With over 100,000 spectators coming to watch Penn State football on Saturdays in the fall, their presence is known not only by the commanding “We Are” chants, but also by the amount of waste left behind when they leave the stadium.
With a goal to eliminate products being sent to landfills after the conclusion of sporting events, researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are working to make that goal a reality.
Penn State has already developed a multitude of strategies in order to reduce its carbon footprint, with the next step being at major venues like Beaver Stadium, the Bryce Jordan Center, and Pegula Ice Arena.
Recycling and composting are not new to Penn State, as compost and recycling bins are in every residence hall, dining hall, and educational building.
“Sustainability for large venues is a complex problem encompassing energy and water use, purchasing, green cleaning practices and waste management,” said Dr. Judd Michael, a professor at Penn State in the department of Ecosystem Science and Management with expertise in fields such as sustainable business, and zero waste.
According to Ryan McCaughey, the Manager of Grounds and Equipment for the Office of the Physical Plant at Penn State, each football season generates over 500 tons of trash.
Instead of transporting this waste to landfills, Penn State’s zero-waste effort plans to transport waste to one of two places: recycling or compost.
“It would most likely be many years before we could reach zero waste at our athletics arenas,” Michael said. “Reaching zero waste would require a very large investment in both effort and money and, at this point, there is no business case for such investments.”
Despite the fact that it could take several years before Penn State’s stadiums are completely zero-waste, a series of actions can be taken to speed up the effort.
“Lots of professional teams have proven that there is a ‘business case’ for having sustainable operations,” Michael said. “Once they see the possibilities for saving or making money from being greener then they quickly jump on the bandwagon.”
The most difficult barrier in the project of making Penn State stadiums waste-free does not come from the research and implementation, but Michael said it — instead — comes from changing fan behavior.
“If a significant portion of fans don’t have the knowledge or desire to sort their materials,” Michael said, “then the waste streams will be contaminated and it may all end up in a landfill.”
In order to avoid this issue, Michael said fans should simply pay attention to the materials they want to dispose of, and place them in the proper container.
Until Penn State stadiums become waste-free, Michael said he believes that venue operators should do more to motivate and educate fans.
“Some venues have promotions on their big screen video boards, and others have contests at intermission to get people fired up and make it fun,” Michael said. “We need to do more to change the culture of events so that the norm is to dispose of material properly instead of just throwing it into the closest container.”