Waste > Composting

Composting reduces the environmental impacts associated with waste disposal, and if done properly, it can even save your sports departments or institution money through reduced waste, hauling, disposal, and fertilizer costs.  There are many opportunities to reduce waste by initiating composting programs at sports venues, ranging from collection of grass clippings and other landscaping wastes, to collecting kitchen scraps, fan food waste, and compostable serviceware.

Read NRDC’s Guide to Composting at Sports Venues for more guidance on how to implement a composting program at your sports facilities.

This guide includes a Quick Start Guide that describes the ten primary steps for establishing a successful composting program. The guide aims to help sports venues identify cost-competitive, ecologically superior ways to manage their organic waste stream, which is an urgent ecological need.

Composting infrastructure varies widely by market. Identify and contact any staff on your campus that might assist with launching or enhancing composting programs across your sports facilities. The departments with knowledgeable staff may include the Recycling Center, Facilities/Operations Department, Sustainability Office, and Custodial Services. Also, consult with your waste hauler, whether on or off campus, to learn more about the services it provides and the composting facilities available in your market.

Consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that will help your department investigate composting.

For listings of compost service providers near your city, visit Earth 911’s Business Resources directory and the Environmental Yellow Pages.  Also visit the EPA’s Composting website for more information on composting programs in your area.

For a comprehensive discussion of waste and use reduction, see EPA’s Business Guide for Reducing Solid Waste and NRDC’s “Too Good to Throw Away.”


Composting is the controlled breakdown of organic waste (including yard waste, food waste, and certain types of food serviceware) into a useful product that can be used as a mulch and fertilizer. It is easy and cost-effective, and since it can reduce the volume of your department’s waste stream and reduce your need to buy mulch and fertilizer, composting can even save money. You can consider whether it’s possible to set up a composting program on-site, or work with your waste hauler or other local haulers to collect organic waste for offsite composting.

What you can collect for composting at your venue depends on the requirements of your composting system and hauler. As a rule of thumb, if it was once alive, it can be composted. Different composting facilities and haulers have different requirements, so be sure to verify the specifics with your hauler and composting facility before creating training materials, signs, and so on. Also, ask your hauler to clarify what percentage and types of contamination (non-compliant materials) are permissible.

Sports facilities often have a unique potential to increase composting and recycling rates through smart procurement practices. The majority of waste generated in the public areas of sports facilities consists of food waste, beverage containers, and food serviceware (trays, cutlery, cups, clamshell packaging, etc.). Ecologically intelligent procurement can play a big part in reducing the waste your sports facility sends to landfill. Buy food serviceware and other materials that are recyclable or compostable (and packaged in materials that are also recyclable or compostable), and communicate to your vendors and suppliers your requirements for compostability or recyclability.  See the Vendors section for more information.


Student involvement in environmental initiatives can reduce demands on staff time and departmental resources. Student involvement can also help attract support from facilities, athletics, recreation, campus administration, and other departments. The following idea is one example of a task for students to conduct in your sports facilities. This preliminary student project could help facilitate interest in conducting composting and other waste infrastructure upgrades across all sports facilities. Consider encouraging interested students to do the following:

Waste Infrastructure Facilities Audit:

Students can conduct valuable research projects that help make the case for and facilitate waste infrastructure upgrades across sports facilities. For example, students can complete a walkthrough waste audit of all sports facilities to identify and map current waste receptacles, including trash, recycling and composting bins (don’t forget locker rooms). Record the size, type, signage, and location for each receptacle. Identify where receptacles are co-located or placed separately. Flag where inconsistent signage, coloring or shape may confuse users. Make recommendations for standardizing all receptacles and signage, adding additional receptacles and/or moving receptacles and upgrading or adding signage to improve ease of use. If no composting infrastructure is in place, suggest ideal locations and numbers of composting receptacles, as well as signage types, for future implementation.

Visit the relevant page in this guide for more ideas for Student-Led Project Ideas.

The Game Day Challenge

The Game Day Challenge is a friendly competition to encourage colleges and universities to reduce waste, recycle, and compost at their football games. During the challenge, colleges and universities implement, track, and report on their waste reduction and diversion programs at home football games. In 2012, the College and University Recycling CoalitionRecycleMania, and Keep America Beautiful took over administration of the Game Day Challenge, with ongoing support from EPA’s National Sustainable Materials Management Program.

Any U.S. college or university with a football program is eligible to participate in the Game Day Challenge. To join, schools are required to plan and implement a waste reduction program for a selected regular-season home football game. All participants must track and record data on waste generated, recyclables collected, composting collected, and attendance. Schools are then required to report their numbers within a week of the selected game via a form provided on the Game Day Challenge website.

Each year there are five award winners for the following categories: waste generation (for the school with the lowest amount of waste per capita), highest diversion rate (recycling plus composting), largest reduction in greenhouse gases, highest recycling rate, and greatest per capita reduction of organic waste.

Consider competing in the Game Day Challenge. The EPA offers free technical assistance to all Challenge participants by sharing case studies and “lessons learned” from colleges and universities that have implemented sustainable materials management approaches. The Game Day Challenge website also contains a variety of resources, including toolkits for how to set up and operate stadium and tailgating waste reduction programs as well as information about Game Day Challenge webinars.


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.


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.

When organic compounds decompose in a landfill, they generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. 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.


>> The Ohio State University is home to one of the most successful stadium recycling and composting programs in the United States, diverting from landfill more than 90 percent of its waste through recycling and composting. Ohio State decided from the outset of its composting program to reduce contamination by labeling food and fiber as compost and everything else as recycling, with no trash bins in the stadium. The team focused on fan education, including messaging simple enough to be conveyed in the chaotic concourse environment, and stationed workers at clearly marked, color-coded receptacles around the stadium to help educate fans at the point of disposal. Ohio State worked with Sodexo, its concessionaire, to educate and encourage participation of concession staff. Postgame sorting processes helped reduce contamination.To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> Beginning in 2011, University of Texas Athletics teamed up with Keep Austin Beautiful to launch a composting program on football game days. In its second year, the program collected 16,600 pounds of compostable materials. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers 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.

>> The Montreal Canadiens worked for more than half a year to increase their landfill diversion rate, starting with the installation of 945 new three-tier recycling and garbage bins around the building. The team also formed a Green Squad of nine staff members responsible for managing waste during events and tracking waste flow. In addition, a team of 10 people manually sort all disposed materials at the end of each event. With these measures in place, the Canadiens succeeded in achieving an average recycling and composting rate of 85 percent (approximately 1,000 tons annually, including more than 230 tons of compostable materials). To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

>> In 2011, STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles started a composting program in its kitchens. The venue hopes to incorporate front-of-house compost collection eventually, but in the meantime, organic waste is collected back-of-house in two of the main kitchens, where most of the food is prepared. With this system, only the back-of-house chefs and kitchen staff need to be trained. Organic waste is placed in compost receptacles, which are then transferred to the loading dock and picked up by a hauler for composting. This program is already saving money for STAPLES Center by reducing the weight of its disposed waste stream. In April 2012, for example, the compost program diverted 4.78 tons of food waste from going into the trash. 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.

>> In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates collected 1,041 tons of compostable material, contributing to an overall diversion rate of 71 percent, up from 36 percent in 2009. The 2013 season was the seventh season of the team’s “Let‘s Go Bucs. Let‘s Go Green” recycling initiative, as a result of which the team has recycled and composted more than six million pounds of discards since the program’s inception. In conjunction with the team’s concessionaire partners, Aramark and Levy Restaurants, the Pirates switched to compostable serviceware and have significantly increased compostable tonnage every year. In addition, in 2013 alone, the team donated the equivalent of 2,800 meals of unused ballpark food to local food banks. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Game Changer report.

>> 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.


NRDC Guide to Composting at Sports Venues
AASHE Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)
AASHE STARS 2.0 Technical Manual
U.S. Composting Council
Master Composter
EPA – Composting
The Compost Guide
Garden Guides – How to Compost
WasteWise – How to Start or Expand a Recycling Program