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OSU taking steps to make the ‘Shoe more eco-friendly

A new coach and the absence of a few key figures will not be the only noticeable difference at Ohio Stadium for the start of the 2011 football season. Almost everything from the food containers at concession stands to the waste baskets they are thrown in will be different.

Ohio State is moving ahead with its Zero Waste initiative this fall, which aims to divert 90 percent of Ohio Stadium’s waste away from landfills. Fans have been recycling at Ohio Stadium since 2007, but the next phase in the initiative to make the Shoe more environmentally-friendly will start this fall.

Corey Hawkey, program coordinator for energy and sustainability at OSU, said the university has already made major strides toward reducing waste at OSU. During the 2010 football season, OSU diverted about half of its 111.5 tons, of waste from Ohio Stadium away from the landfill. According to Toyota.com, 111.5 tons is equivalent to about 74 2011 Toyota Priuses. OSU also had a single-game high of 75 percent of waste being diverted from the landfill when OSU played Purdue.

“This season, we should definitely be around that 75 percent marker so that the next season, we can move toward that 90 percent goal,” Hawkey said.

Many football fans probably never knew their trash was being recycled because, prior to this season, fans threw all waste into one type of barrel, Hawkey said. The garbage was then manually sorted after the games.

“When you’re putting a nacho cup in the waste and it starts melting all over popcorn and plastic bottles and everything else, it kind of becomes a giant clump of stuff, and its difficult to recycle that,” Hawkey said. “By separating out the waste streams, we’re going to instantly improve recycling numbers.”

A waste stream is the path garbage takes after it is thrown away, Hawkey said. The stadium will now have three waste streams: recycling, compost and trash.

Hawkey said it’s pretty much impossible to eliminate all trash at a stadium that regularly seats 105,000 fans on game days, but diverting most of that waste to recycling and compost centers significantly reduces the overall impact on the environment.

One aspect that may keep fans from being “on board” is cost. But Hawkey said fans shouldn’t experience a serious increase in price for the products they buy in Ohio Stadium.

“We’re being very diligent with our resources and ensuring that we’re using assets within the department of athletics and (Energy and Sustainability) office to ensure we’re doing this at the lowest possible costs,” Hawkey said.

The university is also hoping to get corporate sponsorship for the initiative. Don Patko, associate athletic director for Facilities Operations, said money generated from sponsors would help offset potential costs to fans.

“As we gain sponsorship, we may be able to do more things,” Patko said. “With marketing dollars, you could add more signage and pay for something to be done more efficiently.”

The President’s and Provost’s Council on Sustainability recently awarded a $50,000 grant to the program which will help offset initial costs. The athletic food and facility contractor, Sodexo, Inc., is also helping to provide more recyclable and compostable products within the stadium.

Sodexo has experience in this area. The company helped reduce the football stadium’s waste at University of California Davis, said Christy Cook, sustainability coordinator at Sodexo.

UC Davis finished its new stadium in 2007 and last year diverted about 90 percent of its waste.

“Behavior is the hardest thing to change,” Cook said.

The university and Sodexo are currently considering options to inform the crowds about the changes, Patko said. These options include hiring people to stand near the bins and direct fans to place their trash in the right container.

But the effort does not begin and end with the fans. Almost everything from packaging for T-shirts down to condiments is considered. Cook said the experience at UC Davis has been educational for Sodexo, but the Aggies’ stadium seats about 30,000 fans, less than one-third the size of Ohio Stadium.

Danny Phillips is Sodexo’s general manager at OSU and is working with OSU officials to make the zero waste goal a reality.

“Education is going to be paramount in this entire thing,” Phillips said. “We’re excited about doing it, and once we’re excited about it, we look at it and think ‘Wow, this is a big task.’ We’ve all got to be on board with this.”

For the OSU officials involved and partners like Sodexo, this is a learning process that will hopefully improve with time and has already started to spread throughout the OSU campus, Hawkey said.

“We’re collecting organic waste not only at the stadium but in the Ohio Union, the Blackwell Inn, the Fawcett Center and the faculty club,” Hawkey said.

The university hopes to roll out a zero waste catering option for events on the OSU campus, Hawkey said. OSU would provide university organizations with recycling and compost receptacles at their request.

“This is definitely a piece of a bigger pie, the university has been working to divert at least 40 percent of waste from the landfill,” Hawkey said.

But Ohio Stadium will be a very visible piece of that pie, and Hawkey hopes it will demonstrate the school’s commitment to sustainability.

“This is a very visible portion of our university, and it also connects us to our alumni and our community,” Hawkey said. “It is a really powerful way for Ohio State to communicate that our students, our faculty, our staff and our administration are working to reduce our environmental impact.”

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