The Undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program (REP) and student volunteers partner with Harvard Athletics to set up extensive recycling and waste reduction infrastructure during football games.  As part of this effort, the student volunteers hand out trash and recycling bags to each individual tailgate, and they are picked up from the tailgates after the game. In addition, over 200 recycling and waste containers are provided throughout the grounds. Videos shown on the jumbotron in the stadium encourage attendees to recycle and reduce waste.

The first year our students did the recycling outreach at tailgates, we tried handing out the trash and recycling bags to cars as they came into the gate, but it didn’t work because a) the folks in cars often were in a rush to find out what they needed to do and where to park, so they weren’t listening when they received the bags and as a result, the bags often were left in the cars; and b) people who were parking, but not tailgating, were also receiving bags they didn’t use, which was a waste. The current system that includes walking around and handing out the bags gives us the relaxed environment to engage people in a conversation about what they need to do, as well as respond to individual questions about recycling.

Three key lessons learned by our team:

  • Provide tailgaters with simple instructions: Leave it on the ground and the grounds crew will pick it up after the game.
  • Frame as a favor to the tailgaters: “To make it easier for you to clean up, here are free trash and recycling bags.”
  • Repetition is key! Frequent tailgaters start to expect you when your presence is constant and ongoing. 

Since the initiative was first implemented in 2008, recycling at football games has increased from 2% to 30%. In 2012, during the Harvard/Yale game 120 cubic yards of recyclables were gathered which also translates to over 24,000 gallons of recyclables.

In addition, composting is put in place during all large functions on Athletics grounds, like graduation and team dinners, but also including Freshman Parent’s weekend and alumnae weekend luncheons that occur during football game days.