Zero Waste Stadium

The inaugural zero waste stadium initiative, launched during the 2014 football season at Appalachian State University, netted a 74 percent waste diversion. According to University Resource Conservation Specialist Jen Maxwell, the project, an expansion of the tailgate recycle program initiated in 2008, was successful due in large part to across-the-board cooperation and collaboration.

Partnering with the Physical Plant and Athletics, the Office of Sustainability removed all traditional trashcans on the stadium concourse and replaced them with 15 zero waste zones, each staffed by student staff, for the collection of compost and recycling throughout the concourse areas. These zones were well marked and the zero waste attendants ensured fans were educated and aware of which container to use when discarding waste.

In keeping with the university’s 10-year diversion goal, the zero waste stadium initiative expects to achieve 90% waste diversion by 2022. To that end, prior to the season the group worked with the concessionaires to ensure the products they use are either compostable or recyclable. Individual condiment packets were replaced with bulk condiments. Post-game stadium cleaning crews separated waste for recycling or composting.

Dr. Greg Taylor, assistant director of the physical plant and director of campus services, agreed this season’s initiative was definitely a team effort. “The crew members were committed from the beginning and we hope next year will be even more positive. We learned a lot about logistics and effective collection site placement. We had six home games and were able to gather excellent data to support the success of the program.”

Appalachian’s zero waste commitment was successful on several levels, according to Maxwell. “To completely rethink waste as a resource and have the opportunity to educate such a large audience — 20,000 to 25,000 attendees at each game — is a true step toward culture change. Collaboration between Athletics, the Physical Plant and the Office of Sustainability sets a high bar for other cross-campus initiatives and our student staff gained valuable hands on learning.”

Culture change isn’t always easy, according to Bettina Roden, Appropriate Technology major and an intern in the Office of Sustainability. The student staff, fans and work crews all found different challenges with the program. “Student staff needed to understand how important it was to be engaged with the fans,” she said. “Although the job looked simple, if the material was not properly sorted and the streams were contaminated, this could create issues with diversion. The fans were positive about the change, but unsure how to cooperate. You could tell they were eager to do the right thing but hesitant because they were unsure of the process. The crew from the physical plant saw how important their work was and became our biggest champions. In the end, it was a valuable experience for the students, the fans and the work crews.”

Planning efforts are already underway for next season with expectations for expansion into additional sporting events. For more information, please contact Jennifer Maxwell, maxwelljb@appstate.edu.