I'll Drink to That

Drinking wine may be good for your heart, but now drinking beer is good for the environment, at least at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. In May, the stadium that is home to the Oakland A's baseball team switched from plastic to compostable beer cups made with cornstarch, becoming the first major league sporting venue to do so. Facility Manager George Valerga estimates that approximately 500,000 to 1 million cups from manufacturer Nat-Ur Inc., Hawthorne, Calif., will be diverted from landfills and instead sent to a composting facility each year.

“So far we have been cutting edge with recycling, and this is the next step for us,” says David Rinetti, vice president of stadium operations. In 2004, the coliseum, which is owned by the city of Oakland and Alameda County, Calif., began recycling glass and plastic, as well as composting food, napkins, and grass and tree clippings. However, the stadium wanted to expand its composting efforts. At the same time, Rory Bakke, senior program manager for StopWaste.org, which is a joint undertaking of the Alameda County Waste Management Authority and the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board, was looking for a way to expand Nat-Ur's market. Composting the serving materials seemed like an obvious choice.

While prices for compostable bowls and plates still are higher than the non-compostable versions, the new cups are approximately the same price as the plastic ones, which made them an attractive option for the stadium. Additional labor, however, is involved. After each game, crews go through the stands and the garbage, sorting recyclables and compostables. “Training and retraining the employees is difficult, but they are becoming more efficient,” Valerga says.

To make fans aware of the switch and the need to compost and recycle, the coliseum runs two 30-second StopWaste.org commercials during each game, paid for by the nonprofit organization. The cups also feature the StopWaste.org logo proclaiming “Don't Waste California.” “All the comments from fans have been very positive,” Rinetti says. “None of them can tell the difference in the cups.”

Organizers of the project believe that McAfee Coliseum's switch will spread to other stadiums, especially those in California. The state passed a law earlier this year requiring larger event facilities to increase their recycling.

To that end, the coliseum now is looking at replacing plastic plates and clamshell containers with compostable versions. The facility also plans to continue using the cups when the Raiders take the field this fall. “The compostable cups make a comprehensive organics program more possible,” Bakke says.