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Recycling Powerhouses in College Football’s Power Five Conferences

Article-Recycling Powerhouses in College Football’s Power Five Conferences

College football is in play. From now until the last bowl game, while the drama grows on the field, the locker room, and the press box, another collegiate competition will be running simultaneously.

No helmets or pads are needed. Alumni, students, concessionaires, and fans will compete in the stands, food courts, and parking lots. The objective is to recycle more during home games than your opponents recycle at theirs. The Game Day Recycling Challenge pits schools that opt-in to the competition against others in their athletic conference. It isn’t headline news, like when the Nitanny Lions were disciplined by Joe Paterno and made to clean up Beaver Stadium, but the results are more impressive. Schools submit the results from one home game. Metrics include diversion rates, total weight recycled, greenhouse gas reductions, and pounds per person recycled and landfilled.

The Game Day Challenge is short lived, and as such, only a temporary measurement of recycling performance. That made us wonder. Do participating institutions implement serious recycling programs beyond the competition? What do major universities invest in recycling and other environmental initiatives compared to their football programs?

For answers we looked to schools with strong football legacies. Therefore, we picked the top participating Game Day Challenge schools from each of the Power Five Conferences. Included are the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

When it comes to Big Ten game day results, it’s hard to beat the Ohio State University (OSU). In the 2014 competition, they reported a 98-percent diversion rate and a waste-to-landfill rate of only 0.001 pounds per person. The Pac-12’s University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) had the second highest conference diversion rate of 90.98 percent. Their game day waste-to-landfill results were 0.02 pounds per person.

The Buckeyes maintain a winning reputation on and off the gridiron. They excel in campus recycling programs and offer a full spectrum of environmental sustainability programs.

OSU strives to become completely waste-free by 2030. A composting program converts all of the food scraps from the stadium’s kitchen and suites into “Stadium Scarlet for $40 cubic yard. Reuse and recycling of materials generated during building demolition is also a preferred practice. The cost of the campus recycling program is unknown because it is included in the overall facilities management budget. Based on the amount of service, it is estimated to be approximately $600,000.

According to OSU’s website, $50,000 is needed to facilitate stadium material recovery efforts each year. Facility management personnel have stated in previously published interviews that $37,500 of the budget comes from outside sponsors like Cincinnati-based Rumpke Consolidated Companies and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio. (SWACO) So, although the overall campus recycling program is covered by traditional sources like tuition, the game day recycling program seems to exist because of external rather than internal support.

Compare that to the magnitude of the Buckeye’s athletic budget.

Ohio State runs one of the largest self-sufficient athletic programs in the country. Reportedly, football ticket sales represent $47 million of the athletic department’s $145.2 million revenue. After sharing approximately $8.6 million with the university, and paying some of the highest coaches’ salaries, the athletic program still finished the 2013-14 school year with a $22.7 million surplus.

Having a winning team does have its advantages

Unlike the lucrative program at OSU, the athletic department at the University of Colorado (CU) operated with a deficit for several years, and according to NCAA records was subsidized by student fees and tuition. Reportedly, because of lagging football ticket sales, the athletic program’s $64 million revenue was insufficient to support their $73 million expenditures.

There are no shortcomings in the Buff’s recycling or sustainability efforts. Since 1976, CU has implemented a campus recycling program, one of the oldest in the country, which now touts a diversion rate of 47 percent. CU’s campus programs have long been viewed as role models, always ranking high on the former College and University Sustainability Scorecard. A case study of the in-house waste and recycling operation calculated the annual cost at $460,000. These expenses are supported by student fees, the general fund and material sales. Game day recycling at Folsom Stadium began in 1994. Like OSU, It relies heavily on sponsorships from outside sources.

In the ACC, the University of Virginia (UVa) led the conference with a 70-percent game day diversion rate, capturing recyclables at 0.81 pounds per person and a waste to landfill rate of 0.343 pounds per person. The SEC’s performance was similar with the University of Arkansas (UA) reporting game day results of 70.3 percent diversion, but with a waste to landfill rate of only 0.0009 pounds per person.

UVa reports for all recyclable materials a 54-percent diversion. An award winning sustainability program exists at UVa. Waste reduction efforts concentrate on eliminating food waste. The GIFT program apparently supported by student fees has provided tens of thousands of dollars for student sustainability initiatives, including composting, dorm recycling and recycling at athletic events. The university’s operating budget for recycling and other sustainability efforts was unavailable. Data for the athletic program shows that UVa’s athletic program had revenue of approximately $83.7 million in 2014, including $13 million in subsidies from student fees and expenditures of nearly $87.5 million.

Razorback Recycling operates with an estimated budget of $205,000 each for campus waste and recycling. A food recovery program is an important part of the school’s recent Zero Waste efforts. Viewed as a leader in the SEC, Arkansas is still in a developmental phase compared to Ohio State and Colorado. Much is student and faculty driven. In 2014, the university dedicated $10,000 per year for five years to a Green Revolving Fund to support sustainability and energy conservation. Eligible projects must show that within five years resulting savings can be repaid to create a $50,000 self-sustaining fund.

That contribution pales to the athletic budget. NCAA records show Arkansas ranked 24th nationally, bringing in more than $96 million, including almost $2 million in subsidies with expenses totaling $94 million. For 2014, estimated revenues in ticket sales for football alone were $27 million with football expenditures, nearly mirroring the income.

At 33 percent, the lowest of the Power Five rates, the University of Texas at Austin, topped game day diversion rates in the Big 12. The Longhorns’ recorded a waste to landfill rate of 0.492 pounds per person. Keeping the trend, "Bleed Orange. Live Green," has multiple outside sponsors. According to past university reports, campus recycling has been self-funded by material sales of $150,000, which is likely down because of current market conditions. Students each pay a $5 “Green Fee” per semester that funds other environmental projects. With roughly 51,000 students, the fund receives approximately $255,000 per semester.

In contrast, the University of Texas led all schools with athletic revenue of more than $165.6 million in 2013 and with $161 million was second only to Oregon in 2014. Football tickets range from $200 to $5,630 per season. With over 100,000 seats in Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium football ticket sales factor heavily in the budget. The school is currently drafting a new sustainability plan to keep step with the city of Austin’s Zero Waste goals.

The budget disparities and the prevalence of successful environmental programs differ significantly between conferences and schools. Campus culture, student and faculty determination, and the awards created by these friendly competitions seem to drive interest and support.

Didn’t see your school here? Any wagers on how their programs, if any, are funded? 

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