Through zero waste initiatives, Michigan is improving its sustainability

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 9:44pm

Since 2017, the grass has been greener for Michigan athletics because of its zero-waste policy.

Since 2017, the grass has been greener for Michigan athletics because of its zero-waste policy. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Remember the yellow pom-poms that they used to give away at home football games?

The things that were part of so many unforgettable nights at the Big House?

When the athletic department shifted its focus to zero-waste game days back in 2017, the pom-poms — which produced a lot of waste — were placed on the chopping block in favor of rally towels.

“There was a little bit of pushback early on in zero waste, because we werent gonna offer pom poms,” associate athletic director in facility operations Paul Dunlop said. “So we did rally towels instead, because we did find that most people would take them home, and most people do.”

The rally towel has proven to be a more environmentally and waste-conscious way to spice up game days in Ann Arbor. Even when the rally towels are left in the stadium after games, Big House staff picks them up. Instead of throwing them away, the athletic department uses them as rags or shop towels in their workshops around the department.

The rally towels are just one instance of the University’s shift toward sustainability as a whole over the last few years.

“Waste reduction and recycling have almost become part of our everyday operations,” Dunlop said. “Back in (2013) it was kinda newer back then, where we did not necessarily have recycling in every building. But walk through our buildings today theres recycling in every corridor, a lot have regular compost collection. Its like night and day.”

Waste reduction doesn’t only mean physical waste though. It’s also about energy conservation and the reduction of the University’s carbon footprint, which has been a big priority of the athletic department of late.

They have started to shift their lighting schedules to be as tight as possible, so as to not burn any unnecessary electricity. 

Accoring to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the The Daily, the University spent $50,333 powering the Big House in the month of April, and $31,959 as well as $25,056 in the months May and June respectively.

“(We really focus) that we are not wasting any unnecessary utilities,” Dunlop said. “We have a lot of big buildings like the Big House, and Crisler, and Yost. And, in order to keep those places running, we need a lot of electricity. So its a big focus for multiple reasons.”

In this coming football season, composting will be off the table for a wide variety of reasons, one of which is obvious — no fans. The University is unsure of the nature of their contract with the janitorial company that runs gameday operations regarding waste and cleanup — one of the many trade-offs the COVID-affected football season has brought with it.

It’s clear though, even if true zero-waste game days have yet to be achieved, that the athletic department is moving with the times and making strides towards energy conservation and waste management.

The Maize and Blue has got a bit more of a green tint than it used to.


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