Each day, the United State generates a little under 1 million tons of waste, according to a report last year from the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF). Based on 2013 waste data, EREF estimated the U.S. recycles 21 percent of its discards, composts 6 percent and sends 9 percent to energy recovery, meaning the country incinerates or buries around 222 million tons of material annually.
Clearly, Americans need fresh pathways to keep materials out of the waste stream. And despite lacking sexy, high-tech appeal, there is one solution that can hit a grand slam when it comes to recovering a high percentage of recyclables: manual sortation at the hundreds of major sporting and entertainment events that take place around the U.S. daily.
Just ask facilities managers at Fenway Park, the historic home of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox. The team has been pushing into exciting territory on the waste issue since the summer of 2016 with its concessions partner Aramark Corporation as well as with Waste Management, the exclusive hauler for the Boston Red Sox, and G Force Waste Sorters. Together, these entities have worked to establish a system that employs sorting staff to separate recoverable materials from trash during stadium cleanup after select games and concerts held at Fenway.
Through the nine sorts that have occurred so far, the collaborators have sorted 31,057 pounds of trash and recovered 17,402 pounds for recycling and composting to yield a 56 percent overall landfill waste diversion rate for the sorted stream. The procedure has become increasingly efficient over time, and the approach can serve as a template for other venues around the country.
Eclipsing 75 percent diversion
To push forward the waste diversion program at Fenway Park, select games and concerts have been chosen over the last year to serve as pilot efforts. These pilot project sorts have allowed stakeholders to learn how to deal with logistical challenges, such as limited sorting space, complicated loading docking access, weather-related issues and coordinating needs when multiple events occur at the park simultaneously.
Not surprisingly, improvements have been implemented along the way, and one recent sort achieved a 76 percent landfill diversion rate for materials generated by event attendees. Jonathan Lister, senior director of Fenway Park Facilities Management and board member for G Force Waste Sorters, encapsulates the enthusiasm of all partners involved: “This is an All-Star team and post-game waste sorting is the MVP.”
How exactly does the operation unfold on days when the waste-sort team is deployed?
After the mass exodus from Fenway of roughly 40,000 fans, a massive cleanup project ensues. Aramark heads the army of permanent and temporary staff who work through the night to restore the venue to a clean condition. On the waste front, loads of collected trash are weighed and then dumped in a designated sorting area managed by G Force Waste Sorters.
Four to six sorters are assigned to six-foot-long tables and have multiple carts behind them for separating materials. Once carts are filled, sorters log the weight and material type of each cart and then proceed to the loading dock to empty the cart into the correct compactor. Around 20 sorters repeat this procedure throughout the evening, filling hundreds of carts until all trash is sorted. Clearly, it’s a tedious effort, but it has helped highlight just how much work it takes to ensure proper diversion of materials within a large event setting. And the process has the potential for big payoffs.
Venues like Fenway can easily accumulate 10 tons of trash alone in just a few hours. A rough calculation by G Force Waste Sorters has determined that if all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums across the country were able to divert 76 percent of their fan-generated waste for all their games, more than 18,000 tons of recyclable and organic material would be recovered annually.