By Alicia Wrigley-Gailey, Office of Sustainability
What football fans might remember most about the Recycle Rice-Eccles program are the mascots: conspicuously clad volunteers in shiny green morph suits, running around the tailgate lots while tossing T-shirts. But the program involves much more than its attention-grabbing representatives.
Recycling Rice-Eccles began in 2010 with just a few student volunteers attending football games and collecting recyclable waste in garbage bags. Now, with the support of ASUU and Facilities Management, more than 300 volunteers for the program show up every season to educate football fans about recycling while scouring the tailgating lot and stadium for materials that can be diverted from the landfill.
The ever-growing program has had huge successes the past two football seasons. In 2011, Recycle Rice-Eccles collected 19,800 pounds of recyclable waste. Last year, volunteers were able to collect even more: 24,210 pounds.
In addition to reducing the massive amount of waste generated at football games, Recycle Rice-Eccles volunteers seek to make an impact on the throngs of people who attend. While they collect recyclables during tailgating, volunteers engage fans in the recycling process by playing games, giving out prizes, and providing education. Volunteer also ride around in RecycBikes that have bins attached to collect recyclable materials. The bikes were funded by a grant from the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund.
Allison Boyer, who helps to run the program as the special events sustainability coordinator for Facilities Management, said that the structure and legacy aspects of football make it a perfect platform for reaching fans with a message.
“There’s a ritual every game day. Fans get up and put on their football game uniforms, and get really jazzed about it. So making recycling a part of that tradition and routine and having fans instill it into their everyday lives is really important to me,” Boyer said.
With only two home games down this season, there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved with Recycle Rice-Eccles. While many of those who volunteer are U of U students, the opportunity is open to everyone in the community, of all ages.
Volunteers can expect to check in several hours before the start of the game, don the Recycle Rice-Eccles uniform—a bright green T-shirt—and head off to the tailgating lot to collect recyclables and talk to fans. Shortly before the game, volunteers meet to sort the recyclables they have collected. They then attend the game free of charge, receive dinner, and mingle with each other. After the game, volunteers gather the plastic bottles left over in the stadium.
“I’ve always heard very positive feedback from people,” Boyer said of the volunteer experience. “It’s very fun.”
She is hoping that, through the continued efforts of volunteers in coming months, Recycle Rice-Eccles can expand in terms of how much it collects and which sporting events it services.
“This year, we’re really going to be pushing gymnastic meets, basketball games, and volleyball games… once the football season dies down,” said Boyer.
Alicia Wrigley-Gailey is a senior in Communication and Jazz Performance. She is a Sustainability Ambassador with the Office of Sustainability.