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Researchers Find New Ways to Bring Sports Venues to Achieve Zero Waste

Source: MU Athletics

Officials at college sporting venues are leading the effort toward zero-waste events at their facilities. Many professional and collegiate leagues have started adopting energy and water conservation into their programs, as well as increased recycling and composting. Researchers at the University of Missouri recently published a study that analyzed waste and recyclables during the Mizzou’s 2014 home football season. Through implementing several recommendations that the team developed like better recycling receptacles and better sorting options for waste, sporting venues could be on their way to achieving ‘zero-waste’ operations.

"Zero waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials with the target of recycling or composting at least 90 percent of the waste generated at football games," said Christine Costello, assistant research professor of bioengineering in the MU College of Engineering. "Our objectives were to develop a system to characterize the waste produced at sporting events prior to game day and unsold food disposed of on game day, quantify the greenhouse gases produced, identify waste management and recycling strategies, and develop scenarios that event managers can use to decrease life cycle greenhouse gas emissions and energy use."

The researchers audited the landfill-destined waste generated at Mizzou’s Memorial Stadium at five home football games in 2014. Team members counted the garbage bags that were disposed of during and after the games. They then sorted representative sample bags that were inventoried to identify contents.

About 47.3 metric tons of waste was generated. The majority of the waste, 2.96 metric tons of food, was prepared off-site; while 96 percent was unsold food waste. The other 17.7 metric tons of waste was originally from inside the stadium. Recyclable materials accounted for 43 percent of this, followed by food waste at 24 percent and the remaining waste was destined for a landfill.

The research team has several recommendations sports venues could take to reduce waste and bring recycling up 90 percent, including:

  • Donating unsold food to local food banks

  • Targeting and swapping materials that are recyclable or compostable

  • Understanding how to forecast food demand in box seats and suites

  • Replacing foods and preparations that are involved in higher greenhouse emissions, like beef, with healthier alternatives like vegetables or chicken

  • Providing more recycling stations and receptacles through the stadium

  • Educating attendees and employees about recycling and sustainability

"Athletic events offer a great opportunity for engaging with a large, diverse crowd that may or may not be familiar with sustainability issues," said Ronald G. McGarvey, who holds a dual appointment as an assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering in the MU College of Engineering and an assistant professor of public affairs in the Truman School of Public Affairs. "Sporting event organizers can generate pro-environmental messaging to a broad audience and should take advantage of getting the word out about sustainable operations. This would be a wonderful public relations tool for these professional and collegiate leagues and should be pursued."

A paper on this study was recently published in Sustainability.

This article was originally published at

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