In Pennsylvania, Penn State University football games are a big deal. During home games, State College becomes the state's third largest city, trailing only Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Fans drive from across the state to attend, and tailgates often start at the crack of dawn.
Not surprisingly, a crowd the size of a small city creates a lot of trash. In fact, during a typical game, crowds generate an average of 50 tons of waste, and big games can result in up to 100 tons, leaving the university with the enormous task of reducing its landfill impact. However, under a revised recycling initiative, Penn State was able to more than triple its old recycling record, recycling 112 tons of trash in 2008 alone.
A big problem
In order to increase recycling at games, the Penn State support services staff realized it had to not only address recycling within the stadium, but across the entire 110-acre footprint of Beaver Stadium and its surrounding parking lots. Since its inception in 1997, the program has grown to include plastics numbered one through seven, aluminum, glass, cardboard and game programs.
As it turns out the majority of recyclable waste comes from the tailgating areas. To make recycling more convenient and accessible to tailgaters, the staff set up 290 blue 96-gallon recycling bins throughout the parking lots.
In 2007, the student club STATER (Students Taking Action to Encourage Recycling) began distributing about 2,000 blue recycling bags to tailgaters. This served as a way to encourage and remind fans to recycle. Another 2,800 blue bags and reminders to recycle were placed at all garbage dumpsters. In total, 90% of recyclables that were captured were from the blue bags.
Stadium recycling required a less creative and interactive approach than reaching out to tailgaters. The main recyclable products were beverage and food containers and game programs. In 2008, Penn State added 127 recycling bins to the stadium concourse for paper, glass and plastic recycling. The new bins were paid for by selling ad space on the bins, and are moved to other university facilities once the football season ends.
Educating fans and creating change
In order to establish a culture of recycling at games, the support service staff even created a recycling motto for the stadium: "Come to the Game, Honor the Name." Videos are played during game stoppages reminding fans to recycle, as participation exemplifies university values and respect for the shared space.
Ultimately, the program has been extremely successful in increasing recycling and engaging the student body. The long-term goal is to eventually increase the stadium's percentage of total waste recycled to 67%, up from 48.6% in 2009.
Looking forward, Penn State wants to install a composting center in the stadium kitchens. Eventually, the university may invest in public compost bins and compostable plates and cutlery in an effort to further cut down on food waste. After all, it's unlikely all of the 11,500 hot dogs sold at the average game are always eaten.