UI competes in national recycle challenge, works to separate waste at Hawkeye football games

As the football season kicks off, student volunteers outside Kinnick Stadium supervise recycling bins and help Hawkeye fans separate recyclables from waste.


David Harmantas

Fans walk past empty beer cans and cups as they enter Kinnick Stadium before a football game against Iowa State University on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Reporter

Emptying beer cans onto the pavement, reaching into recycling bins to remove napkins that belong in the trash, and crushing plastic bottles to make room for more are only some examples of what the Kinnick Goes Green volunteers partake in prior to Hawkeye games.

In efforts to decontaminate the University of Iowa’s recycling, organizations and individuals across campus gather on game day to direct Hawkeye fans toward the correct waste bins for their recycling and garbage as they enter the stadium.

UI Sustainability Office recycling coordinator Beth MacKenzie said if nonrecyclable items, such as glass or compost, get into the recycling, the facility would reject the recycling load. The business would instead throw it all in the trash, she said, defeating the UI’s goal.

An average of 15 to 30 students volunteer their time at home games, checking that drinks and discarded pizza boxes are indeed empty before tossing them in the recycling bins.

“I think fans really enjoy it and have even come to expect it,” MacKenzie said. “Volunteers are outside about two hours before kickoff, separating tailgaters’ recycling and waste. Before going into the game themselves, they clean up litter surrounding their stations.”

The UI is one of many schools participating in a nationwide Game Day Challenge, which is dedicated to increasing recycling and cleanup at college football games. Last year, Sustainability at Iowa calculated an average recycling diversion rate of 34 percent.

“We gather data to see how much we are recycling,” MacKenzie said. “If it’s hot, we recycle a lot of plastic bottles. If it’s cold, we recycle hot-chocolate cups. We’ve had up to 60 percent diversion rates in those cases.”

Volunteers come from a range of backgrounds, including Dance Marathon, the Environmental Coalition, Associated Residence Halls, UI Student Government, and individuals simply interested in serving the community. MacKenzie said the Delta Tau Delta fraternity has been involved in game-day recycling for a long time, providing 10 to 15 volunteers at every game.

For many, this means sacrificing tailgating to instead sort through tailgaters’ waste. UISG Vice President Heath Schintler, a Delta Tau Delta member, said the waste includes items fans didn’t realize were prohibited, such as high-quality purses, coolers, and umbrellas.

“The system we use has been telling us for nearly three years now [that] our recycling is too contaminated with trash,” Facilities Management Assistant Director Dave Jackson said. “Having the volunteers present to separate the two is a good reminder for fans.”

Because recycling bins are present throughout campus, the Sustainability Office believes they should also be present at campus events. Jackson said the university’s goal is to reach 40 percent waste diversion by 2020.

One issue volunteers have is when bins fill up too quickly. The university only has a certain number of recycling bins available, so after a certain point, volunteers and fans have to throw recyclables in the trash.

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