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Kicking waste through the uprights

Mizzou mascot Truman the Tiger leans on a recycling bin in the end zone of Faurot Field.

Christine Costello, assistant research professor of Bioengineering, and Ron McGarvey, assistant professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, worked with recent MU Engineering alumna Esma Birisci and a team of graduate and undergraduate researchers to gather the data for the recently-released “Achieving Sustainability beyond Zero Waste: A Case Study from a College Football Stadium,” in the journal Sustainability. Photo courtesy of the MU News Bureau.

It’s once again college football season. For MU football fans, that means crisp fall weather, tailgating and the roar of the crowd as the Mizzou Tigers battle Southeastern Conference foes. All of those fans packing Memorial Stadium each Saturday inevitably leave a bit of trash behind, and MU Engineering researchers recently completed a study into how that waste can be managed in a sustainable manner.

Christine Costello, assistant research professor of Bioengineering, and Ron McGarvey, assistant professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, worked with recent MU Engineering alumna Esma Birisci and a team of graduate and undergraduate researchers to gather the data for the recently-released “Achieving Sustainability beyond Zero Waste: A Case Study from a College Football Stadium,” in the journal Sustainability.

The research team worked with Anthony Wirkus and the MU Intercollegiate Athletics Department to audit the landfill-destined waste from five MU home games during the 2014 season. To accomplish this, the team sorted a sample of bags from the total waste stream associated with Memorial Stadium.

Their research estimated that over the course of the season, a total of 47.3 metric tons of landfill-destined waste was generated (excluding the stream destined for Columbia’s recycling facility), of which 29.6 was generated from food preparation activities at the Mizzou Arena kitchen during the week leading up to game day. Out of that 29.6 metric tons, 96 percent was unsold food waste. Much of this food waste comes from all-you-care-to-eat (buffet) and restaurant-style a la carte venues located in the stadium, which face a particular challenge due to the difficulty of ensuring they don’t run out of food while also not over-preparing unnecessary items. Of the remaining 17.7 metric tons of landfill-destined waste generated inside the stadium, recyclable materials made up 43 percent, despite the large number of recycling receptacles located in the stadium.

The goal of the case study was to develop recommendations for how stadiums such as those at MU can reach or exceed the zero-waste threshold, which means finding methods through which 90 percent or more of the waste generated can be either recycled or composted.

“Our objectives were to develop a system to characterize the waste produced at sporting events prior to and on game day and unsold food disposed of after game day, quantify the greenhouse gases produced, identify waste management and recycling strategies, and develop scenarios that event managers can use to decrease life cycle greenhouse gas emissions and energy use,” Costello explained.

After analyzing the data, the recommendations for meeting the zero-waste threshold included donating unsold food to local organizations, using more compost-friendly and recyclable materials, lessening the environmental impact of the food waste by preparing food with a lower environmental cost such as vegetables and chicken rather than beef, developing better methods of forecasting food demand both in box seats and suites, setting up more recycling stations and providing better education for fans about recycling and sustainability. Researchers estimated the potential benefits, in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and energy savings, that could be achieved by each recommendation.

“Sporting event organizers can generate pro-environmental messaging to a broad audience and should take advantage of getting the word out about sustainable operations. This would be a wonderful public relations tool for these professional and collegiate leagues and should be pursued,” McGarvey said, providing fascinating food for thought for football fans this fall.

Funding for this research was provided by The Mizzou Advantage.

MU Study Reveals Ways in which Collegiate Sports Venues Can Move Beyone 'Zero Waste' from MU News Bureau on Vimeo.