The University of Tennessee spent almost $900,000 in 2007 to send its trash to a landfill. At that time, campus-wide recycling represented 9 percent of total waste. Ten years later, UT spends less than $400,000 a year transporting trash – saving a full $500,000 annually – and recycles about 30 percent of total waste, UT Recycling Manger Jay Price told the Knoxville News Sentinel on May 2.
“We were literally throwing almost $1 million away,” Price told the local news outlet. “So we felt like there was a lot of room for improvement there.”
A spotless stadium
Indeed, while a massive 18 tons of garbage was hauled out of UT’s Neyland Stadium and recycled during the 2007 football season, the same amount of waste was recycled during a single game in the 2016 season, with some games reaching as much as 25 tons of waste diverted from landfills.
Recycling numbers have increased consistently since Price started a decade ago. The UT Recycling team of three full-time employees and 15 student workers set a goal in 2014 to make Neyland a “zero-waste stadium” by 2020, the newspaper reported.
Zero waste is accomplished by diverting 90 percent of the stadium’s waste from a landfill, Price explained. Diverting waste can be done through recycling and composting efforts, as well as by donating leftover food from luxury viewing areas and concession stands.
Recycling is done at several stations around the stadium. Staff members and volunteers set up recycling bins in the heavily trafficked tailgating areas and hand out recycling bag in other areas. Price said the staff strategically plans where material is most likely to be tossed in a recycling bin.
“We go in front of the gates, because everyone has to drop what they’re carrying (when they enter the stadium),” he said. “We’ve discovered that basically everything they’re carrying is recyclable, because it’s almost always beverage containers.”
Inside the stadium, trash cans have been matched, and in some cases replaced, with recycling and compost bins.
After the game, workers package leftover food and freeze it for Second Harvest Food Bank to pick up, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. A volunteer cleaning crew comes in the next day to pick up leftover waste and place it in the appropriate recycling or compost bin.
And recycling efforts have not stopped there.
What’s next? The latest step toward a zero-waste stadium is creating a skybox with 100 percent compostable materials. Price said compostable food, napkins, utensils, cups and, the most challenging item to find, plates will be used in the skybox by the end of the 2017 season.
“That is our big step forward,” Price said. “We figured if we can (achieve zero-waste) there, in an area where appearance matters and quality matters, we can do it anywhere.”
Cleaning up the campus
Working to achieve a zero-waste stadium inspired UT Recycling to set the same goal campus-wide. The campus recycles approximately 30 percent of total materials annually, the local news outlet said.
Price told the newspaper that he is confident that the staff and volunteers can continue to increase recycling numbers to reach 90 percent recycled materials by 2025.
Since 2007, campus-wide annual trash disposal spending has decreased $500,000. Cardboard recycling has increased from 100 tons to 400 tons per year. Composted material increased from 175 tons to more than 1,000 tons per year.
Price said financially recycling “makes sense” for the University and its programs. The veterinarian teaching hospital, for example, saves about $10,000 each year in disposal fees.
Finally, UT Recycling has a public drop-off for area, where local residents bring their recyclable materials free-of-charge. Items accepted area: plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, plastic film/bags, aluminum beverage cans, steel cans, electronic waste, scrap metal, printer/toner cartridges, rechargeable batteries, single use batteries.