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How Sustainability Factors In at the Ten Largest College Football Stadiums

With the 2023 college football season underway, we take a look at the top ten stadiums by capacity and how each promotes recycling on game day.

Gage Edwards

September 7, 2023

10 Slides

The college football season is now in full swing and after one week there have already been plenty of surprises, total shocks, and moments that made our jaws drop. While there is a ton of exciting action happening on the field, there’s important moves taking place off it around these football stadiums. Students, volunteers, and sustainability experts are also hard at work on game days to make sure all the trash from 100,000 screaming attendees goes to the right facilities.

So, in honor of the college football season starting, and needing something positive to read while hoping my favorite team doesn’t choke away a playoff spot again, I put together a list of the top ten highest capacity stadiums and how they handle recycling and other efforts each stadium makes. I looked through information provided by a school’s and athletics’ websites, hoping each would make it easy for fans to find out how well their favorite sports stadium recycles. Some had much more overall and current information than others.

The good news is that, for the ten highest capacity college football stadiums, eight of which can house over 100,000 people, most of them have active plans to divert as much waste as they can from entering local landfills. However, not every stadium in this list is worth celebrating, rivalry or not, because some are doing a poor job of recycling.

Starting at the top of the list, sorted by highest capacity, you’ll find Michigan Stadium, home to the University of Michigan Wolverines. While the on-field focus for the football team is its Head Coach’s current suspension (while his more successful brother is preparing for another Super Bowl run, fingers crossed), off the field students and volunteers are helping the stadium achieve Zero Waste aspirations.

For a sporting event to be considered “zero waste” it must achieve at least a 90% diversion rate, keeping waste out of landfills by recycling and composting. Once Michigan Stadium is filled to the brim in blue and maize, attendees will see plenty of signage pointing them to containers for recycling and composting, food and beverages are served in compostable containers, cups, and trays, and after the game you can find cleanup crews sorting waste before it’s sent off to the proper facility.

Now, Michigan Stadium leads the way in capacity and its recycling efforts, which you can read more about on the next slide, but not every college football stadium is matching the Wolverine’s enthusiasm.

Alabama has notably been one of the worst states when it comes to recycling rates, so it should be no surprise to learn that Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium is the worst, in terms of recycling, on this list.

Bryant-Denny Stadium is listed as having a capacity of 101,821, although it’s likely this number is exceeded regularly, and naturally, you would think that amount of crazed college football fans would produce a lot of waste. The unfortunate news is that the stadium has a very low diversion rate of 4.7% according to this report published in 2022. The silver lining here is that last year, the stadium installed 150 new recycling containers throughout the stadium. Although, according to how this news was shared, it seems like this change was only made to combat the increase in expected alcohol sales and major increase in aluminum waste.

These two examples will be the high and the low of the list, high for capacity and low for recycling efforts, but be sure to check out the other college football stadiums that round out the top ten in capacity and how each handle waste streams.

Author's Note: I have not been to any of these stadiums to see these actions or inaction myself. I would love to, however. Also, since information seemed to be outdated on a lot of the school and athletic websites, updates will happily be accepted at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Gage Edwards

Content Producer, Waste360

Gage Edwards is a Content Producer at Waste360 and seasoned video editor.

Gage has spent the better part of 10 years creating content in various industries but mostly revolving around video games.

Gage loves video games, theme parks, and loathes littering.

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