US colleges’ sustainability steps postmortem


Sustainability within the largest college football stadiums Image: Bryant-Denny Stadium, DXR, CC BY-SA 4.0

The college football season is now on in full swing in the United States and there have already been plenty of surprises, total shocks and moments that made our jaws drop. While there is a ton of exciting action happening on the field, there are important moves taking place off it around these football stadiums. Students, volunteers and sustainability experts are also hard at work on gamedays to make sure all the trash from 100,000 screaming attendees goes to the right facilities.

‘Waste 360’ stated that so, in honor of the college football season starting, and needing something positive to read puts together a list of the top 10 highest capacity stadiums and how they handle recycling and other efforts each stadium makes.

The good news is that, for the 10 highest capacity college football stadiums, eight of which can house over 100,000 people, most of them have active plans to divert as much waste as they can from entering the local landfills. However, not every stadium in this list is worth celebrating, rivalry or not, because some are doing a poor job of recycling.

‘Waste 360’ further stated that starting at the top of the list, sorted by highest capacity, one will find the Michigan Stadium, home to the University of Michigan Wolverines. While the on-field focus for the football team is its Head Coach’s (Jim Harbaugh) current suspension (while his more successful brother is preparing for another Super Bowl run, fingers crossed), off the field students and volunteers are helping the stadium achieve Zero Waste aspirations.

For a sporting event to be considered “zero waste” it must achieve at least a 90 percent diversion rate, keeping waste out of landfills by recycling and composting. Once the Michigan Stadium is filled to the brim in blue and maize, attendees will see plenty of signage pointing them to the containers meant for recycling and composting, food and beverages are served in compostable containers, cups and trays, and after the game you can find the cleanup crews sorting waste before it’s sent off to the proper facility.

Now, the Michigan Stadium leads the way in capacity and its recycling efforts, not every college football stadium is matching the Wolverine’s enthusiasm.
Alabama has notably been one of the worst States when it comes to recycling rates, so it should be no surprise to learn that Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium is the worst, in terms of recycling, on this list.

The Bryant-Denny Stadium is listed as having a capacity of 101,821, although it’s likely this number is exceeded regularly, and naturally, you would think that the amount of crazed college football fans would produce a lot of waste. The unfortunate news is that the stadium has a very low diversion rate of 4.7 percent. The silver lining here is that last year, the stadium installed 150 new recycling containers throughout the stadium. Although, according to how this news was shared, it seems like this change was only made to combat the increase in expected alcohol sales and major increase in aluminum waste.

These two examples will be the high and the low of the list, high for capacity and low for recycling efforts, but be sure to check out the other college football stadiums that round out the top 10 in capacity and how each handle waste streams.

Top-of-heap-bottom-of-heap Stadia List


1) Michigan Stadium

The highest capacity stadium in college football – the Michigan Stadium – is striving to divert at least 90 percent of its waste. ‘The Big House’ is making big moves in the recycling world and that’s something to celebrate.

The 107,601-capacity Michigan Stadium, nicknamed ‘The Big House’, is the football stadium for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is the largest stadium in the United States and the Western Hemisphere, the third largest stadium in the world and the 34th largest sports venue in the world. It serves as the residence of the Michigan Wolverines football team and the Michigan Wolverines women’s lacrosse.

The University of Michigan is a public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States. Founded in 1817, the university is the oldest and largest in Michigan and was established 20 years before the territory became a State.

The stadium is working with WeCare Organics LLC in Ann Arbor for all of its compostable waste and all of the stadium’s recycling is taken to the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority.

The WeCare Organics started in the early 1990s as an organics and residuals management company based in the New York State (US). Through the years WeCare has grown its presence throughout the Northeast through developing and managing compost operations and facilities.

Last year, the Recycling Raccoon Squad debuted at the stadium. These furry little recyclers are popping up around the Michigan Stadium and making appearances on the televisions in the concourse to help educate stadium attendees on how to properly recycle and avoid contamination.

2) Beaver Stadium

Coming in at #2 on the list is the Penn State Beaver Stadium, home to the Nittany Lions. While the stadium capacity is what puts it this high on the list, the Beaver Stadium has a great grasp on recycling and pushes its attendees to do so. The stadium features at least 290 recycling carts throughout its 110-acre parking lot to collect recyclables. Roughly, 2,000 blue bags per game are handed out to fans at the game with more bags available for trash and recycling located at the stadium’s dumpsters.

The 106,572 Beaver Stadium is an outdoor college football stadium on the campus of The Pennsylvania State University in the Penn State University Park. It has been home to the Penn State Nittany Lions of the Big Ten Conference since 1960 though some parts of the stadium date back to 1909. It serves as the residence of the Penn State Nittany Lions team which represents the Pennsylvania State University in college football.

The Big Ten Conference is the oldest Division I collegiate athletic conference in the United States. Founded as the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives in 1896, it predates the founding of its regulating organization, the NCAA. It is based in the Chicago area in Rosemont, Illinois.

Indianapolis (US)-based the National Collegiate Athletic Association is a nonprofit organization that regulates student-athletics among about 1,100 schools in the United States and Canada. It also organizes the athletic programs of colleges and helps over 500,000 college student-athletes who compete annually in college sports.

The Pennsylvania State University is a public State-related land-grant research university with campuses and facilities throughout Pennsylvania. Founded in 1855 as the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania, the Penn State became the State’s only land-grant university in 1863.

The Beaver Stadium also works with the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority to properly recycle waste left over after each game. Officials of the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority encourage stadiumgoers to leave their cans under their seats so that they may be collected after the game. The Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority estimate that it collects 10 to 15 tons per game.

Pennsylvania (US)-based the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority provide environmentally sound and economically efficient integrated waste management, reduction and recycling services.

3) Ohio Stadium

The Ohio State Stadium is the third Big Ten stadium on the list and holds a Zero Waste designation, meaning the stadium successfully diverts 90 percent or more of materials from landfills through recycling, composting and repurposing. The Ohio State Stadium was also ranked #1 in diversion rate within the Big Ten Conference in 2022 based on the GameDay Zero Football Zero Waste Touchdown Challenge.

The 102,780-capacity Ohio Stadium is an American football stadium in Columbus, Ohio on the campus of the Ohio State University. It primarily serves as the home venue of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team and is also the site for the university’s Spring Commencement ceremonies each May.

The Ohio State University, commonly called Ohio State or OSU, is a public land-grant research university in Columbus, Ohio. A member of the University System of Ohio, the Ohio State was founded in 1870 as the State’s land-grant university and the ninth university in Ohio with the Morrill Act of 1862.

The Ohio Stadium also partners with the ‘I Am Change Outreach’ which is a nonprofit mentorship program for the high school and college students in the area and other volunteers who assist fans at the Zero Waste stations during football games. These volunteers are at the stadium for at least 10 hours each gameday to help the facility maintain its zero waste goals.

Columbus (US)-based ‘I Am Change Outreach’ student-volunteers are their frontline DEFENSE to help reduce the amount of waste that goes to the landfills.

4) Kyle Field

The Kyle Field is home of the Texas A&M Aggies. The home games for the Texas A&M brings in upwards of 102,000 fans and a whole lot of trash, typically between 20 and 30 tons. According to a report by the Trashcans Unlimited, the Texas A&M’s Kyle Field is said to be diverting around 66 percent of its waste. Not quite the 90 percent goal of the previous three stadiums but still trending in the right direction.

The 102,733-capacity Kyle Field is the American football stadium located on the campus of the Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, United States. It has been home to the Texas A&M Aggies football team in rudimentary form since 1904 and as a permanent concrete stadium since 1927. It serves as the residence of the Texas A&M Aggies football.

The Texas A&M University is a public land-grant research university in College Station, Texas. It was founded in 1876 and became the flagship institution of the Texas A&M University System in 1948.

The stadium consists of 200 recycling containers found throughout the concourse and at the stadium’s entrances. In the way of composting, the stadium uses and sells compostable materials to reduce waste heading to landfills.

After games, volunteers come in and help clean the stadium of all its leftover waste and around 70 percent of that waste is recycled.

Pennsylvania (US)-based the Trashcans Unlimited is a supplier of indoor and outdoor trash cans, recycle bins and smokers ashtrays.

5) Tiger Stadium

The Louisiana State University’s Tiger Stadium didn’t offer too much in the way of how it’s recycling successfully but a few years ago the school did rank at #1 on the GameDay Recycling Challenge list of ‘Pounds Recycled’. The school and the stadium managed to recycle 127,940 pounds of material in 2019.

The 102,321-capacity Tiger Stadium is an outdoor stadium located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on the campus of the Louisiana State University. It is the home stadium of the LSU Tigers football.

The Louisiana State University is a public land-grant research university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The university was founded in 1860 near Pineville, Louisiana, under the name Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy.

On gamedays, volunteers hang out recycling bags in the stadium’s parking lot encouraging the attendees to recycle.

The Tiger Stadium does a fairly good job of recycling, given its success with the Recycling Challenge.

6) Neyland Stadium

The Neyland Stadium, home to the Tennessee Volunteers, is another stadium on the list that takes part in Zero Waste Game Days striving to keep at least 90 percent of waste produced at football games out of landfills. It is exactly not known if the stadium has been successful getting to zero waste, it seems the stadium has at least achieved 66 percent previously.

The Neyland Stadium is a sports stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, United States. It serves primarily as the home of the Tennessee Volunteers football team, but is also used to host large conventions and has been a site for several National Football League (NFL) exhibition games. The stadium’s official capacity is 101,915.

The University of Tennessee is a public land-grant research university in Knoxville, Tennessee, United States. Founded in 1794, two years before Tennessee became the 16th State, it is the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee system with 10 undergraduate colleges and 11 graduate colleges.

Additionally, the University of Tennessee and the Eastman Chemical Company have partnered to test recycling initiatives at the Neyland Stadium. Previously, the two collected plastic cups and bottles and recycled them into durable, reusable water bottles using new technology.

While fans are watching the Vols on the field, the Neyland Stadium has another kind of volunteer working on the concourse. The ‘Waste Warriors’ consist of volunteers who collect recyclable materials on gamedays and monitor bins outside the stadium.

Tennessee (US)-based the Eastman Chemical Company is an American company primarily involved in the chemical industry. Once a subsidiary of Kodak, today it is an independent global specialty materials company that produces a broad range of advanced materials, chemicals and fibers for everyday purposes.

7) Bryant-Denny Stadium

The recycling efforts at the Bryant-Denny Stadium are very disappointing. Like at most football games and other sporting events that feature some sort of tailgating, attendees are offered recycling bags for their pre-game festivities.

The 101,821-capacity Bryant-Denny Stadium is an outdoor stadium in the Southeastern United States on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It is the home field of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team of the Southeastern Conference.

The University of Alabama is a public research university in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Established in 1820 and opened to students in 1831, the University of Alabama is the oldest and largest of the public universities in Alabama as well as the University of Alabama System.

Alabama (US)-based the Southeastern Conference is an American college athletic Conference whose member-institutions are located primarily in the South Central and Southeastern United States.

There is nothing to write home about the Bryant-Denny Stadium’s recycling efforts. The A-Z guide left out any mention of recycling, sustainability, waste management, and trash.

8) Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium

The Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium is another striving for zero waste, keeping up with the goals of the entire campus. The facility aimed to be at a 90 percent diversion rate by 2020. Although it looks like the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way of these efforts.

The 100,119-capacity Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, located in Austin, Texas, on the campus of the University of Texas, has been home to the Longhorns football team since 1924. The stadium has delivered a home field advantage with the team’s home record through November 17th, 2018 being 375-117-10.

The University of Texas at Austin is a public research university in Austin, Texas. It is the flagship institution of the University of Texas System. With 52,384 students as of Fall 2022, it is also the largest institution in the system. Founded in 1883, the University of Texas Austin is considered a Public Ivy.

During games, the Sustainability Squad members are available to help those who need guidance on recycling. Plus, there is a squad dedicated to sorting waste, separating trash into recyclables and compostables. Recycling bins have guidelines to help fans with their waste as well. Also, recycling bag dispensers are in all tailgate lots where they will be collected after the event.

Lastly, as part of their sustainability program in 2017, unused food was donated.

9) Sanford Stadium

The Sanford Stadium, home to the reigning National Champions Georgia Bulldogs football, doesn’t seem to carry the same championship effort in recycling as its team does in football. While the stadium does the bare minimum to promote recycling during its football games, such as adding 1,200 additional trash receptacles on campus, there isn’t much in the way of programs from the school to recycle the collected waste.

The Sanford Stadium is the on-campus playing venue for football at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, United States. The 92,746-seat stadium is the 10th-largest stadium in the NCAA.

The University of Georgia is a public land-grant research university with its main campus in Athens, Georgia. Chartered in 1785, it is one of the oldest public universities in the United States. It is the flagship school of the University System of Georgia.

It does seem like the University of Georgia is passing the buck onto attendees to do their part to make recycling happen at Georgia games, using its website to encourage tailgaters to bring less and “recycle what you can”, there’s no mention of how the stadium is helping.

10) Rose Bowl Stadium

Last on the list is the UCLA Bruins football home the Rose Bowl Stadium. Now, for any shortcomings at the stadium, the blame can’t be put on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as the Rose Bowl is managed by the Rose Bowl Operating Company, a non-profit organization.

The 89,702-capacity Rose Bowl Stadium is an outdoor athletic stadium located in Pasadena, California. Opened in October 1922, the stadium is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and a California Historic Civil Engineering landmark.

The University of California, Los Angeles is a public land-grant research university in Los Angeles, California. Its academic roots were established in 1881 as a normal school then known as the Southern branch of the California State Normal School.

The Rose Bowl Operating Company is a California non-profit, public benefit corporation, founded in 1995 by an Act of the Pasadena City Council.

Since 2002-2003, the Rose Bowl and its recycling partners have recycled more than 260,000 pounds of containers. The recycling stations in the stadium consist of green, blue and black bags. The different color bags represent the waste they accept. Green is for paper and food waste, blue for bottles and cans and black for everything else. While this seems around the bare minimum, the website does include a breakdown of successes at the stadium which includes greenhouse gas emission reduction, food composted/diverted and donated and the community recycling and reuse program.

The goal of the community recycling and reuse program is to encourage stadium attendees to recycle at the event and within the community. After materials are collected, they are sorted to provide a clean stream of recyclables and compost for partners and help divert waste from the landfills.

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