Despite more than 111,000 people filtering in and out of Michigan Stadium last Saturday, the University of Michigan's zero-waste gameday initiative kept almost 90 percent of generated waste from ending up in landfills.
Benjamin Blevins, director of communications for Michigan Athletics, said in an email interview the department is excited to be near its goal of 90 percent zero waste in the first week of the season, and credited those who worked behind the scenes.
“We were very happy with our efforts in week one as we hit 87 percent. Zero waste is 90 percent, so for our first week attempting this we were happy to be so close,” he said. “The credit goes to our operational staff and the changes they made but also to Sodexo who has been a great partner in changing most of their products to compostable options as well as all the time they spent on the project working with third party vendors.”
In 2016, Michigan Athletics, while partnered with the University's Office of Campus Sustainability and Sodexo, began research on the initiative, testing various compostable products, as well as how to best streamline gameday cleanup and waste-separation operations.
The zero waste goal refers to the aim to divert 90 percent of waste generated in the stadium away from landfills into recycling or compost.
This season, the initiative is in full effect. Instead of landfill bins, new recycling bins, complete with signs depicting examples of compostable and recyclable products, were placed around the stadium. Stadium-goers have been heavily encouraged to place their waste into the right area to avoid contaminating the properly sorted recyclables and compost.
In a statement, President Mark Schlissel expressed his support for the initiative, stating Michigan Stadium is one of the largest stages on which to express a commitment to campus sustainability.
"The University of Michigan community has big ambitions for campus sustainability, and there is no bigger stage than Michigan Stadium.” Schlissel said. “We are proud to extend our Zero Waste Program to all home football games,"
LSA junior Ben Paris said he believes the idea of a “zero-waste” gameday will aid the University in reaching its current goals, and make an impact on future generations, who he hopes will associate the stadium with sustainability.
“With Ann Arbor becoming the second-biggest city in Michigan on gamedays by population, and such a diverse crowd as far as age, connection to the school, and where the people are coming from, this initiative is both a great long- and short-term step towards the university's goals,” he said. “In the short-term, it helps move the University towards its sustainability goals, while in the long term I see this having a lasting impact on future generations that come through the stadium. People from around the U.S. and even the world will associate such an iconic stadium with habits that can help a culture shift towards environmental sustainability.”
Blevins emphasized that despite the initiative's early success, he believes it can be improved through educating the team’s fan base on how to separate waste properly.
“We will see what our second gameday looked like next week but areas where we want to keep improving is fan education,” he said. “There was contamination in our streams and that comes from people putting items in the wrong bins.”
He further added some companies do not offer compostable or recyclable packaging for their products, which in turn creates a barrier toward the overall success of the program.
“Another area we can grow is making all products and packaging compostable or recyclable,” he said. “Unfortunately, right now there are some products that don't offer the alternative option so we are hoping those companies find more sustainable solutions down the road.”
Paris echoed Blevins’s sentiment regarding the need for more public education surrounding sustainable waste.
“I absolutely think this could work but I think the more educational tools you can include in this process will reach the new generations coming through the stadium and have a lasting impact,” he said.