Smarter Business: Case Studies
Cleveland Indians Prove That Cutting Waste is Smart Business
Recycling, Composting, and Efficient Waste Management
Photo: Progressive Field Post-Game Pick
Sports stadiums and arenas, like all large facilities, generate a lot of waste--typically thousands of tons of trash each year. Unfortunately, the production and management of all that waste directly contributes to global climate disruption as well as other serious environmental issues, including: water pollution, air pollution, and harming wildlife habitats. The disposal of waste produces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in several ways, from the methane created when waste decomposes in landfills to the NOx, CO2 and other air emissions generated during the incineration of waste. Moreover, the manufacture of products made from virgin resources typically result in higher GHG emissions and other pollutants than does the production of commodities made from recycled, secondary resources.
In 2009, Americans generated 243 million tons of municipal solid waste, of which 35-45 percent comes from non-industrial commercial sources, according to the U.S. EPA’s biennial report on waste management in the United States. (When all industrial wastes are included, waste generation in the United States totals more than 14 billion tons annually.) Only 82 million tons (about 32 percent) of that municipal solid waste (MSW) were recycled, yet this alone cut GHG emissions by 178 million metric tons, the equivalent of removing 33 million passenger cars from the road for an entire year. Of course, the benefits of waste prevention, recycling, and composting go beyond reducing GHG emissions--they protect habitat and biodiversity, save energy, water, and valuable natural resources such as forests and metal ores, and reduce the need for environmentally problematic landfills and incinerators.
Since its inaugural year in 1994, Progressive Field has boasted recycling receptacles for plastic, cardboard, and aluminum. However, it wasn’t until late 2007, when the ballpark’s waste hauling contract expired, that the Cleveland Indians began to significantly expand their recycling facilities and establish the ballpark as an industry leader in waste management.
Towards the end of 2007, Brad Mohr, assistant director of ballpark operations for the Cleveland Indians, began researching smarter waste management systems for Progressive Field. The former waste contract required commingling of all recyclables--paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum, scrap metal, electronics--which often resulted in the materials becoming contaminated, meaning no recycling rebate for the Club. Mohr became determined that there was a “better way to do this” and consulted with NRDC as well as a number of local recyclers. Mohr established new partnerships with local waste companies and ultimately arranged for the separation of the ballpark’s recyclables on site, instead of commingling. “This was the best solution for ensuring that we don’t have contamination,” says Mohr. “Now I know exactly what we’re sending out and that it is in the proper state so that our partners can get the maximum rate for it.”
To sort on site, the Indians bought two balers that create 1,200-pound cubes of cardboard and 500-pound ready-for-sale cubes of plastic or aluminum. Mohr points out that because the Indians are doing the extra sorting on site, the Club gets a better price for the higher-quality source-separated commodities. In fact, it quickly became apparent that the financial payback for the recycling program is swift. “Combining the money we saved from cancelled trash hauls--paying to have waste picked up from the ballpark and sorted--with the money we made from selling the sorted recycled commodities, we paid off the total $30,000 cost of the two balers in six months,” Mohr explains. “That really got people’s attention and gave our environmental work real credibility. The senior staff’s immediate response was ‘Keep going!’”
In 2008 the Indians also launched a campaign--“Our Tribe is Green...Are you in the Tribe?”--to better engage staff and fans in the Indians’ mission to reduce the ballpark’s environmental impact. The campaign introduced 125 new Pepsi-sponsored plastic bottle recycling receptacles spread around the ballpark concourse.
The Indians’ improved ballpark recycling has notably created more local jobs while reducing the ballpark’s environmental impact. After every game there is a ballpark “pick” where an average of 30 custodial staff do a sweep of the entire ballpark, picking up and sorting trash from recyclables. In order to increase the recycling rate at the ballpark Mohr now employs more custodial staff, hiring about eight additional workers each game, to collect recyclables post-game.
In addition to encouraging fans to recycle more, in 2009 the Indians also ratcheted up their recycling facilities in their home and visiting clubhouses, encouraging players as well as staff to recycle more. In 2010 composting bins were added to the clubhouses and across internal operations—for composting food waste and grass clippings. The bins were quickly put to use, with a 65-gallon bin of food waste composted every two days during the season.
In three years the Indians have cut their annual waste in half. In 2007 the ballpark generated 1261.6 tons of trash; by 2010 this was down to 613.4 tons. This reduced the number of trash compactor pickups--that cost an average of $500 each--by 64 percent from 254 pickups in 2007 to 92 in 2010, saving the Club $50,000. Mohr is confident that the Indians will continue to save $50,000 or more annually, relative to 2007 costs, with the ballpark’s improved waste management and recycling system. “That's where we see the financial difference…in recycling, [and] avoiding trash being hauled away,” Mohr says. “Green initiatives are here to stay because they save teams money.”
In 2009 the ballpark recycled over 150 tons of materials and over 125 tons in 2010, including: cardboard, paper, aluminum, PET plastic, scrap metal, cooking oil, fluorescent bulbs and ballast, batteries, and electronics. 2009 was a record recycling year after the ballpark recycled all of the scrap metal from retired portable concession stands. Since installing the balers in early 2008 the Club has earned $20,000 in commodity rebates for its recycled materials.
Economic advantages aside, the environmental benefits of the Indian’s efforts are also significant. According to the Illinois Recycling Association, recycling just one ton of paper to avoid the production of paper from virgin-materials saves enough energy to power an average home for six months, saves 7,000 gallons of water, and keeps 60 pounds of pollutants out of the air. Although it varies by grade and technology, making paper from recycled paper instead of from trees involves 64 percent less energy and 58 percent less water. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a 25-watt compact fluorescent for nearly 16 hours (or a 100-watt incandescent light bulb for nearly four hours).
“The Indians have a wide breadth of activity and efforts in greening and sustainability thanks to the guidance and support of NRDC and NRDC’s unparalleled sports greening resources,” says Mohr. “Our comprehensive recycling program is just the beginning, as we’re also the first American League club to install solar power. And we are trying to add a new green feature each year.”
The Cleveland's American League franchise began on April 24, 1901 as one of just four Charter A.L. clubs (along with Chicago, Boston, and Detroit) to play continuously in one city. Professional baseball in Cleveland is one of the city's oldest traditions, dating well back into the 19th century, and is approaching its 144th year in 2012. Today 43,345 fans can pack into Progressive Field on gamedays.
According to the Indians' Community Page, “The Cleveland Indians organization is committed to exploring opportunities to help preserve the environment through the use of advanced energy and green options. The Indians understand the responsibility of improving the quality of life by being environmentally conscious within the walls of Progressive Field and beyond. Using sustainable technologies is not only good for the community, but good for baseball.”
- Read more about professional sports teams and stadiums working to reduce their environmental impact at NRDC Greening the Games.
- Find out more about the Indian’s impressive greening initiatives.
- Read more about the importance of recycling for growing the strength and resilience of the American economy in the "More Jobs, Less Pollution" report.
- Learn more about the life-cycle impacts of waste management with the U.S. EPA’s diagrams.
- NRDC’s Solar Electric Energy for Your Stadium or Arena Guide.
- Learn more about the extensive state-based incentives available for renewable energy.
last revised 10/13/2011