X Factor

Promoting waste reduction at the X Games.

Michelle Plotkin, an event producer for cable sports network ESPN, longs for the day when everyone recycles as a matter of course. “How can we get this to not be so fresh? How can we get this to be a part of everybody's everyday activity and everyday thinking?” she asks.

Plotkin and other ESPN staffers, along with parent company Walt Disney Co., say they may have found a way to indoctrinate one segment of the population, targeting the nation's youth with the help of skateboarders, BMX bikers and surfers at the X Games. ESPN's X Games Environmentality (XGE) program is an initiative to promote recycling, waste reduction and awareness of an individual's overall environmental impact.

Plotkin emphasizes that XGE is not a radical departure for an event that has, since its inception in 1995, demonstrated concern for the environment. “It's always been at the forefront of our minds that we are going into environments with crazy activities and the most important thing that we could possibly do is…to protect the area in which we're having these events.”

The XGE initiative premiered at X Games 11 in 2005. This August, at X Games 13, more than 122,000 spectators in various Los Angeles locations and Puerto Escondido, Mexico, took part. But, the program, while grassroots in spirit, does present a challenge. “One of the hardest things to accomplish at any big event like this is trying to educate a spectator without forcing them to feel like they're being educated on something that they're not there for,” says Christiane Maertens, environmental relations manager for Disney's corporate environmental policy division. “People like it. They get really excited. It's just a matter of making them aware without shoving it down their throats.”

Nearly 100 three-way bins for recycling, composting and trash were placed throughout the venue and backstage areas. If a spectator was spotted recycling by one of the event's 400 volunteers, he or she would receive a token to redeem at a “recycling store” stocked with environmentally friendly prizes. At each event, announcements and Jumbotron messages encouraged attendees to recycle.

XGE also promotes the use of sustainable materials and post-consumer products. Biodegradable cups, plates and napkins were used in the catering tent. Cups were manufactured from corn and forks from potato starch. Vendors also received information on utilizing green business practices. The event guide was printed on recycled paper, and items such as office paper, electronic waste, dirt and wood from ramps also were recycled via a materials recycling facility in California's San Fernando Valley.

This year, XGE diverted more than 84 percent of generated waste from landfills, including cans, bottles, C&D debris, and food waste.

“I'm dreaming of the day when everybody gets it and everybody's already using these amazing products … that have enabled us to achieve these rates of diversion,” says Plotkin. “I'd like to wake up one day and everybody's like ‘Of course our cup is made from corn. Why not? Why wouldn't it be?’”