On football game day at Ohio State University, more than 100,000 fans stream into Ohio Stadium, enjoying the game and concessions. Left behind is a mountain of food and drink containers and food scraps. Before an innovative program called Zero Waste started, more than half of the 30,000 pounds of waste would end up buried in a landfill. Now almost all of that waste is being recycled and composted, and Price Farms Organics in Delaware is helping turn some of that mess into a lush, dark soil amendment.
“We’re really ecstatic about what we’ve done. We want to make Ohio State a greener university and one of the cleanest in the nation,” said Corey Hawkey, the university’s sustainability coordinator.
In 2011, Ohio State started its Zero Waste program, which means diverting 90 percent or more of stadium trash from the landfill by recycling and composting. Ohio State set up dozens of Zero Waste stations throughout the stadium with scarlet colored trash barrels for recycling plastic and gray for composting items such as food and paper products. Workers helped guide fans on what should be thrown into the barrels. The general rule: If it looks like paper, compost it. If in doubt, recycle it.
ROTC members went through the stadium picking up trash and taking it to a recycling or composting truck. The compostables went to Price Farms Organics, which is an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency regulated composting facility and large enough to handle the volume of the stadium. Volunteers sorted through the pile looking for relish packets and other items that could contaminate the compostable material. Yard trimmings, coffee grounds and horse manure were then added to produce the bacteria needed to eat the waste byproducts. The EPA requires the pile to be at least 122 degrees for three weeks but owner Tom Price said the pile stays at 150 degrees for months. The mound is turned five times over several months, resulting in a dark compost that is sold under the name Stadium Scarlet. The university has used the rich compost around stadium flower beds.
“It’s a unique product. Most people are surprised to hear that it came from OSU stadium waste,” Price said.
In the first year of Zero Waste, Ohio State diverted an average of 75.3 percent of waste; the highest single game rate was 82.4 percent. In comparison, only 45 percent was diverted in the 2010 season. Off to a good start, Ohio State officials set a goal of achieving Zero Waste status in 2012. On Nov. 3, the university reached its goal, diverting 98.2 percent from the landfill. Last year Ohio State reached the highest diversion rate ever achieved at a sporting venue, making it a leader in recycling food and fiber.
This year’s goal is to achieve a Zero Waste season, meaning more than 90 percent of all game day materials won’t go to a landfill. Last season the university made several tweaks to its program, including sending the recyclables to the Southeastern Ohio Correctional Institute, which does the sorting for free and profits from selling the recyclables.
Ohio State has a new concessionaire and is looking into compostable hot dog wrappers, straws and bulk creamers, which would eliminate the tiny plastic cups. The suites will have bulk condiments and compostable serving ware and utensils.
A greener university
University officials also are looking at expanding the Zero Waste program, starting with its branch campus in Marion. A prison that could help with recycling is just two miles away.
“This program really is laying the foundation for the rest of the campus,” Hawkey said. “It has opened our eyes on how this could be achieved across campus.”
Price, a sixth-generation farmer and Farm Bureau member, is amazed by the success of the program after just two seasons.
“People throughout the country can’t believe OSU took this on and were able to do this with 100,000 people when maybe 5,000 people were even thinking of recycling,” he said. “It’s amazing and I hope they can continue to succeed.”
Ohio State University has been developing and renovating buildings that use resources efficiently and create healthy environments. The Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center was the first building on campus to achieve LEED certification. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a program that helps building owners with green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions and measures those results.
Recycling farm plastic
County Farm Bureaus in Ohio are helping turn farm plastic into sidewalks and keeping tens of thousands of pounds of plastic out of landfills. The idea came from Carroll County Farm Bureau, which worked with other county Farm Bureaus and a local solid waste district to set up drop off and collection points for farm plastics such as bale wrap, silage wrappers, baler twine, bunker covers and fertilizer sacks. A California-based company turns those recycled plastics into sidewalk block material.
Amy Beth Graves is a freelance writer from Upper Arlington.