Smarter Business: Greening the Games


  • Every year we throw out at least 31 percent of all the food available for consumption, about 133 billion pounds annually. Less than five percent of food waste is recovered in some form of organics recycling, and the rest winds up in landfills and incinerators.
  • Public policy and private investments, including operations at stadiums and arenas, should encourage the routing of materials found in the waste stream to their best use.
  • NRDC's Guide to Composting at Sports Venues can help venues identify cost-competitive, ecologically superior ways to manage their organic waste stream, which is an urgent ecological need.

Waste is a function of efficiency: The more efficient we are, the less waste we produce or leave behind for disposal. Sustainability requires that we model our production and waste generation systems on naturally occurring biological models, with efficiency, recycling, and reuse designed into products and operations.

Food waste, which, along with landscaping debris, is the subject of NRDC's Guide to Composting at Sports Venues, is a particularly inefficient, ecologically troubling feature of American society. According to the U.S. EPA, "More food [waste] reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste....In 2011 alone, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only four percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting." This Guide has been produced to assist stadiums and arenas in increasing their diversion of food and yard wastes for beneficial use.

Composting is the controlled breakdown of organic waste (such as food waste and yard waste) into a product that can be beneficially used as mulch and fertilizer. Food waste, landscaping debris, and wood waste make up one-third or more of a region's municipal waste stream, depending on location, and organic materials (including food, landscaping waste, and some serviceware) typically constitute an even higher percentage of waste generated in stadiums and arenas. There are many opportunities to divert waste from a landfill or incinerator by initiating composting programs at a stadium or arena, ranging from collection of grass clippings and other landscaping wastes to collecting kitchen scraps, fan food waste, and compostable serviceware.

When culturally influential organizations like sports leagues, teams, and venues adopt greener practices like composting, the benefits are threefold:

  • Reducing waste has direct environmental impacts by reducing the amount of material requiring hauling, lessening the need for landfills or incinerators.
  • Publicizing environmental achievements sends the message to fans and others that being a responsible environmental steward is an important part of how organizations do business. Ideally, fans will come to expect recycling and compost bins at their local sports venues and other places they go for entertainment.
  • When sports organizations adopt greener practices, that sends a powerful message up the supply chain and to sponsors that greener products and services are a priority -- and this means that those greener products and services might become more available to other customers, too.
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