Experiencing Ohio State’s Zero-Waste Football Games Up Close

Over the last 3 years, The Ohio State University in Columbus has been taken the lead among major college athletics departments in hosting Zero-Waste football games. Considering Ohio Stadium (aka “The Horseshoe”) holds upwards of 106,000, this is no mean feat! GreenSportsBlog correspondent Elyssa Emrich delved into the Buckeyes’ groundbreaking efforts last October. This year, I decided to see for myself what Ohio State is doing, green-wise. That Ohio State was playing host to my alma mater, Rutgers, in its first-ever Big Ten road game, was just a coincidence*.


Ohio State’s record on the football field this season is a stellar 5-1 as of this writing after their tight, taut, hard fought win over a game Rutgers squad#. As impressive as that record is, it’s not yet as strong as the record the team of OSU’s Athletics Department, Energy Services Department and the Sustainability Office have mustered when it comes to diverting from landfill the massive amounts of waste a home game produces. OSU’s on-field winning percentage is 83%; it’s diversion rate at 2013 home games averaged over 90%, which allowed them to claim Zero-Waste status for the season. And, if we take out last season’s home game vs. Iowa, which netted a diversion rate of only 56% because the area’s recycling and composting infrastructure was over-taxed due to the Columbus Marathon being held over the same weekend, the average for the remaining home games was an amazing 97%. For the football team to beat that record, it would have to go undefeated, something that Virginia Tech made sure would not happen this year.

Wanting to see what a 97% diversion rate looked like in person, I schlepped out to Columbus for Rutgers-Ohio State this past weekend. What I saw almost everywhere were prominently displayed recycling and composting  bins, something that might have been new and perhaps confusing when it debuted in 2012, but now appears to be part of the fabric of the Ohio State Gameday experience.

Zero-Waste 1

Zero-Waste 2

Zero Waste Stations and signage, Lower Level Concourse at Ohio Stadium, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State diverted more than 90% of the waste produced at its home football games in 2013, allowing it to claim Zero-Waste status. It is on a similar pace in 2014. (Photo Credit: Lewis Blaustein)


The bins were almost everywhere you looked: In the many tailgate areas, every 20-30 yards along the concourses of the 93 year old Ohio Stadium, and in the luxury suites@. I watched as fans separated their waste into the appropriate bins without much fuss. Some of the bins were staffed by folks who were there to answer questions and guide fans to place their refuse in the correct bins. During the brief time I was watching, the staffers were not very busy as the fans appeared to know which bit of waste should go where.

The utensils, plates and cups in the concourses and suites were compostable. My unscientific survey found nothing that was un-compostable or un-recyclable.

Recycle Compost

Recycling and compost bins in a luxury suite at Ohio Stadium. (Photo Credit: Lewis Blaustein)


Just 3 miles down the road from Ohio Stadium sits Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite being about 80 years younger than The Horseshoe, Nationwide appears to be far less green. At the Blue Jackets-Calgary Flames match the night before Ohio State-Rutgers, I did see composting and recycling bins but there were far fewer of them than at Ohio Stadium and they weren’t staffed. Diversion rates must not have reached the Zero-Waste (90% or above) level, or else there would be some mention of that, somewhere. In fact, as far as I could tell, recycling and composting are not mentioned at all on the Blue Jackets nor the Arena’s websites. This is curious, given the leadership the NHL has shown, compared to all of the other North American professional sports leagues, on sustainability (the league issued the first-ever Sustainability Report of any pro league).

We didn’t get to visit other pro sports venue in town, Columbus Crew Stadium, home of the Crew of Major League Soccer. Similar to the Blue Jackets/Nationwide Arena, The Crew/Crew Stadium shows no evidence of a commitment to environmental sustainability on their website.

To me, this presents a great opportunity for the Ohio State students and administrators to reach out to the Blue Jackets and Crew and show ’em how to go Zero-Waste and the benefits of doing so. I plan to go back to Columbus in 2016 for the next Rutgers visit. Hopefully the game will be a lot closer and hopefully the Blue Jackets and/or Crew will have gone Zero-Waste by then.



* Not really
# Uh, not really. Ohio State obliterated the Scarlet Knights, 56-17, in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. This will be GSB’s only mention of what transpired during the game.
@ Thanks to college friend and GSB reader Dave Koenig for access to the suites!
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