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Sports Teams Build Food Recovery Awareness

Sports Teams Build Food Recovery Awareness


Growing numbers of professional sports teams and organizations are capturing edible food in their venues for donation, while continuing to divert food scraps to composting programs.

Marsha W. Johnston

BioCycle June 2015, Vol. 56, No. 5, p. 34

Allstate Arena is advancing organics diversion, recycling and energy efficiency.

Allstate Arena is advancing organics diversion, recycling and energy efficiency. Photo by Edward Marshall, Allstate Arena

From Toronto to San Diego, leagues, teams, sporting event organizers and their partners are adopting surprising innovations to reduce food waste, ensure that untouched food feeds someone’s hunger, and divert the rest away from landfills. A few are even closing the food life cycle loop by adding on-site gardens.

“Since 2010, we’ve seen a reduction in food waste,” says Paul LaCaruba, Manager Of Public Affairs for the National Hockey League (NHL), which was the first professional sports league to mandate food donation at all 30 of its franchises. “The U.S. EPA collects numbers for the Food Recovery Challenge and is looking to measure the percentage increase in food donated, but I think what we’re seeing is that clubs are creating less waste.”

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Indeed, says Bryan Leslie, Director of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Building Operations and Team Up Green. “Talking only about diversion doesn’t tell the whole story. Before we started anything, we did a benchmark analysis of tonnage collected. The first part of the process was to reduce the amount collected [for disposal], so we did things like reuse cardboard boxes. After that, we tried to divert as much as we could.” Since 2007, the Maple Leafs have reduced landfilled waste by 74 percent, and average a 60 percent monthly diversion rate.

The Green Sports Alliance (GSA), founded in 2010 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Vulcan Sports and Entertainment (a division of Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. that owns the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Trail Blazers), encourages and tracks reductions in food waste and wasted food. GSA’s mission statement is “to help enhance the environmental performance of sports teams, venues and leagues.” Its programs cover renewable energy, healthy food, recycling, water efficiency, species preservation, safer chemicals and other environmentally preferable practices.

Food Donation

The GSA will release a new report on food waste initiatives at its annual Green Sports Summit, June 29-July 1, 2015 in Chicago. Authored principally by Alice Henly, Green Sports Alliance Director of Programs, and Darby Hoover, Senior Resource Specialist at NRDC, it looks at the life cycle of food as it relates to sports venues — from menu design and portion control to procurement and sourcing, improving kitchen efficiency, packaging and serving choices, food recovery, donation, food waste processing and composting. “There has been a long-standing proliferation of food donations,” says Henly. In addition to all NHL franchises, “at least half of NBA [National Basketball Association] basketball arenas and many, many NFL [National Football League] and baseball venues are donating prepared, untouched food,” she adds. “It is a very high percentage.”

Since food donation nonprofit Rock and Wrap It Up launched Sports Wrap! in May 2003, the program has grown to service 75 franchises in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB (Major League Baseball), and MLS (Major League Soccer), feeding thousands of people each week. “Our goal is to get this conversation going in America and to use sports as the guiding light,” says Rock and Wrap It Up! (RWU) founder Syd Mandelbaum, who will present statistics on its work at the Green Sports Summit.

Sports Wrap! began at the initiative of Brooke Maroth, wife of Detroit Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth. She read about RWU volunteers collecting leftover food backstage after rock concerts and asked Mandelbaum if RWU could do the same at the Detroit Tigers Clubhouse. After honoring the Maroths with the RWU Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Award in 2004, word spread quickly, recalls Mandelbaum. In New York, the program began with the NY Giants in April 2005. “We had every New York area team’s concessions within 18 months,” he says.

RWU was already serving a few NHL clubs when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman drove the league-wide decision to mandate food donation. “He could not have been more enthusiastic,” Mandelbaum explains. “He wanted to be the green league because so many of the players are from small towns and started by playing outdoors on ponds, so Gary made the commitment to make it happen.”

As a result, NHL and other franchises have become indispensable to local food donation operations. The Edmonton Oilers (Alberta, Canada), for instance, working with RWU, volunteer organization Northlands and Dominion Sports Service, have donated a total of 30,654 pounds of prepared but unserved food from Oilers, Oil Kings games, and other events at Rexall Place, providing 23,600 meals to shelters and soup kitchens via the Edmonton Food Bank. “We’ve become such a throwaway society, a lot of times people think you can’t reuse or repurpose food,” says Natalie Minckler, Executive Director of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, which manages the program. “But it’s so important to people in our community to get access to this food, which is very high quality — not your typical can of tuna or peanut butter.”

On-Site Organics Management

Henly says implementation of composting operations — both back and front of the house — is growing rapidly. “It typically includes landscaping debris from gardens around the venue,” she explains, adding that the majority of organics are diverted off-site, “as it’s rare to find the space to have full composting facilities at pro sports facilities. But a few are doing it on-site. It’s more common near collegiate athletic facilities.”

Last fall, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the 80,000-seat home of the New York Jets and Giants, implemented composting on site. MetLife Stadium procured an AGF Brome In-Vessel Rotary Composter and Patz mixing unit from Montreal-based Group Commercial Paul Larouche. The equipment was first placed near a loading dock, then moved to a roomier, more central location at the 750-acre sports complex. After stadium events, workers throw all food and compostable service ware into the vessel and add carbon-rich material such as cardboard and paper. After about eight weeks in the composter, the processed material is ready to be used as mulch at the facility. Anticipated savings are between $20,000 and $25,000 annually. “When you give your material to a recycler, you rely on them to do the right thing,” notes David Duernberger, the vice president for facility operations at MetLife Stadium. “With us, we have complete control over the process.”

Several sports venues have installed grinding systems on site to manage food waste.

A Grind-2-Energy system is installed at the Cleveland Indian’s Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio to process food scraps into a slurry, which are hauled to an anaerobic digester.

A Grind-2-Energy system is installed at the Cleveland Indian’s Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio to process food scraps into a slurry, which are hauled to an anaerobic digester. Photo courtesy of InSinkErator

InSinkErator, owned by Emerson Electric, launched Grind2Energy several years ago to provide a full-service turnkey business whereby it designs, installs and maintains equipment that grinds food waste, which is pumped as a slurry to an on-site storage tank. A liquid waste hauler picks up the slurry and delivers it to an anaerobic digestion facility. “We offer the customer a turnkey model for a monthly service fee,” says Matt Whitener, Vice President of InSinkErator Commercial, who manages the Grind2Energy initiative. “We contract with the liquid waste hauler and disposal facility, and the customer’s responsibility is to feed the processing equipment with food scraps.” The system, which represents four years of R&D, is in operation at the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Field, Cleveland Browns’ First Energy stadium and Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center. Whitener says InSinkErator has had inquiries from other sporting venues, and will be gradually rolling the system and service out, particularly in regions where tipping fees and regulatory regimes are favorable to food waste diversion, such as the Northeast and California.

The Dallas Cowboys and Toronto Maple Leafs have both recently installed the Organic Refuse Conversion Alternative (ORCA) system from Toronto-based Totally Green Inc. Using a proprietary microorganism solution, stainless steel tines and recycled plastic “Bio Chips,” the ORCA pulps organic food waste into an effluent that is discharged into the municipal wastewater system in 24 hours. The ORCA will digest up to 2,400 pounds/day of food waste, according to the manufacturer.

“There are a few things the enzymes don’t like, such as coffee grounds, so those go to compost,” says Leslie of the Maple Leafs, which installed three ORCA units. “We did some pretty significant testing with the city.” The three machines are saving the Centre approximately $223,000 annually in labor costs and organic waste disposal fees, he adds. “Between hockey and basketball games, concerts, and our office operations, we had 8 trucks per week of organic waste being collected.”

Another on-site trend at sports venues is growing fruits and vegetables. Henly estimates that approximately a dozen venues have installed organic gardens or farms to grow fruits and vegetables for use in foodservice operations, as well as for donation in their communities. The on-site gardens can generate enough food to offset some produce purchases. And when compost generated from a stadium’s food waste is used as fertilizer, the gardens can serve as an educational tool on closed-loop food systems.

Two of the newest installations are the 5,000-square-foot rooftop Fenway Farms at the Boston Red Sox’s legendary ballpark (see sidebar), and the San Jose Earthquakes’ edible garden inside its Avaya Stadium that will include fruit trees. On-site baseball park gardens have already been established by the San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants.

Diversion At Individual Events

The ability to divert food waste from individual annual sporting events to composting facilities is limited by the composting and waste management services available in the region where the events are held. “You can sometimes arrange a one-off contract to haul to a composter, and it is happening, but it just depends on the circumstances,” says Henly, adding that sponsors are a big piece of the equation in financing this type of program, providing direct or in-kind support.

Abbie Beane, Director of Sustainability programs for The Offset Project, an environmental nonprofit based in Monterey, California, agrees that sponsors are critical for the events it manages, which include the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro Am and Shell Houston Open, both Professional Golfing Association events. Venue commitment to zero waste is also key. Beane notes that Pebble Beach Resort’s determination to be a zero waste event has generated great improvement in its food waste management.

“One of the best changes that occurred last year at Pebble Beach was getting rid of ketchup, mustard and relish packets,” she explains. “We do a lot of hand sorting and it was taking hours to pull these items out. We just kept telling them, it doesn’t send a very good message if you’re trying to be zero waste, and you have a single-use, disposable item.” Condiment pumps take more time and labor to keep them looking clean during the event, but for large events, save about 25 percent over buying condiment ketchup packets. “Most of the savings can be attributed to hiring less labor for picking litter off the course,” says Beane, adding that it also reduces the chance of litter blowing into the ocean.

Marsha Johnston, principal of Earth Steward Associates, is a Contributing Editor to BioCycle.

“Green For A Reason”

Allstate Arena in the Village of Rosemont, Illinois, opened in 1980 and is operated by the Village. The arena has a reserved seating capacity of 18,500 and 48 luxury suites, making it one of the largest indoor entertainment facilities in the Chicago area. It hosts the Chicago Wolves (American Hockey League), Chicago Sky (Women’s NBA) and DePaul University Men’s Basketball, as well as hundreds of other events. In 2009, Rosemont’s new mayor, Bradley A. Stephens, hired Bright Beat, a Chicago-based sustainability consulting firm, to work with Allstate Arena on its greening initiatives. “Around that time, the Arena’s Marketing Director attended a conference that highlighted innovations in environmental sustainability,” recalls Stephanie Katsaros, principal of Bright Beat. “Mayor Stephens wanted to strengthen the reputation of his city and believed that a greening initiative was good for the community, the environment, and good for business.”

One of the first steps was to implement a plastic drink cup recycling program.  “We switched to recyclable PET with 20 percent postconsumer recycled content,” Katsaros notes. “Starting with the cups provided a tremendous opportunity to educate a large number of people about recycling their beverage containers while also reducing waste at the Arena.” Launched in July 2010, she estimates that in the first four months of the program, over 3,000 pounds or 81,000 individual plastic containers were recycled by patrons and cleanup crews.

Another key step was to brand the sustainability program. Bright Beat and Allstate Arena created the “Green For A Reason” name and icon, which also is used by the Village of Rosemont in conjunction with eco-initiatives at other municipal facilities. In addition to recycling, Allstate Arena also implemented energy efficiency programs. With support from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Arena replaced or retrofitted over 1,100 lamps and fixtures and installed energy-saving occupancy sensors, providing a reduction of more than 100,000 watts per year. Efficiency upgrades to its HVAC control system and kitchen refrigeration equipment have further reduced energy usage.

Food waste diversion was launched after Aramark, Allstate Arena’s contracted foodservice provider, selected the Arena as a pilot location for its food waste tracking and minimization program. “Aramark Corporate requires the weighing/reporting of food waste, so we are asking that noncompostable contaminants (e.g., hot dog wrappers), be removed before these separated items are placed in bins,” explains Katsaros. “Aramark uses containers lined with compostable bags for food waste collection in the kitchens and catering areas. The bags are collected and placed in green 65-gallon bins labeled Food Waste.” Concessions and catering managers have been instructed and signs are posted to remind staff about what is compostable. The 65-gallon bins are kept outside near the trash and recycling compactors, and pick-ups are scheduled on an as-needed basis.”

The next phase of Allstate Arena’s cup recycling program began in July 2014, after its recycling partner was unable to market bales of PET cups and bottles. Allstate Arena made the switch to Ingeo™ drink cups, which are collected for recycling in partnership with NatureWorks and Chicago-based nonprofit Resource Center. As of 2014, Allstate Arena has diverted over 350 tons of plastic cups, aluminum cans, cardboard, glass, paper, plastic, cooking oil, batteries, lamps/ballasts, food scraps and “organic circus waste” (from hosting the Ringling Bros. Circus). Green For A Reason at Allstate Arena is one of the tours on Monday, June 29, at the upcoming Green Sports Summit in Chicago (June 29-July 1, McCormick Place (http://summit.greensports  — Nora Goldstein

A Farm Grows On Fenway

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, installed a 5,000 sq. ft. rooftop farm in Spring 2015. Produce is used in restaurants at the ballpark.

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, installed a 5,000 sq. ft. rooftop farm in Spring 2015. Produce is used in restaurants at the ballpark. Photo courtesy of Green City Growers

Green City Growers in Somerville, Massachusetts started out in 2008 installing raised bed gardens for residences in Boston and surrounding communities. It branched out into employee wellness gardens after receiving a request for an installation from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. “Then we were contacted by b. good, a healthy fast food restaurant company in the Boston area,” recalls Jessie Banhazl, founder of Green City Growers. “The company had three restaurant locations and wanted to install gardens at all of them. Today, b.good has 14 locations and we’ve put in gardens at 12 of them. What started out as a residential focus has evolved to servicing the commercial and institutional sectors, including grocery stores, hospitals, schools, senior centers, camps and more.”

One of its most recent installations is a 5,000 sq ft rooftop organic farm at the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park baseball stadium. Located on the roof of the Front Office on the third base side on the EMC Level, fans can view Fenway Farms from within the park. “Fenway Farms was meant to be,” explains Banhazl. “Linda Henry, who manages the John Henry Foundation [Red Sox owner John Henry’s wife], has always had a very strong focus on youth education and sustainability. There was a large, unused roof top area at Fenway Park, on the same level as the EMC Club, and Linda, along with others in the Red Sox organization, came to the conclusion that having a rooftop farm would be the way to fill it.”

Recover Green Roofs did the installation of the rooftop farm, working with structural engineers to design a system within the structural load constraints of the building while resisting environmental pressures such as wind uplift. Additional design features ensure waterproof protection and drainage. Recover Green Roofs put in a 1,750 sq ft planting area in Spring 2015, using milk crates filled with Vermont Compost Company’s Fort Light Blend that was developed for growers who want a compost-based soil mix with the handling and watering characteristics of a peat-perlite mix. “It is great soil,” exclaims Banhazl. “We have been having incredible production. It’s only the beginning of June and we’ve already harvested over 1,100 lbs this season.” A smart irrigation system minimizes water use. Urban farmers from Green City Growers maintain Fenway Farms, often during Red Sox games. The produce is used in the EMC Club and in a cafeteria for the media and employees. Fenway Park chefs work with Banhazl on what is planted. “Everything we pick, we pick in conjunction with the chefs,” she says.

Compost has always been a staple in the soil media used by Green City Growers. The company typically custom blends an organic soil mix comprised of 25% compost (from Brick Ends Farm in South Hamilton, MA); 25% topsoil; 25% peat and 25% vermiculite. At Fenway Park, Green City Growers is paid a service fee to provide materials, maintenance, harvesting and upkeep of the farm. Banhazl estimates that about 4,000 lbs of produce will be grown in 2015. “The spring and summer growing season lines up perfectly with the baseball season,” she notes. The spring plant included herbs, various salad greens, snap peas, spinach and carrots. The summer plant includes broccoli, cucumbers, eggplant, and a variety of hot and sweet peppers and greens.  —  Nora Goldstein

Engaging Sponsors

Getting a sports event sponsor to enthusiastically adopt a zero waste strategy can be a tremendous opportunity, but achieving it requires time and patience. “We always say, allow partners time to change,” says Alice Henly with the Green Sports Alliance. “Try not to set strict goals too early, but to open a dialogue. With many initiatives, it takes one to five years to roll out new product lines, so the dialogue is the important starting point.”

A packaging take-back program may be instituted in 2016 at the Big Sur International Marathon (starting line, left).

A packaging take-back program may be instituted in 2016 at the Big Sur International Marathon (starting line, left). Photos by Alheli Curry and Rob Hallock, Big Sur International Marathon

The possibility of reengineering energy gel packets is a case in point. The Offset Project in Monterey, California, which handles sustainability practices for the Big Sur International Marathon, engaged in discussions with GU Energy Labs to consider a change to the packets. Though this hasn’t yet happened, GU responded by developing an upcycling program for its used disposable foil packets with Terra Cycle, a New Jersey-based company that accepts hard-to-recycle materials. For next year’s Big Sur marathon, the long-time sponsor proposes to set up a table and hand out one free, full packet for every five empty ones runners bring in. “This should help cut down contamination in our waste stream and raise awareness among runners on our diversion process and our upcycling program for the packets through Terracycle,” says Abbie Beane of The Offset Project. Other changes are easier, she adds. AT&T ProAm sponsor Outback Steakhouse, which did not comply with the zero waste policy in 2014, brought in some certified compostable foodservice ware in 2015 after it was requested.”

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