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"Trash Talking" at Carleton Football Games

February 4, 2019 at 4:29 pm
By Liesl Helminiak '19

If you’re a Carleton football fan, you may have noticed a few changes in Laird Stadium this fall. The tailgating area got a new triple bin, and each of the existing triple bins got a student or two (nicknamed “trash talkers” ) stationed nearby to answer questions about Carleton’s waste sorting system. Rob Nechanicky, our Custodial Services Supervisor shared some thoughts on our newest moves toward Zero Waste Athletics.

Why is waste stream contamination such an issue at athletic events?


The focus of the athletes is on their competition and athletic directors and coaches focus is on making sure everything is set up correctly so the competitions can be as safe and fair as possible. Waste becomes a background issue, but [we think] it’s one worth bringing to their attention.


Also, lots of visiting athletes and spectators who aren’t familiar with Carleton’s sorting system yet!


What was the impetus for taking action and making changes to athletic event management?


After trying a zero waste basketball game, we realized that zero waste should become the standard approach, not an occasional event.


Where did the idea of having “trash talkers” come from?


On our campus, it started out at student picnics with custodial staff educating students at waste sites which materials go where.

Ohio State’s stadium holds 100,000+ people, and their games are zero waste with trash talkers at each bin, so if they can make it work with that many people, there’s no reason why we can’t implement it here!

Did the trash talking make a difference?  


I don’t have percentages, but feedback from custodians was great. After implementing this program, there were immediate and visible differences in terms of contamination reduction.

Are there any particularly notorious contamination issues? Like if you could choose one contaminant to never see in the compost again, what would that be?


The biggest things we see are those ice bags- they belong in the landfill, but they keep ending up in the compost or recycling bins. That and athletic tape, which also isn’t compostable or recyclable.


For people who haven’t been part of waste reduction and sorting efforts very long, what are the benefits of reducing contamination?


Contamination is one of the biggest frustrations for custodians, because it prolongs the cleanup process and makes it less efficient. We also get feedback from the compost and recycling facilities we send the waste to- if they can’t process it because it wasn’t sorted properly, then it is more difficult for them to repurpose.

If everyone takes a little time to be mindful when they sort, it will save our custodians a lot of time! When we see less contamination, it’s meaningful because it’s an indication that people are listening and changing their habits.


What do you hope to see going forward?


At one time, recycling wasn’t commonplace. Now it’s everywhere! In the future, I want people to look back and be surprised that compost wasn’t always commonplace.


I don’t see our football games ever going back to the way they were, I just see zero waste athletics moving forward.


Any final thoughts you’d like to share?


When you get out and make the effort to explain something to people, most of them will want to share what they learned and pass it on and educate their friends. Putting a person out there to “trash talk” shows that this is a priority for us. It puts an importance on waste reduction and proper material sorting, and it is a form of outreach to show people that it should matter to them.


Athletics brings visitors, community members, and students together, and because of that it’s an opportunity to send a message about the materials we use and where they’re ending up- and who it impacts. As current students become alumni and new students come in, you have a continual turnover that can get that message out repeatedly until it becomes the culture.

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