College football’s green bowl

UC Davis wins recycling national championship

UC Davis student coordinator Morgan Stevenson poses with her hardware, the Environmental Protection Agency WasteWise Game Day Challenge award.

UC Davis student coordinator Morgan Stevenson poses with her hardware, the Environmental Protection Agency WasteWise Game Day Challenge award.


UC Davis, home of the fighting Aggies, flexed its muscles on the football field in the fall and took home a national title—in recycling.

The Aggies’ success came in the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual WasteWise Game Day Challenge, which encourages schools to reduce and recycle waste in different categories. A highlight reel of UC Davis’ success will be featured online this week on the EPA website.

In its first year participating, UC Davis won with a 90 percent rate in the recycling-and-composting waste category, outperforming runner-up Ohio State University (68 percent). UC Berkeley clocked in 30th out of 77 schools, with a 33 percent recycling rate. (Systemwide, the University of California aims to achieve zero waste overall by 2020.)

“It is great we won in [this] category, because UC Davis has its own landfill and it is important to reduce its waste,” said student Morgan Stevenson, zero-waste coordinator. “It’s also a great way to get fans involved in composting and recycling.”

UC Davis’ game plan included solid planning and teamwork.

According to Stevenson, the Aggies’ Waste Reduction and Recycling unit worked closely with everyone involved in the October 23 football game, including the concessionaire Sodexo, stadium cleaners and the grounds crew. Sodexo, for instance, sold only items that came in sustainable packaging—no plastic and scooped ice cream only—and used compostable paper cups and straws. Fans were also asked to pack up and take out items that could not be recycled.

“[Everyone] was committed to making the stadium a zero-waste facility,” Stevenson said.

After the game, staff and student volunteers hand sorted trash, audited compost and measured the material. The resulting weights were then entered into an online EPA database for tracking.

And yes, as with other college sports, it is possible for colleges and universities to cheat. This is why the EPA looks for schools’ numbers that do not add up, or do not fall into a reasonable range, explained EPA spokesman Richard Yost.

For the Aggies, this was not a problem. After the Parents’ Weekend game against South Alabama, with 6,835 fans attending, volunteers collected 890 pounds of trash, and recycled or composted 90 percent of it. For the season, UC Davis diverted 76 percent of the trash from five home football games. UC Davis did well in other categories, too, ranking fifth for generating a low amount of waste per capita, and also scoring high in its reduction of organic waste.

Overall, the Game Day competition diverted about half a million pounds of trash, which also prevented the release of tons of carbon dioxide. For those scoring at home, the EPA said the reduced greenhouse-gas emissions equaled the annual emissions of 179 cars.

UC Davis hopes to repeat and win another national title in the recycling category, known as diversion. (Rather than earning a title trophy of Oscar the Grouch—a big-time trash enthusiast—the school receives a plaque made from recycled materials.)

“Our goal for the 2011 season is to have a 100 percent diversion rate and have Aggie Stadium have zero waste,” Stevenson said. She also said she would like to expand the recycling program to include tailgaters at home games.

Lin King, who oversees the Waste Reduction and Recycling program for UC Davis, also said the school needs to improve recycling signage and the number of containers at Aggie Stadium, and improve training of staff.

For the EPA, the Game Day Challenge promotes sustainability, and also serves as a potential game changer of its own.

“The EPA hopes to learn from the experiences of these schools to develop new programs to encourage waste reduction,” Yost said.