Bronco Athletics and The Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies are teaming up for an ambitious undertaking: no more overflowing trash cans at basketball games.
The aim is to make all home basketball games sustainable by being “Zero Waste.” This type of program is usually found at large NCAA Division I universities.
“Very few Division II schools are doing much of anything about waste at sporting events, so it’s a good way to put Cal Poly Pomona out there,” says Kyle D. Brown, director of the Lyle Center.
Zero Waste requires 90 percent of materials generated at an event be diverted from a landfill through recycling or composting.
After reading about graduate student and athlete Ariel Marsh’s efforts to help the campus become carbon neutral, Associate Athletics Director Stephanie Duke reached out to Marsh and Brown, and identified home games as an opportunity to implement sustainable practices.
“Athletics is one of the major public interfaces of the university,” says Brown. “We thought it would be great to showcase some of the sustainability efforts on campus in that kind of venue.”
Coaches, athletes and venue workers, known as the game management team, were very receptive to the concept of Zero Waste.
“We hope that through this Zero Waste initiative, starting with basketball, that all athletic programs can be Zero Waste,” Duke says.
The effort has sparked a desire by athletics administrators to look at what they can do in the long term to cut down on waste and promote sustainability.
“It’s seeing where the environment has gone, and anything we can do to help cut down on wherever it is waste goes, we will do it,” Duke says. “Student athletes are leaders and through their involvement in this, they can make important changes for those who come after us.”
The Zero Waste initiative was broken down into two phases.
In the first stage, Marsh and other graduate students observed the trash habits of spectators at volleyball games. They took the trash and sorted it – by hand.
“It wasn’t a glamorous job. It really is quite an experience. You think, ‘I am never throwing this away again,’ ” Marsh says. “You get an instant understanding of what’s recyclable and what’s not.”
After realizing that a quarter of the trash was recyclable, they added more recycling bins and labeled them alongside the trash cans. The true change came when they added “goalies”: trained game management members, who engaged the fans and told them where their trash belonged.
After each game, the goalies took the trash back to the Lyle Center and sorted it, taking out anything that could be recycled or composted.
“It was amazing to see the impact that it had on the students,” Marsh says. “You’d hear them say, ‘Why would someone put this in the trash? This is recyclable!’ They had great attitudes the whole time.”
The second phase has been launched: adding compost bins to the gymnasium. In addition, at the snack bar all paper goods have been switched to compostable materials. The menu tells customers the final destination of the waste after disposal.
“We want people to see this right when they’re buying it, and also when they go up to the bins, so that it’s constantly being reinforced,” Marsh says. “People will begin to see that life cycle of items.”
Now instead of sorting the trash, Marsh and graduate students weigh each category of waste to measure the impact that the program is having and ensure that the 90 percent threshold is reached.
“To consider the program a complete success, we’ll not only reach at least 90 percent diversion, but everyone will know why it’s important, and we’ll increase awareness,” Marsh says. “Often, an athletics event is the only snapshot of campus the community will see, and now they will definitely see our commitment to sustainability.”
Brown says that eventually they’d like to see Zero Waste implemented at other events on campus.
“We think that we’re building a model here that is sustainable and can be continued. It can be then transferred to other venues such as outdoor soccer,” he says. “If we can come up with a model basketball games, then perhaps it can be implemented for other events, too.”