Somewhere along the line we have become distracted by aggregated waste audits and national studies. In the process we too often miss a simple correlation. What you throw away at your stadium depends on what you buy (and any packaging that comes along for the ride). Stadiums are a relatively closed system. Unless someone smuggles something past security, what they have to throw away inside the stadium is something they bought or were given inside the stadium.
The same is true behind the scenes. The stuff that your concessions staff have to discard did not teleport there like something from a Star Trek episode (though I am sure someone at Amazon or Sysco is working on that). Anything they have to discard is something they bought from their suppliers or the packaging that accompanied it.
That gives you a tremendous opportunity. Whether you use the term zero waste, or waste management, or sustainable materials management, or recycling, stadiums give you an amazing matchmaking ability. When you set up your collection program you know exactly what someone has to throw away. Just check your purchasing records. For example, PET plastic may have solid recycling markets. An aggregated waste audit in your region may show that PET bottles are still “X” percent of the overall waste stream. However, despite all that, you know that if none of the products you purchase for your stadium are packaged in PET, there is no point in having a recycling bin for PET bottles within your stadium.
The same is true at the procurement end of the pipeline. Let’s say you have a goal to generate nothing more than de minimis amounts of incidental waste. If your beverages are served only as fountain beverages (because bottled beverages can become projectiles that can be hurled at the court/field/rink/stage), your existing fountain-beverage cups may be preventing you from achieving your goal. If so, you may be able to achieve your goal by changing your procurement. Those fountain-beverage cups aren’t being brought in from your guests. They are a disposal issue for you because you bought them. To resolve the disposal issue, look at buying something else. If you have viable composting markets near you, look instead at buying a compostable waxed paper cold cup (which replaces the thin layer of non-compostable plastic “wax” with a compostable alternative). Alternately, if you have a local recycling market nearby that is willing to work with you, you may be able to find a recyclable plastic cold cup.
And don’t forget about the waste from your suppliers. Before you agree to purchase their product, be sure to discuss your waste reduction goals with them. In order to secure your business they may be willing to implement reusable packaging and shipping materials, change to more recyclable packaging, or help you to secure recycling markets to which you might not otherwise have access. It might also be worth talking to them about providing clip art for your signs. For example, you may find that a sign that says “recycle/compost stadium cups here” is far more effective if it includes a well-cropped photo image of the actual stadium cup you are using, as opposed to an old cartoon image that someone has to stare at like a Rorschach inkblot to guess what it is.
When it comes to reducing the waste from your stadium, what do you buy? And what do you throw away? If you have success stories from your stadium that you would like to share with other readers, comments are always welcome.