Suppliers > Food and Beverage Serviceware

At many facilities around the country, food and beverages at concession stands are served in non-recyclable cups and other serviceware. Consider purchasing disposable items that are recyclable and made from recycled content, or alternatives to fossil fuel-derived products such as bio-based compostable options (ideally made from waste-based materials).

A recycling and composting program across your sports facilities can save money while also improving your sports departments’ and institution’s environmental performance.  See the Zero Waste, Recycling and Composting sections of this guide for more information about setting up these programs.

If you have established recycling and composting programs in place at your sports facilities, investigate ways to adapt your sports facility concessions serviceware to take advantage of these programs. Meet with the staff overseeing the implementation of these recycling and composting programs–such as waste management, facilities, sustainability, and custodial services–to discuss opportunities to meet collect a greater  all sports facilities.

It’s also crucial for your athletics department to collaborate with your concessionaire (if you have one), any other outside concessions vendors, your beverage sponsor or other related sponsors, and any other on or off campus partners involved in food and beverage service at your sports venues.

Consider asking your department/institution’s current vendors and suppliers about compostable and recyclable serviceware options. You may also want to consider including environmentally preferable serviceware specifications in future contracts and requests for proposal with concession vendors, delivery services, or other food suppliers for events held in your sports facilities.


When purchasing napkins, paper towels and other paper products for concessions or catered events held in your sports facilities, choose products that contain recycled content.  Environmentally preferable paper products can often be purchased at little or no increase in cost. Consider the following attributes when making paper purchases, and see the Paper Purchasing section of this guide for more information:

  • Highest feasible percentage of post-consumer recycled content
  • Chlorine-free bleaching process
  • Wood fiber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council
  • Mercury-free pulping caustic


Choosing bio-based/compostable plastic products is tricky. Look for the following characteristics:

  • Choose compostable plastics that are certified as complying with ASTM International specifications for compostability. In the United States, the primary third-party certifier of ASTM-compliant compostable plastics is the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). Check the BPI catalog for a list of certified compostable products, or look for products bearing the BPI compostable logo. ASTM has two certification categories related to compostability. These are:

    • ASTM D6400: This is the specification for plastic products that are designed to be composted in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities. If you plan to collect food waste for composting, it would help to have your serviceware certified to this specification.

    • ASTM D6868: This specification covers packaging with a plastic coating (including plastic-coated paper and paperboard) that is designed to be composted in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities.

  • Even when materials are certified as compostable to ASTM specifications, some composting operations may have trouble processing particular items. Work with your composting company to test serviceware to ensure that it will break down completely in the com- poster’s operations. Note that the ASTM standards for compostability apply to plastics designed to be composted in large-scale aerobic composting operations; these plastics are not compostable in a home composter or in most anaerobic digestion processes. There is no ASTM standard for compostability of bioplastics in anaerobic digestion.

  • Avoid plastics that are labeled “biodegradable” or “oxodegradable.” Biodegradable is not the same as compostable; “biodegradable” may mean only that a product will eventually break down, but not necessarily within a specified time frame or to a specified particle size.. While biodegradability is an important requirement for some types of purchases, such as cleaning products, it is not an environmental asset for products such as food serviceware or for anything else that might be destined for a landfill, where biodegrading will produce methane. Compostability (compliant with ASTM D6400 or ASTM D6868 specifications) is the certification you should look for in serviceware.

  • Although not essential from an operations perspective, for ecological reasons we suggest prioritizing waste-based bioplastic options. Bioplastics made from agricultural residues (such as bagasse, which is left over from sugar cane production, or straw from wheat or rice production) do not engender the adverse ecological and potential economic impacts associated with crops grown specifically for plastics or fuel production. There are more than 2 billion tons of agricultural residues generated each year in the United States alone, most of which are currently disposed of as waste. Corn-based bioplastics like PLA are among the most widely available bioplastics. While PLA represents a positive first step away from fossil fuel–derived plastic, the use of corn and other crops raises concerns about land-use impacts and the price of food. These impacts are all reduced by specifying products made from waste-based materials.

For more information and guidance, refer to the NRDC Guide to Composting at Sports Venues.


Dear _______,

[Our department/institution] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. Because you are one of our food suppliers, we would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to more environmentally responsible products within the next few years.

Our choice of serviceware can have a significant effect on the environment. Much of food serviceware is made from non-renewable fossil fuel-derived plastic whose production process involves several toxic compounds. In addition, many disposable items are not designed with recycling and composting in mind.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you to ensure that the products we are purchasing do not contribute to these problems.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.


Composting at your sports facilities can help your institution earn points within the “Waste” subcategory of AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). It can directly contribute to earning 3 points for the credit “OP 23: Waste Diversion.” Work with sustainability and facilities staff on your campus to support any institutional efforts to attain or improve your institution’s STARS rating. Use the STARS 2.0 Technical Manual to learn more.


The production and disposal of single-use serviceware contributes to a number of environmental impacts. Most plastic is produced from fossil fuel-derived products, which increases our consumption of non-renewable resources. Fossil fuel drilling and exploration can contribute to oil spills and habitat destruction. The paper industry is responsible for the harvesting of countless acres of forest habitat every year and is one of the world’s largest industrial sources of water pollution. By purchasing recycled content, recyclable or bio-based/compostable cups or bottles, and by recycling or composting these products at the end of their use, your sports departments and institution can help reduce these impacts.

When selecting disposable serviceware products, compostable/bioplastic products might not be the best choice if composting services are not available in your area and this serviceware will end up in a landfill. When compostable items decompose in a landfill, they generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. If composting is not available in your area, consider recycled-content paper-based products or recycled-content plastic products that can be recycled.

If your facility does choose compostable/bioplastic serviceware, favor waste-based bioplastics made from agricultural residues like bagasse or straw instead of corn-based plastics or blends that contain petroleum materials. Generating compost and using it in facility landscaping can save money by reducing the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Food, landscaping debris and wood waste make up a third of our everyday trash. Composting reduces the amount of waste directed to landfills by transforming organic waste into useful fertilizer, and it prevents the emissions of harmful greenhouse gasses.


In 2008, the University of Colorado Boulder’s Folsom Field became the first major collegiate sports stadium (NCAA Div. 1-FBS) in the nation to adopt a “zero waste” goal after establishing their branded program “Ralphie’s Green Stampede.” In 2012, Folsom achieved a 78.5 percent waste diversion rate across all six home games. Many operational and infrastructure changes were needed, including switching to compostable serviceware. CU-Boulder worked with Centerplate and other vendors to switch virtually all packaging used in the stadium to refillable, recyclable, or compostable materials. CU-Boulder also procured plant-based compostable bags to collect compostable materials. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

The University of Florida’s Athletic Association has continued to improve its waste management practices, as part of the university’s commitment to “zero waste.” For example, the Gators worked with the stadium concessionaire to acquire recyclable and compostable packaging, and to pair all stadium garbage cans with recycling bins. The team also developed marketing materials with the tagline “Put it in the right can, Gator fan” to educate fans about the waste diversion effort. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

The Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Athletics reevaluated its game-day serviceware in anticipation of “zero waste game” expansions. Previously, items like plastic lids and wrappers were non-recyclable. SDA worked with its concessionaire, Sodexo, to set a new procurement standard for green athletic events requiring all serviceware to be recyclable or compostable. This new measure came into effect in February 2013 at an ASU women’s basketball game. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

During the fall of 2010, the University of Washington’s Green Team created a waste diversion program for the athletics department. This included designing a new logo, adding compost bins alongside recycling bins, switching to compostable serviceware, airing video messaging about the greening program during games, organizing fan engagement giveaways, and participating in the Game Day Challenge. Close to 100 percent of concession packaging in Husky Stadium is now either compostable or recyclable. This, along with a post-game sorting program, has increased the stadium’s diversion rate and helped reduce contamination in the recycling and composting waste streams. In the renovated stadium, no garbage bins will be available; all bins will be for compostables or recyclables. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.


In 2005, the Oakland Athletics at McAfee Stadium in the Oakland Coliseum Complex became the first professional team to offer drinks in compostable bioplastic cups. This move keeps hundreds of thousands of cups from going to landfills and prevents the purchase of over three tons of petroleum-based plastic cups each year. Case Study

By introducing a comprehensive waste diversion program aimed at zero waste, the Seattle Mariners increased the diversion rate at Safeco Field from 12% in 2005 to over 70% in 2010.  By switching to compostable serviceware and packaging, the Mariners were able to improve their waste diversion through an aggressive composting program. As a result, the Mariners saved $72,000 on waste disposal between 2007 and 2010. The Mariners have continued to improve these efforts, averaging an 82% diversion rate between 2010-2011. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

After changing cutlery, plates, napkins, and cups to compostable products, the Philadelphia Eagles struggled to find a compostable wrapper for their hot sandwiches. In partnership with their concessionaire, Aramark, they continued to ask for the product they needed, and at the end of 2011 were finally able to find a compostable sandwich wrapper that met their quality standards. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

The composting programs at the 2011 and 2012 US Opens collected all food waste, kitchen wastes, and compostable serviceware and napkins from kitchens as well as fan waste from the Food Village and the eateries in and around Arthur Ashe Stadium. During those two events, the U.S. Tennis Association collected 243 tons of organic waste, which was turned into compost for landscape and farming uses and resulted in a 30% reduction in carting costs for the USTA. In 2013, the compost initiative also collected more than 12,000 gallons of cooking grease to be converted into biodiesel fuel. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks/Sounders FC launched a fan education campaign on compost and recycling programs that encourages fans to leave beverage cups, food trays, napkins, and unconsumed food in the seating area so staff can collect and sort items and minimize contamination for the compost program. “Our strategy for education was about good signage on the waste and compost bins,” said Darryl Benge, former assistant general manager at First & Goal Inc. (operator of CenturyLink Field). “We also worked with our promotions department to make sure we had good PSAs that were featured on the video boards during games about what bins to use. We’re fortunate that 80 to 90 percent of our fan base is season ticket holders. So they learn once and remember at future games.” To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.


NRDC Guide to Composting at Sports Venues
AASHE Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)
AASHE STARS 2.0 Technical Manual
Biodegradable Products Institute
U.S. Composting Council
USDA Biopreferred Biobased Products Program