The NCAA's First Zero-Waste Stadium

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Colorado University's Folsom Field is the first in the NCAA to go zero-waste. Photo: Flickr/Matt Mordfin

At the start of the 2008 football season, the University of Colorado (CU) kicked off the first zero-waste stadium at the NCAA Championship level. Titled “Ralphie’s Green Stampede,” the program has significantly reduced the amount of waste generated at Folsom Field, home of the Boulder Buffaloes.

During the 2009 football season, almost 80 percent of the waste generated during home games was composted or recycled. The 2010 season composted or recycled about 71 percent of the home game waste. However, achieving these high diversion rates has meant overcoming some challenges.

READ: Can an Entire University Go Zero Waste?

Although there are no trash bins accessible to fans at Folsom Field — only compost and recycling bins — it’s no guarantee that a plastic soda bottle won’t end up in the compost bin. The wrong material in the wrong bin can prevent all the materials from being recycled or composted downstream.

“The first two games we didn’t sort. So, it all got thrown away,” says recycling program manager of CU’s Environmental Center Dan Baril.

As a result, a sorting system was put in place, says Baril. This system involves a team of about 12 volunteers who monitor the recycling and composting bins during games. The volunteers also sort through the waste after each game — a process that takes four hours on average.

“The sorting process also allows us to gauge the material being served,” Baril says. “We are seeing this much waste at the front end that is not compostable.  You need to change this on the front end.”

CU’s Environmental Center worked with Centerplate Inc. — the main contractor for Folsom Field events — to remove materials sold to game attendees that weren’t compostable.

“At times, that presents challenges in trying to find the correct, or right size bowels, or plates, or something that would equal what we are trying to sell to the customer,” says general manager for Centerplate Inc. Matt Mulberry.

One year ago, there were still a few items sold at Folsom Field athletic events that were trash, says Mulberry.  After becoming general manager for Centerplate Inc., Mulberry helped to ensure that all items sold at Folsom Field were compostable or recyclable. For instance, Mulberry worked with Chick-fil-A Inc. to develop a compostable bag for the chicken sandwiches that the fast food company serves at CU games.

“That’s a huge stride for one small school,” Mulberry says.

But it can be more expensive to ensure all items are compostable or recyclable, says Mulberry. For example, compostable cups, straws and lids can be twice as expensive.

“It’s all worth it in the end, when you think about what you’re trying to do here,” says Mulberry. And, the price of compostable items may come down as the items become more readily available, Mulberry says.

“Material conversion is huge. I’m excited to see what our conversion rate will be for this season,” Baril says.

However, people sitting in the boxseats at Folsom Field want to order food not served in the regular concession, notes Baril. “We’re still trying to work on that. That’s our last challenge area.”

For the 2011 season, Ohio Stadium joins Folsom Field in the zero-waste initiative.

“It became a contagious initiative and became something we are really, really proud of,” says CU’s Athletic Director Mike Bohn. “It’s interesting to see that we got something started. We are really fired up about this.”

With a seating capacity of 101,568 — compared to CU Boulder’s 53,613 seating capacity — Ohio State may want to take note of some of CU’s zero-waste challenges. In the meantime, you can do your part by reducing waste at your tailgate. We’ve got some great tips here, and you can also check out Keep America Beautiful’s go-to guide for tailgate recycling events.

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