There's no more trash at Yankee Stadium unless you count the trash talk when the Boston Red Sox are in town. Even the word “Trash” has disappeared.
How is this possible? Fans leave behind an estimated 16 million cubic feet of refuse at stadiums every year, enough to fill Yankee Stadium with 2 million cubic feet leftover. But big-league and college sports organizations are getting greener these days, and surprise surprise, they're even competitive about it. Solar and wind energy. Innovative waste policies. Even the food is different. Get your USDA-certified organic hot-dog, or your locally-sourced seasonal vegan salad, or your sustainably harvested seafood. And when you're done, leftovers, wrappers and utensils go in the compost container.
This isn't exactly new for the Yankees, who have been composting and recycling for years now. But back in the day, this is what you used to see – three receptacles, labeled Plastic, Compost, and Trash.
Who can deal with that much complexity? The Sox are driving you into a frenzy (let's just imagine!), and you're supposed to figure out if this wrapper in your hand is “Plastic” or “Trash”? Not happenin'!
The New Recycling Station
These days you see a single recycling station. It's handsome, Yankees blue and white with the team logo. It's color-coded. The simple signage tells you just what to do. Bottles go in the green side, with the small round holes. Compost goes in the gray side, with the square hole. If it's not a bottle it's compost. You can go back to yelling at the Red Sox.
Fans don't need to know that the new recycling station follows best practices in recycling container design, and was produced using LEAN-manufacturing techniques. (For those in the know, it's a Claremont Double Recycling Station.) They don't need to know that 250 of these stations were customized, produced, and delivered to Yankee Stadium in just 3 weeks by RecycleAway. They won't see the side-opening doors, that eliminate the need to lift the bins out, and reduce the work burden for custodians.
Okay, Where'd The Trash Go?
There is no trash. It was defined, and designed, out of existence. Everything that used to be trash is now compost, and a lot of what used to be compost has turned back into food.
When Yankee Stadium adopted a Zero Waste policy, it mandated the use of fully compostable trash bags and utensils, provided by the BASF Corporation. The kitchen staff have been trained to make purchases carefully, to avoid creating food scraps, and to use energy and water efficiently.
Food leftover disposal follows the federally recommended hierarchy; first donation, then compost, then energy. That means donations to local food rescue organizations are up, a trend throughout sports. The donations are of prepared, untouched, unsold food products, a high-quality product that's a step up from the always-welcome but easy to tire of peanut butter and canned tuna. It's a way for teams to give back to the host community, including to people who might never be able to afford to go to a game.
The Government Helps
While the Green Sports movement has been building for years, government mandates have added urgency to the effort. Mayor Bill de Blasio's Zero Waste Plan aims for a 90% disposed waste reduction in New York City by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels. Large venues have been mandated to reduce waste disposal, so everyone has an incentive to get creative.
Nationwide, food donations have been facilitated by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. We all know the 'sell-by' date on a package of food often has little relationship to its usability, but corporations used to feel that it was safer to throw food out rather than risk a lawsuit.
But the Bill Emerson Act acknowledges the reality that perfectly good food gets tossed out every day, and allows for common sense food handling techniques. This lets businesses like sport franchises donate prepared food without fear of lawsuits. It standardizes liability exposure, and sets a floor of gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
But that's for untouched food. The half-eaten hotdog, the leftover peanuts and crackerjack? At Yankee Stadium they go into the compost bin. Gray side. Square hole. Bottles are recycled. The stadium saves money, and it may attract more fans. A 2015 survey by the Shelton Group found that nearly one third of Americans would be more likely to attend a game if the stadium recycled and composted, and one in five said they'd buy more food during the event.
Nationwide, many stadiums recycle, and many have gotten into composting. Some do it on-site, some off. Some sell or donate their compost, some make energy out of it, and some even grow fruits and vegetables at the stadium, using composted stadium waste for fertilizer.
And that brings us back to the Red Sox. So yeah, Yankee Stadium won the Environmental Leadership Award from the Green Sports Alliance this year, and sure, the Yanks have quite possibly the handsomest recycling bins in all of sport, and maybe, just maybe, they're set to win the World Series. Again.
Jessie Haas is a Vermont native, journalist and writer of award-winning children's books about horses and the people that love them. www.JessieHaas.com
Jason Kan is a Boston-based photographer and life-long Yankees fan; which makes nights-out on Landsdowne Street interesting. Check out his work at www.KanPhotography.com