Duke University’s new zero-waste program scored points with football fans Saturday, hours before the Blue Devils stormed the field in Durham to face off against Elon University.
The university’s Sustainability Office partnered with the Duke Athletics Department to set up special zero-waste recycling, composting and trash stations for Saturday’s home opener. Since some materials may not be appropriate for compost or recycling, most zero-waste programs set a goal of keeping 90 percent out of landfills.
Duke’s stations will be in Blue Devil Alley, the stadium and in parking lots for all seven home football games, said Arwen Buchholz, Duke’s recycling and waste reduction coordinator.
“The Athletic Department is really, really motivated to do the right thing. They are driving a lot of this themselves,” she said. But “this is something we can’t do without Duke fans, faculty and students helping.”
Amy and Jay Strickland were all smiles as they joked with friends and played cornhole in a parking lot along N.C. 751 near Wallace Wade Stadium. The group, which included both Duke and Carolina fans, has cheered on the Blue Devils for several years, they said. In fact, many of those grilling burgers and munching fried chicken in the lot Saturday were longtime tailgaters.
While most said they recycle at home – and some had voluntarily separated their game-day recycling in the past – Duke’s zero-waste program gives them more options. Several fans also were excited to see the new metal barrels this year for disposing hot charcoal. In the past, some people just dumped their hot coals in the woods, they said.
“Three years ago, there wasn’t even a porta-potty,” Jay Strickland said.
Duke football coach David Cutcliffe said his players are helping, too.
“As part of building this program, I encourage our players to leave a place better than you found it in every way,” he said. “Part of that is taking pride in your facility.”
The effort was off to a good start as the game was getting underway, Buchholz said. A victory – diverting 90 percent of compostable and recyclable materials from the landfill – will take the university, the Athletics Department and the fans working together, she said. To that end, the university set up bins in sets of three, each lined with a different colored bag for different waste: blue for recycling, black for trash and green for compost, including paper napkins and food scraps.
The challenge is to avoid contamination, Buchholz said, because the last thing they want to find is plastic bottles in the compost. An unofficial survey of the bins showed most fans were getting it right most of the time.
Volunteers Rowan Jaynes and Hannah Cozart stood by one waste station, answering questions and directing trash to the right bin. The biggest surprise for most people, they said, is finding out they can compost the plastic utensils and the plastic wrappers in which they came.
“We’ve been talking about how to downsize the trash can, so we can show people how much gets thrown away,” Jaynes said.
Tons of trash
The new program has roots in a waste study after last year’s home game against Navy, Duke officials said. Roughly 87 percent of the trash from that game could have been recycled or composted, they said. Waste audits in the past two years show similar results at campus buildings.
The average Duke football game produces about three tons of trash and 600 to 700 pounds of recycling, Buchholz said.
“The idea is to take everything we have and drop that down to only 10 percent going to the landfill,” she said.
The effort began around noon Saturday as crews fanned out to tell new arrivals about the program. Posted signs – some 12 feet tall – pointed fans toward bag stations and explained the type of waste to put in each bag. Because the game started late Saturday, Brooks Contracting in Goldston planned to pick up the recycling and compost early Sunday. Duke contracts with Sunoco for trash pickup, officials said.
If the program is successful, Duke could become the first Atlantic Coast Conference school to host zero-waste football games, officials said. Other waste-free events have been held for years, and the university also started food composting pilot programs in several buildings on campus.
It’s not the first school, however, to encourage recycling. Georgia Tech, for instance, started a Gameday Recycling Program in 2008. In the past six years, officials said, the school has diverted 112.4 tons of material from the landfill.
ACC schools also participate in the national GameDay Recycling Challenge, which pits colleges and universities against each other to track how much recyclable and compostable material is removed from the trash during one home football game each year.
Last year, 88 schools competed in the challenge, removing a combined total of 1.5 million pounds of material from the landfill. Duke came in fourth place in per capita recycling in the ACC division and third place for recycling organic materials, challenge results show.
Buchholz said Duke could expand its zero-waste program to other athletic events in the future, such as basketball games in Cameron Indoor Stadium. They don’t want to bite off more than they can chew at once, she said.