Behind the Scenes of Creating an Eco-Friendly Super Bowl

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For most, the Super Bowl conjures up images of exciting plays, icy beer and cheesy plates of nachos.

For others, it’s about protecting the environment while all those other things go down.

Alongside the fanfare surrounding the party-fueled event, the National Football League (NFL) and participating businesses, organizations and volunteers pitch in on a wide range of planet-friendly activities. They plant trees, stock the stadium with eco-preferable utensils and repurpose thousands of yards of fabric, to name just a few initiatives.

In Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, when the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots square off, eco-activities before, during and after the event are intended not only to lighten the environmental footprint, but to ideally serve as inspiration for other events, says Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program. The projects also showcase the rich potential of teamwork among diverse organizations, which was impressive for this year’s event in Minneapolis, Groh says.

“Sustainability is an enormous priority for folks in this area,” Groh says. For environmental issues, “people roll up their sleeves and get the job done.”

‘Intercepting’  Waste

The NFL and its environmental partners are aiming to redirect about 90 percent of the trash on game day at the U.S. Bank Stadium. That is estimated to involve about 40 tons of discards at the 66,400-seat venue.

Recycling and composting are important facets of the waste-diversion effort, with clearly designated bins by category.

Aramark, which runs food and beverage services at the stadium, replaced dozens of traditional items — including straws, trays, utensils and packaged peanuts — with eco-friendlier versions. Cups, utensils and other designated items are compostable, and bins for compostable discards are clearly labeled in the venue.

Fans at U.S. Bank Stadium snack on peanuts sold in compostable packaging. Photo: Aramark

The stadium uses three-bin waste receptacles, with photos to identify exactly what should be tossed where. Drop holes for recycling and composting are intentionally placed on the outsides of the trio of bins for easy accessibility, Groh says. They also are wider than the holes for non-recyclable and non-compostable items, he adds.

Information about the project is featured on the Rush2Recycle website.

“On game day, every chef, custodian and fan will be part of the team working to recover at least 90 percent of stadium waste by recycling bottles and cans; composting organic materials like food waste and service ware; and repurposing items like discarded handbags, signage and construction materials through local community organizations,” according to a press release.

Redirecting Surplus Food

The multifaceted eco-friendly Super Bowl–related partnerships enable Second Harvest Heartland, a food bank in Minnesota, to snap up yummy surplus items from banquets, parties, restaurants and other sources. Following strict food-safety standards, fresh ingredients, prepared dishes and other unserved food items are diverted to the kitchens of shelters and social service organizations, says April Rog, director of food rescue for Second Harvest Heartland.

The rescued food is usually acquired directly from the partnering kitchens. Food items that were served or presented to the public are not eligible, Rog explains. She expects the Super Bowl and related events to supply about 50,000 to 70,000 meals for the food bank partners.

Super Bowl 52 is at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Photo: HKS Architects

Recycling Decor, Banners, Office Supplies & More

The NFL and partners establish a network of nonprofit organizations that are delighted to reuse or repurpose Super Bowl building materials, decor and other items not needed after the festivities.

The giveaways often include as much as 500,000 square feet of fabric from banners, panels and fence wraps. Fabric from past events has turned into shower curtains, bean bag chairs, backpacks, dresses and purses, Groh says. In Arizona, panels were put into service as sunshades for a community garden.

In Houston, some of the leftover Super Bowl fabric was used to make tote bags for toiletries distributed at shelters after the hurricane, Groh says.

The NFL Urban Forestry Program provided funding for tree-planting projects in Minnesota. Photo: NFL Environmental Program

Other Projects

There’s more that’s happened on the Super Bowl sustainability front, including:

  • The NFL Super Bowl Urban Forestry Program provided matching grants for 14 projects in Minnesota that included planting about 12,000 trees, 4,000 native plants and eight pollinator gardens
  • The Super Kids Super Sharing event yielded about 46,000 used books and sports equipment, which were donated to schools and youth programs
  • An e-waste recycling rally netted 42,081 pounds of electronic waste for responsible recycling

Party Tips

In addition to outlining eco-friendly Super Bowl activities at the stadium, the Rush2Recycle website offers recycling tips for the public.

  • At your Super Bowl party, be sure your recycling bags and bins are accessible and labeled
  • Add a recycling bin to any location in homes and offices where there’s also a trash basket
  • Screw caps on empty bottles before recycling, unless caps are not permitted by your local recycler
  • Toss long twine and other long stringy items in the trash, not in the recycling bin
  • Most recyclers do not want your recycled items packaged in a plastic bag, as plastic bags may jam machinery
  • Recyclable food and beverage containers should be clean and dry

Show Off

Post a video displaying your “recycling moves” on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #Rush2Recycle. The best videos are showcased on the Rush2Recycle website. 

Whether you’re cheering for the Patriots or the Eagles, let’s hope the environment is the true winner.

Feature image courtesy of Rush2Recycle.com

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Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.