As difficult as it is to believe, less than a decade ago recycling didn’t exist at Oriole Park.
When we began our recycling efforts it was a slow process of trial and error.
Eventually we picked up momentum until we arrived at the frenetic pace we have today.
The results of these efforts have been startling.
Each year our recycling numbers, in terms of volume and percentage, have gone up dramatically.
At this point, we can confidently say Oriole Park is one of the industry leaders in recycling among Major League Baseball stadiums.
In many ways recycling is now internalized and automatic — it’s who we are and how we operate.
For those of you trying to initiate a recycling program or wanting to grow or re-energize your venue’s current recycling efforts, here are a few tips that we learned firsthand from experience.
A large public venue can be likened to an ant colony with many people and groups doing their part to make it all work.
Unlike an ant colony, however, recycling is doomed to mediocrity at best if it becomes the responsibility of just one department, such as housekeeping or facilities.
To succeed, all stakeholders must not only buy into the program, but they must also participate in the effort in a manner that conveys a clear message to the entire organization that recycling is a common goal.
One of the best ways to demonstrate this commitment is for your facility to form a green/recycling committee.
A representative from every department — food service, security, parking, facilities, housekeeping, etc. — should serve on the committee.
If your building is a sports facility, including a representative of the prime tenant — the team — is also a must.
The committee’s main purpose is to set and review goals and to ascertain that every department is actively participating in recycling.
You’ll be amazed how quickly your best practices and recycling results will improve once you get participation from a wide array of departments, all of whom contribute their unique experiences and expertise.
Treat Your Guests Like Guests
In our business we usually do a good job of putting the customer’s needs first, always looking for ways to improve their satisfaction level on every visit to our facility.
However, when it comes to recycling, the usual approach is to place most of the recycling burden on the guest.
Sure, we place recycling bins in public areas, and we recycle internally in the back of the house.
But how does this make life easier for our customers?
Ask yourself this: “What is being done for customers who don’t know where your recycling bins are or, if they do, simply don’t care to make the effort to recycle in your facility?”
The phrase, “Don’t put your eggs in one basket,” doesn’t just apply to eggs or investing.
It applies to recycling as well.
Although customer participation is an important element to the success of your program, and most of your venue visitors want to do the right thing, having a plan B is a must.
At Oriole Park we designate a crew to go through the seating bowl at the end of every event.
Their job is to sort out and collect the recyclables left by the fans in order to prevent them from being thrown away by the post-game cleaning crew.
We also send a crew into the parking lots to pick up recyclables left by the tailgaters before the general lots are swept clean.
Without such extra efforts our recycling numbers wouldn’t begin to approach the levels they’re at now.
If your public facility only recycles the standard items — aluminum cans, white paper, cardboard, glass, etc. — you are officially behind the times.
If you want to take your recycling program to the next level, composting is a must.
Once you begin composting you’ll see a drastic rise in your diversion rate.
Unfortunately, composting isn’t without its initial headaches.
Depending on your geographic location, regulatory and hauling hurdles may present major obstacles.
And you can’t go it alone.
If you want to compost properly and efficiently, getting your food service provider on board is an absolute must.
You will likely incur upfront costs in hauling the recycling.
Such costs will average out in the long term as you spend less money to haul waste.
If composting sounds daunting or confusing, reach out to other public venues that already compost.
You’ll find that most of them will be happy to share their success stories and their best practices, which will make your job easier.
When we started experimenting with composting in the back of the house (kitchen) we saw an immediate rise of 33 percent in our annual recyclable tonnage, a substantial step towards our ultimate goal of zero waste.
Lest you need reminding, composting is no longer a recycling need, but a must.
Attitude Is Everything
When we say attitude is everything, we mean more than just having a positive attitude towards recycling, although that is also essential.
Our attitude at Oriole Park is that everything is recyclable.
To be successful it is imperative to look beyond the old dynamics of traditional waste vs. traditional recyclables.
In everything we do, no matter how unique the material, our attitude is, “There must be a way to recycle the byproduct.”
This attitude bleeds over not only onto our staff but our service partners and contractors as well.
We even impart that philosophy to the outside groups that rent our facility for events.
To ensure that we share a common goal, we require all third parties that schedule events in our facility and on our property to submit a recycling plan before the event is accepted.
We also expect all the contractors that are involved in our construction projects to provide us with documented evidence that demonstrates they share the same attitude we have when it comes to recycling.
Take an honest look at your venue and ask, “What does our attitude say about us?”
Then ask this follow up question, “What can we do to improve our collective attitude on recycling?”
Say No To Static
If you are stuck in mediocrity and can’t quite seem to improve your facility’s diversion rate, then it’s clearly time to think outside the box.
Recycling bins are a main component to any public facility’s recycling efforts.
Most public facilities will do their best to obtain the proper style bin for the job, strategically locate sufficient bins to handle expected capacity and then empty them before they overflow.
You can sum up this process in one word: Boring.
We conducted a study this summer at Oriole Park that showed not only are static recycling bins underutilized, but customers often mistake them for trash bins which they contaminate by depositing non-recyclable items in them.
We found that approximately half of our customers were misusing the bins.
The study was an eye opener and forced us to ask, “Why was this happening?”
After several experiments and more observations we concluded that crowds in a public venue are rarely static.
They are constantly moving around between the time they enter and the time they exit the venue, using your restrooms, concession stands, etc.
If your customers aren’t static, why should your recycling cans be?
We tried a simple experiment by moving our recycling bins to mirror the pattern of our fans’ movement.
For example, just before the end of the game we repositioned several recycling cans from their normal location to one in front of the exits.
After we did this, we noticed that not only did our recycling bins get more use, but interestingly, we found that by pairing up the bins to match our fans habits the rate of comingling trash with recycling dropped a whopping 90 percent.
The lesson learned?
If your crowd won’t come to your recycling efforts, take your recycling efforts to them.
Matthew Kastel is a 25 year veteran of professional sports, is currently the manager of baseball operations and events at the Maryland Stadium Authority and serves on the Board of Visitors at Mount St. Mary's University. Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA and minor league baseball team owner. He is currently a Professor of Sport Management at SUNY Cortland.