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College sporting venues are leading the way toward zero waste

Zero waste proponents have found an unlikely champion in the quest to eliminate garbage: college sporting venues.

Researchers at the University of Missouri were curious to measure the success of their own university’s sustainability efforts, and see where they could continue to improve.

“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,” study co-author Dr. Christine Costello said in a press release.

To get a good idea of what kind of waste the university was generating at athletic events, the University of Missouri team audited the landfill waste produced at five football games at the college in 2014.

They found that the majority of the landfill waste produced came from pre-game food preparation off-site. A full 96 percent of the waste generated by the football games was pre-consumer and unsold food items.

The research team brainstormed several ideas for reducing the amount of food waste generated by Mizzou’s football games. To reduce food waste, they suggested analyzing food demand at games to better predict what and how much to make; donating unsold food to charities and food banks; providing more recycling bins throughout the stadium; and replacing some of the beef items with chicken or vegetables, to contribute less to cattle-related greenhouse gas emissions.

College sporting venues can also work to educate their spectators about recycling, sustainability and zero waste campaigns, the researchers said.

“Athletic events offer a great opportunity for engaging with a large, diverse crowd that may or may not be familiar with sustainability issues,” said Dr. Ronald G. McGarvey, who co-authored the study. “Sporting event organizers can generate pro-environmental messaging to a broad audience and should take advantage of getting the word out about sustainable operations.”

Their methods and findings can help other college sporting venues analyze where they can reduce waste as well.

The case study was published in the journal Sustainability. Funding was provided by the Mizzou Advantage.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

Image credit: MU Athletics

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