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Super Bowl Project to Score Zero Waste on Gameday – Here’s How

Super Bowl Rush2Recycle environmental recycling composting
Credit: Tiffany Daniels/Mortenson Construction, Courtesy of SMG and US Bank Stadium

Super Bowl LII on Sunday will debut a collaborative effort aiming for zero waste at US Bank Stadium in Minnesota. Called Rush2Recycle, the project is a partnership among the NFL, PepsiCo, Aramark, US Bank Stadium, and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to recover more than 90% of the waste generated during the game.

Rush2Recycle’s partners introduced a tri-bin waste collection system, invested in a dedicated organics compactor, and implemented a post-game waste sort to make sure each waste stream is contaminant-free, according to the project announcement. On gameday, the initiative will encourage fans, chefs, and custodians at the stadium to recycle bottles and cans, compost organic materials, and repurpose items including signage, bags, and construction materials through community organizations.

“This work will leave a lasting impact after the final whistle, as the stadium’s waste diversion infrastructure will be permanent installations at US Bank Stadium,” the partners say. Here is a closer look at what the Rush2Recycle project entails:

New Compostables

Aramark, US Bank Stadium’s food and beverage partner, plans to continue the steps they have taken during the regular season in Minneapolis. That includes selling pre-packed peanuts in compostable bags, which the company debuted earlier this season in Kansas City. The peanut bags will be a Super Bowl first, according to the company.

In addition, Super Bowl attendees can use compostable service ware and products such as cups, trays, straws, and utensils. “To date, we’ve converted 70-plus different products to compostable with more in the pipeline,” an Aramark spokesperson told Environmental Leader.

A three-bin collection system for trash, recycling, and compost was installed in the stadium’s main kitchen operation to help minimize food waste. Aramark also says it deployed bins to all the concession stands, portable locations, suites, and club spaces. After the game, the hunger relief organization Second Harvest will take unused bulk ingredients like bread and produce to local food banks and charities.

Recycled Plastic Opportunities

Switching to sustainable packaging requires an infrastructure and culture that encourage recycling. Rush2Recycle partner PepsiCo says that the recycling rate isn’t as high as it could be, or even as high as the demand for recycled plastic (rPET). In 2016, PepsiCo used 143 million pounds of food-grade rPET, an increase of around 4 million pounds over the prior year, according to the company.

Beyond the Super Bowl, the PepsiCo Recycling program partners with nearly 5,000 retailers, schools, and communities nationwide. Since April 2010, more than 205 million bottles and cans have been recycled through the program. The company also works with the Closed Loop Fund, which is investing $100 million to increase recycling, and is a member of the Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit that aims to increase curbside recycling in the United States.

“Recovery and recycling rates throughout the world have significant opportunity for improvement,” Roberta Barbieri, PepsiCo vice president of global water and environmental solutions told Environmental Leader. “And while we cannot change those rates on our own, we do have the capacity to help influence them through our own resources and through strategic partnerships like this great one with the NFL, Aramark, and others. There’s no grander stage in American sports than the Super Bowl to draw attention to the important issue of recycling.”

Increased Diversion

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which owns US Bank Stadium, and SMG, the stadium’s operator, have been working closely with Aramark for over a span of seven months to develop a zero-waste plan.

“Our combined efforts have enabled US Bank Stadium to go from diverting 20% of trash to recycling and composting in 2016 to diverting 83% of trash to recycling and composting,” an MSFA spokesperson told Environmental Leader. “To put it a different way, we began the 2017 NFL season diverting 8 out of 40 tons to recycling and compost. In January of 2018, we diverted 33.2 tons of waste and recycled or composted that tonnage.”

The spokesperson also pointed to the business incentives associated with recycling and composting compared to sending all of the stadium’s waste to the landfill. They include tax savings as well as savings in transporting the recyclables to the Hennepin County Transfer Center.

The zero-waste approach, although it required significant investment up front, has long-term benefits, the MSFA spokesperson said. “Ultimately, we feel it is our social responsibility to be proactive in reducing our carbon footprint and being as environmentally-friendly as possible.”

Rush2Recycle’s partners hope that the zero-waste effort turns into a winning playbook for other leagues, teams, site operators.

The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver. Learn more here.

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