When you think of football games, “sustainable” is not a word that immediately comes to mind. From the overuse of plastic cups and silverware to the thousands of gallons of water required to keep the grass field healthy, football games are inherently wasteful.
In an effort to change that, some college campuses aim to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. The USC football team will participate in the annual Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge this Saturday when they face Arizona State at the Coliseum.
The eco-friendly challenge was launched in 2011 when the Pac-12 campuses joined the Green Sports Alliance. Since 2012, each campus has participated in one “Zero Waste” basketball and one “Zero Waste” football game per year. The Pac-12 encourages universities to practice sustainability alongside concessionaires, merchandise vendors, haulers, campus departments, manufacturers, sponsors and service providers.
Each university submits a scorecard to the Pac-12 committee that grades on partnerships, waste diversion and innovation. Last year, USC won the challenge for the third time with a 90% diversion rate and “over five tons in recycling and over three tons in compost.” Diversion rate refers to the amount of waste not sent to the landfill.
Leading up to the 2021 football game against Oregon State, USC established a “Green Week” during which the campus hosted sustainability events within various student organizations. Students, researchers and staff helped USC win the overall award.
“Staying away from single-use plastics is a big way that students can help achieve the goal of being more sustainable on game day,” said Charlie Doering-Powell, a member of the USC Environmental Student Assembly.
However, Doering-Powell would like to see events like this more frequently.
“The fact that there’s only one [football game] is a little disheartening but it is a step in the right direction,” Doering-Powell said. “I would love to see these practices implemented at every single game.”
Kaya Croft, a sophomore studying aerospace engineering, agreed. Croft wasn’t aware that the Zero Waste game was this Saturday, but knew of the concept from advertisements at previous games.
“It’s a really good effort,” Croft said. “I think it’s a feat to have a football game achieve zero waste, but ideally, this should happen at more than one game.”
However, Croft has concerns.
“I think most people don’t put in as much effort over a longer period of time as they do when there’s a specific event,” she said. “If we tried to do it more often, it might become a pattern that nobody really wants to adhere to.”
USC Trojan quarterback Miller Moss said he was unaware that the game this weekend is focused on sustainability, yet he thinks it’s “super positive and supports a great cause.”
Moss elaborated on the team’s effort to be more eco-friendly and agreed that there is more work to be done.
“We stopped using plastic entirely in our facility this year,” Moss said. “I think to better support this movement, the biggest issue is awareness. If more players on our team or student athletes in general were more informed about this, much more positive change would be affected.”
Saturday’s Zero Waste game kicks off USC’s Green Week, from October 3-7 this year.