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No Throwaways: Step Inside a Zero-Waste Stadium

I had heard for a long time about a college stadium that aims to send no trash to a landfill. But I found it hard to believe. Sporting events are the epicenter of American trash production. All of those plastic cups and food wrappers people throw away? Finding a more environmentally friendly way would amount to changing American culture.

Yet one exists on the campus of UC Davis, the northernmost campus of the University of California system that’s known for its environmental knack. It’s also, incidentally, my alma mater.

There are a few ways Aggie Stadium has been able to pull it off. One is by being  new. The 10,000-person stadium opened in 2007, which meant that officials didn’t have to retrofit their food products or recycling policies to meet a new goal. They also did something highly innovative: They prevented fans from even needing to throw things in the trash.

“We only distribute materials like paper or foil that can be recycled or composted,” said Dani Lee, UC Davis’ food services sustainability manager. That means drinks don’t come with plastic lids. Candy comes in boxes, not plastic wrappers, And attendees only get straws when they ask—straws made of corn oil, not plastic. Bins for compost and recycling surround the perimeter of the stadium.

Michelle La, who oversees the campus waste reduction program, says that other schools, notably UC Berkeley, have come asking for advice on converting their own football facilities. Overall the stadium runs efficiently and there have been only a few complaints. People do miss their beverage lids. I asked if drinks get spilled when the home team is doing well. She said that’s a risk the school is comfortable taking.