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CCRRA Wants Penn State Fans to Stop Filling Recycling Bags with Non-Recyclable Trash

by on September 08, 2017 12:53 PM

The game day recycling program at Beaver Stadium has been a helpful effort to divert recyclables from the landfill, raise money for the Centre County United Way and serve as a model for other stadiums.

But not all fans seem to heed the relatively simple message that blue bags are for recyclables and clear bags are for non-recyclable trash.

Amy Schirf, education coordinator for the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority, said the blue recycling bags made available to tailgaters in the Beaver Stadium lots often arrive at the recycling processing facility contaminated with non-recyclables, and that was particularly noticeable after the season-opening game against Akron last Saturday.

"Most of the blue recycling bags from the PSU tailgate lots are filled with trash," Schirf said. "Many of the blue bags designated for recycling will also contain food, liquid, diapers, bags of dog feces, purses, bags, plastic wrap... really anything that people bring to the tailgates can be found in the recycling bags."

CCRRA staff find plenty of non-recyclables in the recycling bags from Beaver Stadium tailgate lots. Photo by Amy Schirf/CCRRA

Penn State's Office of Physical Plant implemented the recycling effort and is tasked with carrying it out on game days. Ryan McCaughey, OPP's grounds and equipment manager who oversees solid waste management, said his team works closely with CCRRA and has bags audited after every game. 

"We have found that blue bags are generally 85 percent recycling," he said.

In addition to the blue recycling bins found around the stadium and bins inside the stadium, OPP crews put up A-frames around the more than 100 acres of parking lots to dispense recycling and trash bags with information on what goes in which bag.

Penn State Athletics and OPP also have re-established the Student Tailgate Ambassadors group, formerly known as STATERS, which walks around to tailgates to distribute bags.

"This group is promoting the message of proper bag use and recycling encouragement to fans," said Jeff Nelson, associate athletic director for strategic communications.

He added that information on recycling is included twice in the game day guide sent to season ticket holders.

McCaughey said more can be done.

"There is only so much [OPP] can do," he said. "On football weekends we work for athletics and we believe there is more they can do to promote recycling. We average 20 percent diversion or less."

Schirf said that when the blue bags arrive at the processing facility, they are opened by hand and dumped on the processing floor. Material is lifted onto a sorting belt where employees pick out plastic, metal cans and glass bottles and trash is sent to the transfer station where it goes to the landfill.

"For each day we sort the blue bags, it pushes us back a day from our regular operations, causing employees to work the weekends [and] overtime hours to catch up," she explained.

In 2016, game days produced 353 tons of trash and 90 tons of recycling. McCaughey estimates about half of the recycling weight comes from glass bottles, which supposedly have been banned at tailgates since 2009. The total tonnage of recycling and trash increased from 2015.

About 70 percent of the waste collected comes from tailgates, McCaughey added.

Schirf wants fans to remember that the blue bags should only be used for empty plastic bottles, jugs and jars, empty metal cans and empty glass bottles.

Like McCaughey, she also would like to see Penn State Athletics do more to promote recycling on game days, including an informational message on the video boards inside the stadium.

"If we each did our part, it would make the lives of those sorting through the material so much easier and a lot less disgusting," she said.

A CCRRA employee pulls a handful of raw bacon from materials found in Beaver Stadium tailgate recycling bags. Photo by Amy Schirf/CCRRA.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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