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NERC in the News

Event Planners Hone Recycling Focus

Waste & Recycling News

Waste & Recycling News; September 27, 2010

By Amanda Smith-Teutsch

Getting people to recycle away from home is hard enough. But getting them to recycle at entertainment venues, festivals and sporting events has proven to be a challenge for organizers, even in communities where there are strong recycling programs in place.

“Each event is unique. The organizers often don’t have recycling as a priority, and the important part is to get them involved and to find a champion for recycling within the organization,” said Jake Wilson, Mecklenburg County (N.C.) director of Keep Mecklenburg Beautiful.

Last year, Wilson coordinated efforts to bring recycling to the Bank of America Stadium for tailgaters during the Carolina Panthers’ football season. Volunteers distributed special bags for cans and bottles emptied by the fans. By season’s end, fans had recycled 30.22 tons of bottles and cans outside the stadium and another 45.9 tons inside the stadium.

“It’s gotten to where, when we’re walking around with recycling bags, fans are looking for them and asking for more,” said Wilson.

This year, with preseason and one home game under the bridge, fans have recycled 6.19 tons in the parking lots and 12.95 inside the stadium.

“We’re very happy with the program, and we’re making a sustained effort to grow the program,” Wilson said. “All of the numbers for this year are up from last year.”

The goal of event recycling is not only to reduce waste in the event but also to reduce litter, especially for outdoor programs. In North Carolina, the state last year spent $17.5 million collecting waste, much of it recyclable, from roadsides and public spaces. Nationwide, Wilson said, that could be as much as $11 billion.

The metro area’s Speed Street USA event, which draws 4.4 million NASCAR fans to outdoor venues, has been nationally recognized for its efforts at recycling, and the county is now asking smaller events in downtown areas to recycle.

Elsewhere in the country, special event waste diversion is being targeted. The Northeast Recycling Council is finishing a three-year demonstration project, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England Resource Conservation Challenge grant. The project looks specifically at diverting food waste from special events, both through donations and through composting. NERC created a “best practices” document to help event planners increase food waste diversion, along with other plans that give tips on composting at special events, especially those held in rural areas.

The EPA also has online case studies of best practices and success stories for event recycling, pointing to required recycling under city law in Pittsburgh, Pa., and recycling at the State Fair in Delaware as examples of strong programs.

The strongest portions of the North Carolina program, said Wilson, are strong education initiatives, strong volunteer support for distribution of recycling bags and getting event organizers to plan for recycling.

“The public is getting to where they expect recycling to be at these festivals and events,” Wilson said.

To access NERC’s special event recycling and composting webpage visit http://nerc.org/special_events_recycling_and_composting.html. Information from the EPA can be found at www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/rogo/venues/events.htm.