Waste > Recycling

Recycling is the most widely practiced of all environmentally preferable activities, but care needs to be taken in order to design an effective and efficient program, especially in large facilities.

Identify and contact any staff on your campus that might assist with developing or enhancing the recycling programs across your sports facilities. The departments with knowledgeable staff may include the Recycling Center, Facilities/Operations Department, Sustainability Office, and Custodial Services. Also contact your waste hauler, whether on or off campus, to learn more about the recycling services it provides. Your waste hauler may be a valuable source of information.

Also consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that may help you conduct a waste audit, reduce waste, and implement a recycling program. In addition, it is helpful to engage concession operators when implementing your facility’s recycling program.


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 recycling 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.

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.

Support Campus-Wide RecycleMania Efforts

RecycleMania is a friendly competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their campus communities. Over an 8-week period each spring, colleges across the United States and Canada report the amount of recycling and trash collected each week and are in turn ranked in various categories based on who recycles the most on a per capita basis, as well as which schools have the best recycling rate as a percentage of total waste and which schools generate the least amount of combined trash and recycling.  With each week’s updated ranking, participating schools follow their performance against other colleges and use the results to rally their campus to reduce and recycle more.

National recognition is provided to the winning school in each category on the RecycleMania website and in a national press release. Winning schools receive an award made out of recyclable materials, and win the right to host that category’s special traveling trophy for the coming year. RecycleMania aims to (1) motivate students and staff to increase recycling efforts and reduce waste generation, (2) generate attention and support for campus recycling programs, (3) encourage colleges to measure and benchmark recycling activity in their effort to improve their programs over time, and (4) have a fair and friendly competition.

The RecycleMania program is governed by a non-profit 501c(3) organization called RecycleMania, Inc. made up of a board of directors made up of recycling and sustainability managers from a variety of participating universities. Program management for RecycleMania is provided by Keep America Beautiful. Program support is provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s WasteWise program and the College & University Recycling Coalition. RecycleMania is made possible through the generous support of our sponsors, The Coca Cola CompanySCA TissueAlcoa FoundationAmerica Forest & Paper Association.


Recycling 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.


Recycling is one of the easiest and most widely accepted activities used to advance sustainability. Setting up a recycling program is relatively simple and a great way to involve students, fans, staff and other visitors in your sports departments’ environmental priorities. Recycling protects habitat, and saves energy, water, and resources such as forests, fossil fuels, and metals.

By recycling waste materials including paper, cardboard, metals, and plastics, you can help reduce the harmful impacts associated with the extraction and processing of these resources, including oil spills, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. Manufacturing products from recycled content is less polluting than producing the same products from newly harvested or extracted materials. Making paper from recycled fibers, for example, uses less energy, less water, and produces less air and water pollution.


Recycling and composting can save money through avoided disposal and hauling costs, although market conditions vary by material and by region. Many recyclable items can also be sold on the market as a source of revenue. A waste audit can help your sports departments identify these potential savings and revenue opportunities. Many sports organizations and major venues have found significant savings through their own efforts to increase recycling.

Collegiate Sports Examples

>> In 2008, the University of Colorado Boulder athletics department teamed up with White Wave Foods Inc. to launch the “Ralphie’s Green Stampede” waste diversion program .Green Stampede combines waste minimization efforts with reuse, recycling, and composting. From 2008 to 2012,the program collected more than 394,000 pounds of recyclable and compostable materials, including more than 100,000 pounds of cans and bottles and 151,000 pounds of compostables from inside the stadium. In 2008, Folsom Field achieved a 30 percent season-long landfill diversion rate. The athletics department improved this to a 75 percent average stadium waste diversion rate for the sports seasons from 2009 to 2012. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> Penn State‘s recycling initiatives, including providing recycling bag dispensers in tailgating areas and an in-stadium recycling program, have helped the 111,000-seat Beaver Stadium reach a 35 percent waste diversion rate and save Penn State $12,500 in litter cleanup costs after every home football game. The Lions divert 85 tons of materials to recycling at each game and donate all proceeds to the United Way, with such proceeds topping $85,000 since 1995. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> During the 2012 football season, the University of Southern California(USC) launched a tailgate “zero waste” diversion and certification program. This program enjoyed a very successful inaugural year. Accomplishments included engaging nine student team leaders and 410 student “peer educators,” educating 40,000 to 65,000 fans per game, and diverting more than 11,581 pounds of recyclable material (including more than 23,000 plastic cups) and 2,820 pounds of compostable material from landfill. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

Professional Sports Examples

>> The Seattle Mariners established “zero waste” goals at Safeco Field with extensive recycling and composting infrastructure, which increased waste diversion rates from 12 percent in 2006 to 81 percent in 2011. The initiative saved $95,000 in landfill costs in 2011 and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 10.4 million pounds (CO2-equivalent) from 2006 to 2011. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

>> The Portland Trail Blazers invested $560,000 in operations improvements around the Rose Garden (now Moda Center) in 2008. By 2011, the team had recouped $260,000 in waste diversion savings thanks to their extensive recycling and composting initiatives. By the end of the 2011 calendar year, they saved close to $1 million while investing about $500,000, in less than three years. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

>> In three years, the Cleveland Indians cut their annual waste in half by significantly expanding their recycling facilities to sort waste on-site. This reduced the number of trash compactor pickups–that cost the Indians an average of $500 each–by 64 percent from 254 pickups in 2007 to 92 in 2010, saving the Club $50,000 annually. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

>> O.co Coliseum (the former McAfee Coliseum), home of the Oakland Athletics and Oakland Raiders, became the first major league sports venue to implement a composting program and use compostable cups in May 2005. The Coliseum’s extensive waste diversion program, with many recycling and compost receptacles placed throughout the stadium, has decreased its trash-hauling costs by more than 20 percent.

“The economics have caught up with the vision: the coliseum is saving a significant amount of money by composting and recycling,” said George Valerga, the venue’s director of maintenance. “It took about eight months to a year to get down to where it now costs the same in labor. And we’re saving $10,000 to $20,000 a month on our garbage bill.”

To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Game Changer report.


NRDC: Recycling
NRDC: Guide to Composting at Sports Venues
Green Sports Alliance: E-Waste Collection Playbook
U.S. EPA: Stadium Recycling: How to get started
Game Day Challenge: Game Day Recycling Challenge
College & University Recycling Coalition: College Game Day Recycling Resources
RecycleMania: RecycleMania Promotional Resources
U.S. EPA: Sustainable Materials Management
U.S. EPA: Recycling at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium: Case Study
U.S. EPA: Food Recovery Challenge
U.S. EPA: WasteWise
U.S. EPA: Stadium and Arena Operations Managers Who Have Programs That Work
U.S. EPA: Questions to Ask Recyclers/Haulers
U.S. EPA: Stadium Recycling: How to Get Started
U.S. EPA: Waste Reduction Model (WARM) Calculator
WasteWise: How to Start or Expand a Recycling Program
NAPCOR: Venue and Event Recycling in the U.S.A.
Game Day Challenge: Game Day Recycling Challenge Success Stories
University of Pennsylvania: Sample Waste Posters
Cal Recycle: Master Resource Page
University of Nebraska: Athletics Recycling Signage
AASHE Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)
AASHE STARS 2.0 Technical Manual
National Recycling Coalition
Recycling Environmental Benefits Calculator
Comprehensive Guide to Venue and Event Recycling
Recycling Advocates: A Guide to Reducing Waste at Any Event
Minnesota Guide to Source Reduction
Earth 911: Business Resources directory
Institute for Local Self Reliance: Recycling Record Setters