Just outside the gates of Clemson University’s Memorial Stadium, a unique tale of triumph is unfolding. For years, the Tigers have collected multiple championships and cultivated a legacy of athletic prowess. Yet, beneath the roar of the stadium and the exhilaration of touchdowns, a quiet but impactful revolution has been taking place on game days — one centered around environmental responsibility and sustainability.
In 2008, student-led sustainability groups initiated a modest effort involving the placement and collection of a limited number of blue bins on campus. Over the subsequent years, this initiative expanded to include the utilization of recycled soda syrup barrels at various concourse areas and entrances. Additionally, backpack-wearing students began distributing recycling bags to fans both inside and around the stadium.
In less than half-a-decade, the 30,000 pounds of plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass collected each football season, expanded to over 215,000 pounds of recyclables collected in 2014, which won the University its first of four Gameday Recycling Challenge awards (2014, 2016, 2018 and 2021), earning national recognition for its efforts. According to Dave VanDeventer, manager of Clemson University’s solid waste program, along with the national recognition, it’s unique for a university to have its own mechanical and organics recycling capabilities, placing Clemson in a league of its own.
Solid Waste, Recycling and Composting Manager Dave VanDeventer said “Our biggest year was 2018 with over 460,000 pounds of recyclable materials. At the time, there was more focus on the collection, and we weren’t educating the fans as well about waste minimization.”
To help reduce waste while tailgating, VanDeventer recommends the following tips:
- Avoid using single serve items when possible. Replace items such as plastic dinnerware, disposable tablecloths and plastic wraps with reusable flatware, washable tablecloths and containers. Utilize reusable plates and cups when possible. Replace single serve packets of condiments with sharable bottles.
- Pre-sort by utilizing stadium bins or grouping like items together in bags, and place garbage in the correct receptacles.
- Use clear or translucent bags for recyclables and black bags for trash items. Translucent bags provide visibility, so volunteers who manually sort waste can quickly identify recyclable items. Translucent bags are also safety tools, helping manual sorters see broken and avoid glass broken glass and other sharp objects.
- Focus on recycling the majors: plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass and cardboard paper.
- Don’t waste food. Think about how many servings there are per dish and how many people are in your party. Instead of throwing away leftovers, take them home or share them with friends.
- Keep food waste and other trash in a separate bag. Baked beans and other foods in aluminum pans/foil can’t be separated during the sorting process. If fans aren’t sure if what they put it into recycling can be recycled, throw the items in the trash. Mixing recyclable and nonrecyclable items together is detrimental to the process, because it contaminates the waste stream.
- At home games, look for the recycling tailgate tent and student volunteers handing out translucent, recycling bags. If you are not sure about what can be recycled, ask them. When you’re a visitor at away games, what is recyclable at one stadium, might not be at another. One facility might be able to recycle Solo cups but not ice bags. When in doubt, focus on recycling the majors and put the rest in a black bag. Consider the numbers — tens of thousands of fans and waste served by a team of student volunteers and facilities employees of less than 100.
- Be mindful of litter that is left behind, litter that might end up in a storage drain and litter that has to be manually sorted. Haul away items that can’t be recycled on campus but may be recyclable or repurposed at other facilities such as clothing, broken furniture, damaged electronics and other items.
When items are taken to other facilities and broken down for scrap or repurposed, that is known as diversion — redirecting waste from landfills to other facilities for reuse, repurposing or recycling.
Anne Barr, executive director of Sonoco FRESH, and Kristy Pickurel, marketing and events manager for the Sonoco FRESH, two of the organizers of the annual Food, Packaging & Sustainability Summit, know about the importance of being sustainability-minded and providing education, not only to fans and students, but also to industry leaders.
Aside from wrapping up this year’s Summit, held Sept. 18 – 19, 2023, with a final keynote presentation on “Embedding Sustainability in Sports: The Ripple Effect,” the event itself, is a zero waste event.
With “walking the walk” for the Summit, Pickurel said they considered the following questions: How can we eliminate waste? What are the ways we can reduce waste? How can we re-purpose things?
Pickurel offers, “At the coffee stations, we don’t have individual packets of sugar. We have a sugar bowl sitting there and same thing with creamer. We do not provide any sort of handouts. We use an app, and we work as much as possible to eliminate waste.”
The message is clear: if everybody would do a little bit more on their part, the collective effort will make a difference. As for another recycling champion award, Clemson is working towards it, and the game day recycling challenge game is October 7.
“We all know, whether you’re in Colombia or the Lowcounty or wherever in South Carolina, if you’re going to a football game with a crowd on a Saturday, you’re probably going to tailgate. And Clemson fans are going to be in these places. The thinking is as Clemson Tigers, we don’t waste things. We want to conserve our resources,” said VanDeventer. “We should be environmentally conscious of what we’ve been given. We’ve got beautiful lakes and mountains and places all around us, and they need to be protected.”