US Colleges Rise to EPA’s “Game Day Challenge”

Nov 30, 2010

Back in September (can’t believe it’s just about December already…), I wrote a post entitled “Can Your School Talk Trash? EPA ‘Game Day Challenge’ Encourages Waste Reduction at College Football Games”, detailing the specifics of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s “Game Day Challenge”, an initiative to reduce waste at home football games. The challenge is a voluntary component of the EPA’s WasteWise Program directed specifically at colleges and universities, and the results for the 2010 Challenge were announced today on the Game Day Challenge website.

Schools across the United States jumped at the chance to participate, and over the past several months almost ninety schools have been working diligently, devising strategies to cut waste and raise awareness. In 2009, the inaugural year of the challenge, only eight schools from eight states in the United States participated. Over the past year, word must have spread, because this October eighty-eight American colleges and universities registered for the challenge, developing programs to cut waste and increase recycling & composting efforts at their home stadium while simultaneously promoting waste reduction in their school and local communities. The return rate of participating schools was phenomenal between 2009 and 2010, with only one school – the University of Colorado – failing to enter in 2010[1].

Participation by State

As shown in the image below, the eighty-eight participating schools hailed from thirty-seven states. Texas, New York, and Florida boasted the highest number of schools participating, with five schools, six schools, and six schools, respectively. Participation was lowest across the central states – both of the Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho and Nevada were among the thirteen states uninvolved in the challenge – while the western and eastern coasts each had a good number of schools register and compete.

2010 Game Day Challenge Results

Overall Results

Aside from the participation statistics, which were superb, check out the overall results! According to the EPA website, of the 88 schools registered, 79 ended up submitting reduction figures to the EPA. These schools managed to spread the word to over 2.8 million football fans at their chosen home games, and diverted over 500,000 lbs of waste, equal to almost 0.2 lbs/person! As a comparison, the 2009 Challenge achieved a total waste reduction of just over 40,000 lbs.

Of equal importance is the associated prevention of greenhouse gas emissions: had this waste been landfilled instead, it would have generated an estimated 940 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), an amount equal to the emissions released from the combustion of 105,000 gallons of gasoline[2]. According to the United States Department of Transportation, the average US passenger car consumes 554 gallons per year[3], and therefore the GHG reductions realized by this challenge are equivalent to removing 190 cars from US roads for a year, no small potatoes. In 2009, the GHG reductions were equivalent to removing 22 cars from the roads for a year[4].

Game Day Challenge Winning Schools

Of course, it wouldn’t be a true competition if there weren’t winners! The Game Day Challenge is divided into five areas of competition, each of which measures a different reduction rate and has a different winner. The categories and their champions are described below.

Per Capita Waste Generation

The total waste produced at the chosen home football game, including trash, recyclables and compostables, was measured, and divided by the total attendance to arrive at waste produced per person at the game. Schools needed to aim low for this one, as the lowest per capita waste generation rate wins.

Winning Schools: Ithaca College and the University of Tennessee at Martin, with a per capita waste generation of 0.078 lbs/person. That’s approximately equivalent to the weight of just one game program per person! Seventy-five schools submitted results in this category, so competition was fierce!

Diversion Rate

Equivalent to the recycling rate, this measurement compared the amount of waste recycled to the total waste produced. The largest diversion rate wins!

Winning School: Eighty-five percent (75 out of 88) of registered schools participated in this category, but the ultimate winner was the University of California, Davis, with a diversion rate of 89.83%. Very impressive, especially considering the second place school had a diversion rate of 68.41%! Special congratulations also go out to Harvard University and Ohio University, who placed 4th and 6th in this category. Both these schools participated last year and therefore might have found it difficult to find further ways to reduce waste materials.

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, were divided by the total game attendance to get GHG emission reductions per person, in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). For this one, the highest rate was the winner.

Winning School: The University of Central Oklahoma, the winner of this category, managed to reduce GHG emissions by 0.003429 tCO2e/person. In terms of absolute total GHG reductions, an unmeasured category but worth reporting nonetheless, the University of Oregon had the greatest success, reducing emissions by 57.14 tCO2e. Of course, this value doesn’t take into account the attendance of the game, which influences the potential for reductions. Eighty schools submitted data for this category, making it one of the two most competitive in the challenge.

Per Capita Recycling

The total weight of recycled material, which includes paper, plastics, glass, and cardboard, was divided by the number of people attending the game to get the amount of recycled waste per person. This was one statistic you wanted to be as high as possible!

Winning School: The University of Central Oklahoma took home the gold in this category as well, and was the only school to win two categories. At their home football game in October, this school managed to achieve a per capita recycling rate of 1.337 lbs/person. The success is even more impressive given that the category for per capita recycling was one of the two most competitive of the 2010 Game Day categories – 91% of registered schools submitted data.

Per Capita Composting

Per capita composting was calculated in exactly the same manner as per capita recycling, but used the total weight of reduced organics, which included compostable materials that were donated, reused, or composted.

Winning School: Marist College, located in Poughkeepsie, New York, was the champ of this category, achieving a per capita organics reduction rate of 0.230 lbs/person. Per capita composting was the least popular category this year, with only 22% (19 out of 88) of registered schools participating. Maybe we’ll see this number rise in 2011!

The increase in the number of schools, and hence the number of states, participating in the EPA Game Day Challenge between 2009 and 2010 is extremely encouraging. Since there are dozens more college football stadiums across the United States, participation has the potential to increase further between 2010 and 2011.

In my opinion, the truly wonderful aspect of the Game Day Challenge – aside, of course, from its positive environmental impacts, in terms of both actual waste and emissions reductions and its contribution to awareness raising – is its versatility. While currently the Challenge is restricted to US colleges and universities with a football stadium, and runs solely in the month of October, the opportunities for program expansion are countless. Instead of featuring only in October, there could be monthly challenges in each of September, October and November. Or, think of the excellent competition possible by creating a Game Day Challenge bracket and playoffs, keeping in mind, of course, stadium capacity, years in the program, and climate region. Participating schools would face off against their competition in a Waste Reduction Fantasy League. And then there’s expansion into other sports – basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey – and maybe even going beyond just college participation and into high schools across the country… The possibilities are endless.





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