The time of year has come when gold-and-black-clad fans gather at Folsom Field to cheer on the Buffs, and in true Boulder fashion the University of Colorado is keeping football season green with Ralphie’s Green Stampede Initiative, a two-year-old zero-waste program.
CU led major collegiate and professional sports programs in sustainability efforts by implementing the Green Stampede Initiative in 2008. This zero-waste program requires all packaging, containers and servingware sold at football games to be made with recyclable products.
The initiative’s first year resulted in more than a 30 percent reduction of total waste inside Folsom Field and at tailgate lots on campus. The Green Stampede also collected more than 40 tons of recyclable and compostable material.
But what happens when football fans throw away their half-eaten nachos and candy wrappers after the game? Last season, Elizabeth Rohr, a sophomore psychology student, volunteered along with her sorority to sort through what fans were disposing. She said there were separate receptacles — one for food and another for recycled items.
“It was so gross,” Rohr said. “If someone threw away part of a hot dog, we had to peel open the foil, take the hot dog out to throw it away, then save the foil.”
Rohr and her sorority sisters wore gloves and were given free T-shirts and free admission to the game in exchange for volunteering. She first heard about Ralphie’s Green Stampede at freshman orientation and volunteered in order to fulfill her sorority’s community service hours.
Ideally everything brought in to the stadium should be recyclable or compostable, said Dave Newport, director of the CU Environmental Center. But that doesn’t always happen, and when fans bring in their own food, the resulting trash has to be thrown away.
After volunteers such as Rohr have sorted the trash into the correct bins, the next step is cleaning the stadium. The morning after each football game, ROTC members walk through the seats picking up cups, wrappers and anything else left behind by fans. They are paid by the Athletics Department and, according to Newport, couldn’t be better for the job.
“This is a place where you want military precision,” Newport said laughing. “They are used to taking orders.”
Newport said that it takes four to eight hours after every game to get the compost sorted, and it can take up to a few days to finish sorting through the recycling.
The amount of waste produced at college football games is drawing attention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a “Game Day Challenge” for the 2010 football season. The goal is to lower the amount of game-day waste generated. This competition among schools will measure waste data from each game, and in November winning schools will be announced. So far, 29 schools and universities have signed up for the challenge.
CU is not yet participating in that challenge, although Invesco Field at Mile High erupted with cheers when CU was announced as the winner of a similar challenge at the Colorado State game on Sept. 4. Fans from Boulder generated less trash during the game than CSU fans, giving the Buffs a win both on and off the field.
It’s getting the attention of CU football players, too. Senior cornerback Jalil Brown said environmental issues are a priority in his life. He looks for chips packaged in compostable bags when he is at the store.
“I’ll always go the extra step,” Brown said. Playing for one of the most sustainable college athletic programs in the country is “awesome,” Brown said.
“It shows we are doing our part to help the earth,” Brown said. “It shows we care.”
Chick-fil-A hopes to begin selling food at Folsom Field this season for the first time, and Newport has been working with them to ensure that all their packaging is completely recyclable.
The CU Environmental Center is always accepting volunteers to make Ralphie’s Green Stampede happen at each home game, and would welcome help and support.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work,” Newport says.