Hunter Scully has two passions: University of Georgia sports and sustainability.
After arriving on campus as a graduate student and attending a few games, it got him thinking: Is there a way to help sporting events on campus generate less waste? Scully, a Master of Natural Resources student in the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, connected with UGA’s Office of Sustainability and found a way to combine his passions into one ambitious project: A weekend without waste from a game going to the landfill.
“I have an interest in large-scale events and I’m a sports fan, so it makes sense to look at what can be done on a large scale at UGA venues,” he said. “Over the last six to eight months we’ve made some great strides highlighting what UGA Athletics is doing that’s working, improving what they’re doing and trying new things.”
All this work is culminating in a special event April 20-22, Journey to Zero Waste Weekend at Foley Field. During UGA’s three-game series against the Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team, everything at the baseball stadium will be diverted from the landfill. All cups and plates will be composted, recycling will be available for bottles and cans, and Scully and others will be on hand to explain to fans the benefits of these efforts.
The project is supported by a grant from the UGA Office of Sustainability and incorporates a team of undergraduate students completing the Sustainability Certificate through this project-based experience. Students are planning a variety of aspects, including grant-writing, purchasing and finance, outreach and education, and the logistics behind composting and recycling.
And that kind of support is necessary for a project of this scale, Scully said. While the idea of using compostable cups and plates, for example, may sound like a simple switch, issues like branding come into play. The team is also coordinating with Athens-Clarke County to haul items to its commercial composting and recycling facilities, as well as working with staff at the stadium to train employees.
“It’s been a little bit of a challenge; we’ve been working with a couple companies that, for example, make the compostable versions of the Coca-Cola cups you’re used to seeing—it just has a green stripe on it,” added Scully. “Little things like that, but across all the concession stand items and premium areas. Our aim is to divert all of the waste from the landfill for those three games.”
Even making a change at one series of baseball games could have a positive effect, said Scully. Waste generated at sporting events is a national issue, with some venues making great strides at reducing it. In Atlanta, for example, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena are two of the country’s best examples of sustainability. In particular, Mercedes-Benz is the first professional sporting venue to achieve LEED Platinum certification and has a goal to divert 90% or more of all its waste from the landfill.
At the collegiate level, sporting events struggle more with sustainability. Among UGA’s peers in the SEC, the highest diversion rate, according to Scully’s research, has been about 66% but that number has likely gotten lower since the pandemic and venues moved to single-use items.
But even so, UGA’s diversion rate for football games is the among lowest in the SEC, between 2% and 5%.
“It’s very low—lower than our peer universities, even,” he added. “But this is also an opportunity. It gives us a chance to be No. 1 both on and off the field, in a sense.”
But making a conversion to zero waste isn’t something that can happen overnight, which is why Scully wanted to start with Foley Field. There is one concession stand, the crowd is a manageable size and Journey to Zero Waste Weekend aligns with Earth Week. Fan education is part of the process too, and if the weekend at Foley Field is successful, the effort could expand to other team sports.
Eventually—maybe—this kind of effort could take place at Sanford Stadium for football games. But it would take time, resources and fan education, said Scully. Although the idea for Journey to Zero Waste Weekend came to him during football games, as he walked with local Scouts who collect bottles and cans for recycling during the third quarter.
While that effort may pale in comparison to the amount of trash generated by 90,000 fans, Journey to Zero Waste Weekend at Foley Field could provide an opening for more sustainability in the future. “It’s a way to demonstrate that, with not a ton of effort and maybe not as much investment in product as you may think, we can make a huge difference in the diversion rate, for, say, every baseball game,” he added.