Just Chuck It

IN 2003, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY'S (NCSU) head football coach, Chuck Amato, encouraged his Wolfpack team to play with enthusiasm with the slogan “Cut It Loose,” but off the field, he was telling fans to “Chuck It.” That year marked the inauguration of the Raleigh, N.C.-based school's Chuck It recycling campaign aimed at tailgaters. It immediately developed a fan base rivaling that of the team itself.

At the core of the program are volunteer-manned trucks, called “chuckwagons,” that canvass the fans' tailgating areas to collect recyclables — primarily cans and bottles. For every four cans or bottles recycled, fans receive an insulated can hugger with the Chuck It logo. Recycling containers also are located throughout the parking lots and at stadium gates.

Directors of college recycling programs can tell you that the football crowd can be a sore spot for any program. “Athletic events can have a big impact on the amount of paper, plastic and food waste generated (on campuses),” says Pete Pasterz, manager of recycling and refuse at Michigan State University and chair of the College and University Recycling Coalition. “We have the challenge of getting the message of recycling into the heads of people who are basically there to enjoy a football game. It's not necessarily the easiest audience to reach.”

NCSU student Paul Mobley witnessed firsthand as a freshman how out of control the trash situation was on game days and decided to do something about it. He and his dad came up with the idea of the Chuck It campaign and called the college's Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling. According to Environmental Program Manager Sarah Ketchem, the office immediately embraced the program.

With the help of Raleigh, N.C.-based Waste Industries as a corporate sponsor and a grant from Wake County, the program was up and running the next year — in time for the 2003 football season. According to Ketchem, Waste Industries has supplied most of the advertising materials such as stickers, banners, brochures, T-shirts and, of course, the can huggers. “Those were such a hit,” Ketchem says. “People went cuckoo for Koozis. That's the incentive that we found helped get people involved.” As an added bonus, the can huggers advertise the program.

In addition to the promotional items, the campaign's message has been publicized through various media. Segments are aired on the pre-game radio show and twice during the game on the stadium's Jumbo-tron. Information also is included in season ticket holders' packets and on the school's athletic Web site.

The initial promotional efforts paid-off, allowing the program to grow for the 2004 football season. The number of recycling containers was greatly expanded, as 200 containers that were donated by the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Charlotte, N.C., were placed in the parking lots in areas called Chuck It Zones. Recycling containers also were placed next to nearly every trash can. Accessibility has been crucial to the program's continued success. “Basically, the tailgaters told us we have to make [recycling] as easy as possible,” Ketchem says. “Having [them] walk to a recycling bin wasn't going to work.”

Now, Ketchem estimates that about two tons of recyclables per game are collected, for a total of nearly 14 tons per football season. After collecting the materials, volunteers put them in a roll-off so that they can be transported to the Container Recycling Alliance's materials recovery facility in Raleigh.

Another rung in the program's ladder of success has been the involvement of Coach Amato — lending his voice and image to the campaign, as well as intertwining his name into the Chuck It theme. As a successful football coach and NCSU graduate, his association with the program automatically draws people's attention. “One of the keys for successful programs is the active involvement of the athletic department,” Pasterz says.

The Chuck It program has been so popular that Ketchem cannot see it ending anytime soon — much like Amato's reign as head football coach.