Case Study

Increasing recycling leads to 25% increase in waste diversion at Kinnick Stadium

As a former football player at Iowa, I wanted to see better recycling at the stadium. While earning my sustainability certificate, I launched a project to make this happen.

The initial results from one game in 2011 (where the diversion rate was measured) came out to 25%, based primarily on the efforts of the cleanup crew, who pick out the plastic bottles from the stands after the game, when they sweep the seats.

I met with leadership at the University and shared my vision, along with my Lean Six Sigma approach, and they were on board. We established a broad team of stakeholders, and established a goal to achieve 50% by the end of the next football season.

After much discussion and struggling, the team decided on four main improvements for the 2012 season that had minimal effort, but provided the biggest potential gain.

  1. Compost bins and single-stream recycling bins provided to concessions to gather pre-consumer food waste
  2. Single-stream recycling bins placed at the gate entrances with student volunteers and signage
  3. Single-stream recycling bins placed in the concourse area with signage during the game
  4. Single-stream items included in Sunday morning clean-up recycling efforts with high school volunteers

We also conducted a waste sort (dumpster dive) after one of the games, to determine how much opportunity there was in the trash containers, to help us identify other opportunities and obtain better data. The results of the waste sort showed that about 33% of the trash thrown away by the fans could have been recycled. Another 33% of the trash was compostable, but the current setup does not allow post-consumer composting.  The remaining 33% was trash, and was correctly thrown away.

The improvements led to a doubling of the diversion rate, with an average diversion rate of 51.5% for the seven home games, and a high of 61.6% against Penn State (which achieved our 50% goal). In total, 47,644 pounds of trash was diverted from the landfill during 2012 season.

In addition, a commitment was made by a fraternity on campus to support the pregame volunteering at every home game. They also plan to take a more active role in the following season, so we could have some long-term sustainable options.

Overall, the project was fairly time-consuming, but also very rewarding and deemed a big success. We received lots of publicity and media exposure for the effort. It’s not often that you can promote recycling to over 70,000 people in a single day!

I’m also happy to report that the volunteer program to monitor the waste bins during games is still continuing through 2022 (and hopefully beyond!)

Watch the video below, where I summarize the project

You can read more about the project at https://leansixsigmaenvironment.org/index.php/reducing-trash-going-to-the-landfill-at-a-college-football-stadium/

You can also listen to a podcast episode from August 2019 where I discuss the project details

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