The Harvard Business School Student Sustainability Associates (SSAs) use a combination of lecture and activity to raise awareness across campus about waste reduction. The goal is to stimulate both sides of the brain while teaching the student body about the best way to deal with their waste.

This year the SSAs included a new activity called "The Garbage Games." The Garbage Games pitted all ten first-year HBS sections against each other in a timed challenge to collect and separate waste items. The informational presentation, game instructions and guide, and presented below.

Step by step instructions:

1. Conduct in-section presentation on waste awareness and The Garbage Games

Immediately after class on a day that worked for each section’s schedule, the SSA for each section presented a brief presentation on sustainability at HBS, proper recycling, composting, and garbage sorting, and a preview of The Garbage Games. The presentation ran 10-15 minutes.

2. Reserve a space for the game to be held (e.g. Shad basketball court)

Reach out to Shad Fitness staff to identify a good space for the exercise. It is important to consider any room reservation restrictions when scheduling a date and time for your event. For example, at HBS rooms cannot be reserved before 3:30 pm on any weekday. 

3. Advertise event

Request posting of the event on digital events calendars (e.g. MBA Events Calendar, Energy & Environment Club newsletter, Student Association newsletter) at least a week in advance—submissions can take several business days to be approved. It is also recommended to meet with the other SSAs to ensure all are familiar with the game rules in order to promote to classmates.

4. Collect the “Garbage” items

A variety of waste items were collected to increase the challenge of the game. The number of items collected was proportional to the quota set for each team to collect during the game (see game rules for quota figures) plus a buffer of a few additional items to ensure all teams could collect enough. All items were unused or cleaned. The SSAs used decorative, fake fruit to symbolize organic waste/compostable food scraps.

Example waste list

Trash – 6 each

  • Plastic utensils
  • Wrappers
  • Plastic bags
  • Single serve packets
  • Straws

Recycling – 8-10 each

  • Coffee cups
  • Plastic clamshell containers
  • Soup cups
  • Cup and bowl lids
  • Newspapers
  • Plastic bottles
  • Cans
  • Cardboard boxes

Compost – 10 each

  • Napkins
  • Greenware cups
  • Compostable clamshell containers
  • Paper towels
  • Food (simulated with fake fruit)
  • Coffee stirrers
  • Tea bags


5. Host the Garbage Games

Set up the bins and the trash prior to the start time. Present the rules (see below) to the group, set up the groups next to the bins to start, and then let the games begin. Be sure to have the SSA for each section time their team and capture the finish time. Points were given both for placement ranking in the Garbage Games and combined participation between the in-section presentation and the Garbage Games.

Garbage Game Rules


  • Each section has a team of “tributes” (10 teams total)
  • Target team size is 3-6 tributes, but can be more or less


The Garbage Games were played on an indoor basketball court.

  • Each section has a designated station with 3 bins
  • Stations are positioned around the outer perimeter of the court (equidistant from the center)
  • The bins are labeled: recycling, compost, and trash
  • Teams are given two belts with two detachable flags each flags (flag football flags)
  • A large pile of waste items are scattered at the center of the court, forming a “cornucopia”
  • Each section’s SSA is designated as the auditor of properly sorted items and timekeeper during gameplay

Game Play

  • Two team members are in play at a time and each wear the flag football flags on their waist
  • The other members of the team will stay at the team’s station
  • At the whistle, the teams of two will run into the center of the court to collect items from the cornucopia
  • Players will attempt to bring various waste items from the center back to their station and place in the appropriate bins
  • Teams will need to collect a total of 13 items in recycling, 5 items in trash, and 2 items in compost
  • While players are running to collect items from the center, their flags can be pulled by other section teams
  • If both flags are pulled off, the player must drop whatever items he/she is holding, collect the pulled flags, and return to the section’s station
  • The player then gives the flag belt to a teammate, who is now in play and can continue to collect and sort items for the team
  • Items that are placed into the bins by a player whose flags have been pulled are to be removed by the SSA


  • A team will be finished when the SSA has counted that each bin contains the designated number of items
  • Once the team meets the quota for each bin, the SSA should stop the game clock and record the finish time
  • The game will continue until all 10 teams have finished


  • To increase the duration of the games, you may want to limit the number of items that someone can carry at a time
  • To increase the number of people cycling in and out, you may want to only have each tribute wearing one flag instead of two.


Who to contact, partner with, etc:

The SSAs worked with the student intramural sports rep to gain access to the flag football flags. Operations was able to supply bins to be used for the waste sorting.