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Ohio Stadium ‘Zero Waste’ initiative named one of the nation’s strongest

The Zero Waste initiative is a recycling program that has been in place at Ohio Stadium since the fall of 2011. Credit: Lantern file photo

The Zero Waste initiative is a recycling program that has been in place at Ohio Stadium since the fall of 2011. Credit: Lantern file photo

For the first time, trash talking might not be a bad thing.

Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium “Zero Waste” initiative, estimated to cost $38,000 this year, was highlighted for its sustainability efforts in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2013 report.

“Ohio State has one of the strongest zero-waste programs at any sports venue in the country,” said the report’s author Alice Henly, a research fellow for the NRDC.

The Zero Waste initiative is a recycling program that has been in place at the stadium since the fall of 2011. Zero waste means at least 90 percent of waste is diverted from landfills by being recycled or composted. The program reached its highest rate of diverted waste, 98.2 percent, during the 2012 game against Illinois.

According to Corey Hawkey, sustainability coordinator of the Energy Services and Sustainability Office and head of the Zero Waste program, stadium waste is diverted by working with vendors and suppliers to produce less waste, switching to recyclable or compostable products, educating fans and providing only compost and recycling bins in the stadium. But it is not only the Sustainability Office doing the work.

“This is not a (one-man) show. It’s a culmination of many different steps and many, many different people from our food vendors to the Department of Athletics,” Hawkey said. “I’m just proud of everyone and the work they’ve done.”

The funding of such a large program was also not the work of a single department. According to the NRDC report, the program was started up with funding from OSU’s President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability, Energy Services and Sustainability and the Athletic Department, and has since attracted other outside sponsors to deter costs.

“We designed the program to make sure that no costs would be put as a burden on students or the fans,” Hawkey said.

Hawkey said the program is estimated to cost $38,000 this year, not including material management costs. The Zero Waste program brings in $37,500 annually from sponsors Rumpke and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, a contribution that started in 2012.

Don Patko, the associate athletics director of Facilities Management at OSU, said material management costs have decreased due to the decrease in the amount of garbage. He estimated the cost, which accounts for the entire year and not just the season, was $45,000 for 2010 and will be roughly $25,000 to $35,000 this year. He also said there is no change in operating costs in the stadium.

Patko said it “feels pretty good” to have the initiative recognized nationally.

“We’re humble, yet we’re proud. What (Zero Waste) has done for us has highlighted all the good work of the people involved,” Patko said.

The NRDC report, entitled “Collegiate Game Changers: How Campus Sport is Going Green” was published last month. The report focuses on “green success stories,” Henly said, and provides a comprehensive look at different environmental programs college athletic facilities are implementing.

“This is the first time we’ve ever collected all these stories together and helped prove that sports greening has many positive impacts for campuses around the country,” Henly said. She said these programs save resources, create a healthier environment, build a stronger brand and appeal to the community. “Sports greening” refers to both professional and collegiate sports venues making an effort to commit to greener, more environmentally friendly practices, according to the NRDC website.

Although the report said more than 216 college sports departments have installed recycling infrastructures in their facilities, OSU was one of 10 colleges highlighted in a detailed case study in the report. Henly said OSU stands out for many reasons.

“They are unique in how quickly they have had great success and their commitment to ongoing success moving forward,” Henley said.

Henly said the point of the report is not just to recognize schools like OSU for a job well done, but to teach other schools how to implement similar recycling programs. This is something the Zero Waste team has also been trying to do through symposiums with other schools about what it’s learned, Patko said.

“We are willing to share what we and how we do it — there are no secrets here,” said Patko. “We just want to keep promoting that effort.”

As for the future of the program, Hawkey said it plans to continue working to reduce costs and wastes at the stadium on gameday, but he hopes one day to expand the program to other parts of campus.

“It’s not just about recycling and composting at a football game — it’s so much bigger than that,” Hawkey said. “We’re using campus as a test step. We’re testing the ideas of tomorrow on our campus.”

Some students suggested the Zero Waste team should also work on better promoting the initiative to students and fans. Yiyang Lin, a second-year in actuarial sciences, said although she attended games last year, she never noticed the program.

“I think there should be more advertising, because it is a good activity,” Lin said. “We should let students know we’re going green.”

However, some students, like Vincent Cheng, a second-year in business, noticed the program and appreciated the efforts to promote recycling.

“I used to come to games as a kid and there were tons and tons of extra trash everywhere, so it was really gross,” Cheng said. “It’s cleaned up the stadium, and I think it’s really helpful, too.”

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