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NRDC's "Guide to Composting at Sports Venues"

Darby Hoover

Posted March 22, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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Composting for sports organizations just got easier with the release of NRDC’s Guide to Composting at Sports Venues. This is the latest in a series of technically-informed ecological management tools provided by the NRDC Sports Project at no cost to sports venues looking to reduce their environmental footprints.

Virtually all professional sports venues have already developed or are developing recycling programs, and more and more are looking to expand their programs through composting and other organics recycling. NRDC’s Guide to Composting at Sports Venues gives step-by-step advice on establishing or expanding organics recycling programs, starting from how to assess a facility’s existing waste infrastructure, to negotiating composting and hauling contracts, training staff, landing sponsorship, and involving fans in the initiative.

The Guide also includes examples of sports organizations that are already reducing waste through composting and other initiatives, such as donation of unsold prepared food. For example, starting in the 2010–11 season, the National Hockey League established a league-wide initiative in which all 30 NHL teams committed to pack up unused prepared concession food on game nights for redistribution to local shelters and food banks. Since 2010, the league-wide food recovery program has diverted more than 300 tons of waste from landfills and incinerators and provided local shelters with more than 400,000 meals. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the NHL reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 79 metric tons of carbon dioxide through this initiative.

Although the amount it costs to dispose of waste in landfills varies across the country, many venues can achieve significant savings through composting, by reducing what they send to landfill waste. For example, the O.co Coliseum, home to the Oakland Athletics and Oakland Raiders, decreased its trash hauling costs by more than 20 percent through an extensive waste diversion program that includes composting.

The Seattle Mariners’ Safeco Field is a prime example of a robust composting and recycling program that encompasses multiple strategies. In 2009, the Mariners diverted 38 percent of their game-day waste from landfills; today, they divert 90 percent. Through partnerships with vendors and sponsors, the Mariners switched to compostable serviceware, and added signs and messages throughout the ballpark educating fans about the program. The team has even given away finished compost to fans. The initiative saves Safeco Field $100,000 per year.

NRDC’s Guide to Composting at Sports Venues highlights success stories like these, while walking through practical suggestions such as how to conduct a waste audit, how to work with haulers, and how to track waste-related measurements. The Guide includes tips on how to effectively locate and brand receptacles, a primer on different organics recycling methods, and suggestions for involving sponsors and vendors to provide financial and organizational support to waste diversion efforts. Most of what is disposed of in a stadium or arena is sold on-site – so reducing waste means rethinking procurement. The Guide offers advice on buying compostable serviceware, and ensuring that those items are compatible with both the venue’s needs and the composting facility’s capabilities. When sports venues purchase compostable serviceware, they help build the market for these products. And when high-profile sites like sports venues demand increased capacity for composting, more and more areas around the country will begin to expand their composting infrastructure.

Composting is a great way for sports venues to save money, but it’s also a great way to protect the environment. Organic materials like food waste and landscaping debris make up one-third or more of a typical U.S. municipal waste stream, and organic materials (including food, landscaping waste, and some serviceware) typically constitute an even higher percentage of waste generated in stadiums and arenas. In a landfill, decomposing organic matter is the principal cause of emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas estimated to be 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Composting reduces the amount of waste directed to landfills or incinerators by transforming organic waste into useful fertilizer and other soil amendments, while helping reduce the emission of harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

For over a decade, NRDC has been advising a growing roster of professional and collegiate sports teams, leagues, and venues as they adopt comprehensive environmental initiatives. The NRDC Sports Project has developed extensive resources for sports greening, including our online NRDC Sports Greening Advisor, as well as compiling sports greening case studies in our Game Changer and Collegiate Game Changers reports.

When culturally influential organizations like sports leagues, teams, and venues adopt greener practices like composting, the benefits are threefold. First, reducing waste has direct environmental impacts by reducing the amount of material that goes to landfills or incinerators. Second, publicizing environmental achievements – even through as simple a mechanism as providing a well-marked compost bin – sends a message to fans that being a responsible environmental steward is an important part of how the organization does business. Ideally, fans will come to expect recycling and compost bins at their local sports venues and other places they go for entertainment. Third, when sports organizations adopt greener practices, that sends a powerful message up the supply chain and to sponsors that greener products and services are a priority—and this means that those greener products and services might become more available to other customers too. As the NRDC Sports Project’s director, Allen Hershkowitz, noted in his preface to the Guide, this Guide will hopefully spur many venues to identify cost-competitive, ecologically superior ways to manage their organic waste stream, and in so doing, help shift public policies and private investments towards more responsible packaging design and organic waste management options.

NRDC’s Guide to Composting in Sports Venues – report landing page

NRDC’s Guide to Composting in Sports Venues – full report pdf

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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