted as wastes are broken down in municipal landfills. However, these emissions are avoided or lowered when wastes are recycled. Total reductions in emissions, calculated using the EPA’s WARM factors, are divided by the total game attendance to get GHG emission reductions per person. For this one, the highest rate is the winner.

Per Capita Recycling: The total weight of recycled material, which includes paper, plastics, glass, and cardboard, will be divided by the number of people attending the game to get the amount of recycled waste per person. This is a statistic you want to be as high as possible!

Per Capita Composting: Calculated in exactly the same manner as per capita recycling, but using the total weight of reduced organics, which includes compostable materials that are donated, reused, or composted.

In 2009, the University of Colorado took home the gold in three of the five measured categories (Diversion Rate, Gross GHG Reductions through Waste Reduction, and Per Capita Composting), while Ohio University and Harvard University were the top dogs in Per Capita Waste Generation and Per Capita Recycling, respectively[4]. Full results for the 2009 Challenge are available through the EPA Game day Challenge website. Who will it be in 2010?

Help Your School Go On the Offensive Against Waste

To help get your school on the right track, if your school is a Game Day Challenge rookie, and to inform modifications to veteran school programs, I’ve created a list of key actions to take in order to reduce your game day waste. I’ve read through quite a few articles published by various schools and organizations, but there’s also a bunch more out there, so don’t be afraid to keep researching!

Pre-Game Preparations

Design a Game Plan: The first step in reducing waste at your football game is designing a waste reduction plan. During the planning process, you should choose a program coordinator. A lot of work goes into the design and implementation of a successful recycling program, and one person needs to take on the role of managing this task. Ideally, the person responsible should have easy access to necessary information – or those individuals with access to necessary information – such as previous game attendance records, waste and recycling contractor and hauling contact information, stadium layout, and stadium staff contact information.

Once this person has been selected, you need to establish the budget for the program. One article, entitled Recycling at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, indicated that it cost the school $9,000.00 to design and implement an innovative new recycling program at the school’s football stadium. While this was a particularly ambitious initiative, you need to recognize that there will be costs associated with your program, and you will need to draw up a budget and fundraise to implement your ideas. The last important action within the planning stage that I will mention here is facility assessment. Before actually designing your program, familiarize yourself with the location. Walk around the stadium and the surrounding area, talk to the concessions, maintenance, and stadium staff, talk with students and supporters, and review records (if they’re available) of previous games, including attendance and waste generation. By doing this, you’ll be able to get an idea of what the largest sources of waste are bound to be, and where the hotspots for waste generation are going to be located.

Set Goals: Goals are important not only in helping you design your program, but also in encouraging participation from your school community. Goals could include the total amount of waste recycled, the waste generated per person, reductions below a previous year, or reductions specific to certain materials (e.g. eliminate paper waste, halve plastic bottle waste, etc.). In order to set a realistic goal, do some preliminary research. Try to get an estimate of the amount of waste typically produced at one of your school’s football games.

If it’s the first year of your program, goal-setting will be a bit more difficult, so it’s best to put in some legwork. Conduct a little research – find a report by a school with a similar stadium capacity or waste production rate, and check what their targets were, and what they were able to achieve. For example, the University of Tennessee had a 15% recycling rate during the 2006 season, and were able to recycle over 17 tons of material[5]. Keep in mind, as well, that goals can be intermediate. For example, the University of Colorado “publishes posters depicting a football gridiron equating five yards gained for every 705 pounds of recycled material. Every 100 yards gained is celebrated as a recycling touchdown” [6].

Once you have set your goal, stick to it. Having a quantifiable goal will help promote your campaign, and provide a tangible way to communicate the results of your efforts to the school and local community. Don’t worry too much if you set your initial goal too high or too low. The goals and results of the first year of the program can act as a baseline to inform year two!

Draft Volunteers: Your fellow students are a huge asset in the implementation of your recycling program. Most students I know would be willing to trade a couple days of labour for free tickets to the next game, or even just that feeling of satisfaction after helping out. It might also be a good idea to approach green-minded student organizations in your school. Not only are they more likely to want to get involved, they’ll also probably have a bunch of ideas of their own on how to make the program even more successful. In order to ensure that everyone is on the same page for the big day, schedule meetings to go over relevant information. This includes the Game Day schedule, a map of the stadium and where booths, bins and people are going to be stationed, and specific responsibilities and tasks. Organizing people into small teams is an effective way of delegating work, and investing in walkie-talkies might not be a bad idea either. In 2006, University of Tennessee students volunteered over 200 hours of their time to staff a recycling booth and pick up litter[7].

Hype it Up: No matter how well designed your program is, you won’t get the results you’re hoping for unless you get the word out about it. A few key things to keep in mind: advertise early, advertise differently, and advertise often. The earlier people know about your goals and efforts, the more likely they are to incorporate your program values into their Game Day preparations (e.g. bringing less waste to the game, sharing programs to avoid increased paper waste). Secondly, get the word out through a bunch of channels. Make use of radio, local and campus newspapers, viral marketing techniques, and word of mouth. One important thing to remember is that this a waste reduction initiative; it might not be the best idea to distribute paper flyers all over campus! Instead, set up Facebook groups, ask professors to mention it at the end of classes, get a poster up at the campus bar, and post information on the school or campaign website. Finally, don’t forget to mention it at the game itself! A brief reminder in the game program, on the video screen, or at halftime can go a long way!

Game Time

Be Visible: During your planning phase, you probably identified areas of high foot traffic and congregation within the stadium and surrounding area: position yourself in those areas. If you are handing out recycling bags, have volunteers or stations here. Put up posters next to stadium entrances and exits. Have your volunteers and program staff wear brightly coloured shirts and wander around amongst tailgaters and stadium-goers letting people know about the program. The more people who know, the better the results are going to be.

Target Tailgaters and Other High Traffic Areas: A lot of my reading has shown that tailgating areas produce the majority of waste at college home football games. This isn’t surprising, given that tailgaters are bringing all their own supplies, and setting up camp for an afternoon. In a couple of detailed reports that I read, published by the EPA and written by the University of Tennessee and Penn State, the two schools focused a significant amount of resources and time on the tailgating areas around the stadium.

At Penn State, 290 wheeled recycling bins were distributed throughout the parking lots, and plastic recycling bags were hung in rolls on every dumpster. Where dumpsters were unavailable, A-frame stands were set up to dispense the bags. In addition, volunteers wandered amongst the tailgating fans, distributing recycling bags to each group, and explaining the recycling initiative. One thing that the Penn State article highlighted was the importance of keeping bin location consistent year after year. If fans know where to go to get the recycling bags and drop off recyclables, they are more likely to do so. To help you in this regard, make a map of your bin and dumpster location, and stick to it. The University of Tennessee also targeted tailgating areas, distributing around 100 recycling bins throughout the parking lots and near stadium entrances. One tip: if you purchase wheeled bins of a relatively convenient size, these can be moved around to other facilities once the football season is over, for example to baseball diamonds and soccer fields.

Work with Stadium Staff: Inside the stadium, there are a few major sources of potential waste: programs, concessions, and beverages. Talk with the program vendors – what are they planning on doing with the unused and discarded programs after the game? Meet with the concessions and drinks vendors. Encourage them to recycle packaging from bulk goods, and offer snacks that come in recyclable wrapping. Beverage cups are a big source of potential waste – ensure that plastic beverage cups are made of plastic (e.g. #1 – #7) that is able to be recycled in your area. Finally, include the stadium maintenance staff in your plans. Ask them what they plan to do with trash that is picked up inside the stadium, and go over the details of your initiative with them. Informing as many actors as possible will make sure that no area goes overlooked.

Post-Game Celebrations

Publish Results: The EPA Game Day Challenge requires that participating schools send in the results of their efforts in the five competition categories. However, don’t just stop there. Ask the school paper if they wouldn’t mind publishing an article about the Game Day efforts. Include a small section on the initiative in Alumni and school newsletters. Update the school website with the results of the Challenge. One great way to drive home achievements is to provide real numbers, and compare these with values that are familiar to your audience. For example, if you reduced GHG emissions by 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, give a comparison of what this is equivalent to. Conversely, you could let people know how much money was saved by diverting waste away from landfills, which have costly hauling and contracting fees, and recycling instead. If money saved is being donated to a charity or organization, report this as well. In general, let people know the effects of their efforts, and remember to thank everyone who participated!

Encourage Feedback: For any initiative to evolve and improve, feedback – both positive and negative – is required. Encourage students, fans, players, stadium staff, maintenance staff, the school community and the local community to send in their comments on your program. It’s also important to hold a post-Game Day meeting with your team. At this time, discuss any challenges that arose, pros and cons of the current system, and potential areas for improvement. Over time, your waste reduction program will become streamlined, and continual improvement will help keep program costs down for future years, and increase your achievements.

Good luck to all the schools participating in this year’s Game Day Challenge! Expect an update from me in November once the results are in…








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