Transformation: Pac 12 Football and Recycling at Rice-Eccles Stadium

This fall is an exciting time for the University of Utah.  Joining the Pac 12 Conference means the Utes will have the chance to become one of the nation’s elite football teams; and the pursuit of excellence won’t stop there.  The University is striving to become a leader among academic institutions by integrating the principles of social, economic and environmental sustainability into every part of campus.  Through the Energy and Environmental Stewardship Initiative: 2010 Climate Action Plan, all members of the University of Utah community (faculty, students, visitors, administrators, fans) are being called upon to view themselves as active participants in the effort to become a model for efficiency and resilience.

A number of initiatives have been implemented on campus, like reducing solid waste by enhancing recycling programs.  In 2010, campus-recycling diverted 1,531 tons of waste from the landfill and an additional 454 tons of landscaping debris to composting programs.  With an overall diversion rate of 33%, the University saved $121,500 in landfill costs and substantially reduced our campus’ footprint.  There are currently over 10,000 recycling bins of various sizes and types campus-wide and the programs are expanding to include more buildings, additional composting, and recycling at campus events like concerts and football games.

Football fans might notice the student-driven iniatitive to Recycle Rice-Eccles (RRE) well before they get to the stadium.  The ASUU Sustainability Board and dedicated student volunteers are taking recycling efforts to a new level.  In the tailgate lot there are tents, large bins and even volunteers riding University of Utah Recyc-Bikes with bins on the back.  The stadium entrance hosts prominent red bins and after the game RRE volunteers sweep the stands to pick up additional recyclable waste.  Considering the significant environmental impact of our University, (including 8 tons of waste created every football game) the work by the RRE volunteers makes a difference.  Recycling a beverage container is easy, and like cheering at the game, a small effort by everyone can yield impressive results.

RRE gives Ute fans even further incentive to recycle at the games.  Enough punches on the Frequent Recyclers Card amounts to pins, bracelets, water bottles, t-shirts and a chance to win drawings for more stuff.  Just get a bag from the volunteers, fill it with recyclable materials and hand it to the volunteers on the way to the stadium.  Over 1,000 pounds of recyclable materials were diverted from the landfill at the season opener, and with more participation that figure will likely increase.

The University, its Office of Sustainability and student projects like RRE, need support from all of us.  Our football program couldn’t thrive without the backing of loyal fans, and sustainable initiatives are no different.  The University of Utah is in a stage of transformation, and nothing good will come from our apathy.  Ute fans and everyone living in the world are part of something much bigger than the individual, and when we look closely, connections are present more places than we think- like at every game and in every decision we make.

Imagine not recycling an empty plastic bottle that ends up in a body of water and then as part of a plastic island in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas.  It may seem unimportant, but the bottle is made with petroleum, extracted from public land in the nearby Uintah Basin and refined in the Salt Lake Valley contributing to our air.  A web of trucks and pipelines relentlessly moves oil around us, like the Chevron pipeline that spilled 33,000 gallons into Red Butte Creek little more than a year ago: a creek which begins in a protected watershed and runs through a corner of campus and then near the tailgaters on its way to the Great Salt Lake.  Throwing fewer things away can help keep waste out of oceans and landfills, and ultimately reduces the amount of materials that have to be mined and refined here in Utah.

The connections born from our actions are real.  They are with us everyday, including game-day, and like this football season they have implications that stretch beyond the individual and well into the future.  We are capable of transformation, but the campus community has to contribute.  It becomes easier to care when we think of connections.  Your part may seem small, but everything you do is linked to something bigger, like a plastic island in the ocean, a thriving campus and a livable future.

Nick Schou is a Graduate Student in Environmental Humanities and an Intern at the University of Utah Office of Sustainability.

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