Over the next four months, millions of people around the country will devote their Saturdays to cheering for their favorite college football team. For many, part of their devotion involves traveling to one of hundreds of stadiums spread out across the country, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of other fans and becoming engrossed in the electrified atmosphere.
There’s a dark side to the congregation of thousands of football-crazed people, however: garbage – and lots of it. From tailgating spots to concession stands and vendors, countless tons of waste are generated at every game. Darker still: For many decades, not much was being done to curb the growing pile of waste collected inside and outside the stadiums.
Just prior to the 2009 season, this all changed – thanks to the implementation of the EPA’s “Game Day Challenge.” As part of the agency’s overarching WasteWise partnership program, the Game Day Challenge was specifically designed to help reduce the amount waste generated at college football stadiums before, during and after games. Through the challenge, organizers also hoped that awareness of waste reduction and sustainability programs in and around campus would be increased, and that the school’s surrounding community would be driven to participate.
The Challenge is divided into five separate categories, including: waste generation, recycling diversion rate, greenhouse gas reduction, total amount of recycled material, and organics reduction. The winning school for each category receives an award.
During the first year of the Challenge, eight colleges and universities participated. By the 2011 season, 75 colleges and universities participated –with a combined result of 2.7 million fans diverting nearly 500,000 pounds of waste. This waste reduction prevented more than 810 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere (the equivalent of removing 159 vehicles from the road for a year).
The overwhelming success of this program can be attributed to a smart insight – college football fans are passionately competitive – both on and off the field. By tapping into this passion, the EPA and its partners were able to motivate fans to participate in a program they might have dismissed outside of an athletic competition atmosphere.
You could argue that fans attending a sporting event don’t necessarily have the environment on their minds while inside the stadium – an argument that is backed up by the tons of trash strewn throughout the seats and bleachers. But if you give these same fans a chance to beat their rival team at any competition, you’ve got their attention. After all, college football fans hate losing.