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College Football’s EPA GameDay Challenge


Inevitably each year College Football’s spectacular success results in massive amounts garbage from the fans at stadiums around the country. Equally impressive is the annual EPA Game Day Recycling Challenge organized by Athletic Departments nationally. According to EPA statistics just released, ninety-one colleges and universities participated in the GameDay Recycling Challenge in 2014 to recycle or reuse “1,098 tons of bottles, cans, paper, cardboard, food scraps, and other recyclables” from the crowds at College Football stadiums. (EPA, 2015)

In the spirit of football, the GameDay Challenge is organized as a friendly but competitive rivalry with winners announced at the end of each Football season. The 2014 National Winners were Humboldt State University with an 86.05% diversion rate, and Clemson University, with total recycling of 30.36 tons of trash. Both Universities will be recognized at the 2015 Collegiate Sports Sustainability Summit at Purdue University in June, 2015. The competition has sponsors, such as Busch Systems Recycling, and a Zero Waste Wall of Fame. (EPA, 2015) Ohio State University is the only Champion with three appearances on this Wall of Fame for the years 2012, 2013, & 2014 – more than any other College. Of course, to their credit the Buckeyes also won the first College Football Playoff National Championship!

The colleges are also pitted against each other by Conference, and in 2014 the SEC diverted the most trash into recycling from home games followed by the ACC, and then the Big 10 Conference. Registered competitors represent 15 athletic conferences. The single biggest game in the 2014 GameDay Challenge was recorded by Clemson University – winning the Total Recycling category – with 60,724 pounds diverted from their 11/29 game against University of South Carolina. See: http://gamedaychallenge.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/GDC-infographic_FINAL.pdf

How do the colleges compete in the GameDay Challenge to be recycling Champs? Each August the EPA takes registrations. In 2013 eighty-eight colleges took part and in 2014 ninety-one. Athletic Departments participate to improve the standing and efficiency of their programs by enhancing the fan experience with fun waste reduction activities. Student groups, alumni, players, and other volunteers ask fans to participate by donating excess food to local food banks and encouraging everyone to use recyclable and compost services. Technical assistance and support to “stadium-based recycling programs” is provided by sponsors and agencies to help participating colleges achieve more in this important area. Commonly, energy is saved and sustainability promoted on campus.

Participants share marketing ideas to improve student engagement in recycling with social media campaigns like “Talk Trash to Reduce Waste.” Also, in the 2008 GameDay Challenge the University of Colorado successfully promoted “Ralphie’s Green Stampede” at CU’s Folsom Field for their zero waste initiative and many others did similar promotions on their own campus. In another example, Ithaca College in 2011 went green and the students set themselves up as “trash police” at the football game, wearing special T-shirts to promote and inform fans about separating plastics, paper and compostable foods. Additionally, students distributed “Caught Green-handed” tickets and prizes to people they saw recycling as a way to “get the students involved, to give them something to do more than classwork, and to get them thinking about the issues.” (Smith-Teutsch, 2011)

The GameDay Challenge continues to be a successful example of a positive movement associated with sports and the environment. See: http://gamedaychallenge.org/ EPA (2015) “College Football Fans Divert Over 2 Million Pounds of Material from the Landfill in 2014

GameDay Recycling Challenge.” Retrieved from: http://gamedaychallenge.org/wp content/uploads/2012/09/FINAL-GDRC-Results-Press-Release-1-20-15.pdf

Smith-Teutsch (2011). College claims victory in EPA’s GameDay challenge. Waste & Recycling News 16.21 (2011): 6. Business Source Premier. Retrieved from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=59075831&site=ehost-live

Dr. Robert Hudson is the Director of the Library/Archivist at the United States Sports Academy.


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