As concerns over bulging landfills abound, a diverse and growing group of innovators across the country are looking for new ways to transform trash into something less wasteful.
The Minnesota Twins and Eco-Products, for example, recently partnered to reduce the waste generated at Target Field through a new effort to divert fans' trash from the landfill by turning it into fertile soil.
Eco-Products, which makes single use foodservice products made from renewable and recycled resources, is supplying hundreds of thousands of compostable cups, plates, trays, utensils and straws at Target Field. Virtually all packaging used at Target Field will be either compostable or recyclable, the company says.
Much of the packaging used in the ballpark relies on a material called Ingeo™, a compostable resin made by a company called NatureWorks headquartered a short distance from Target Field in Minnetonka, MN.
While plastic bottles and aluminum will still be recycled, all other concessions-related products can be composted at Target Field, Eco-Products says. That includes beer cups, soft drink cups, coffee cups, plates, trays, spoons, knives, forks, lids and straws.
The effort is designed to simplify things for fans — all plates, utensils and trays can go into the same compostable bin, along with any leftover food.
The new partnership aims to help the Twins surpass the 73 percent waste diversion rate it achieved in 2014. A key part of the effort involves special bins around the stadium, making it easy for fans to toss out the compostable packaging and leftover food, according to Eco-Products.
The environmental initiative could also be good for concession sales. A national survey found one in five Americans would buy more beer, soft drinks and nachos at a stadium if they learned that all of the trash left behind was recycled or composted.
Communication to fans about where to put their items after use is a crucial to making an effort like this work, Eco-Products says. All of the compostable products at the ballpark have either been specially branded for Target Field, or feature Eco-Products artwork that shows consumers how these products are different.
The Twins aren’t the only team working to become more sustainable. Last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks partnered with the city of Phoenix, Republic Services and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick to host Arizona’s first zero-waste Spring Training event as part of an effort to bring awareness to recycling and composting. The one-day event challenged fans to recycle or compost the solid and food wastes they generate during the game instead of sending them to the landfill.
Even the nation’s schools are finding creative ways to divert waste. The Urban School Food Alliance, a coalition of the largest school districts in the United States that includes New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando, recently announced that it will start rolling out the use of compostable round plates at cafeterias this month, eliminating wasteful polystyrene trays. Food and nutrition directors in the Alliance specified the round shape to allow students to eat their food off of plates like they do at home, replacing the institutional rectangular lunch tray.
Schools across America use polystyrene trays because they cost less than compostable ones, the Alliance says. Polystyrene trays average about $0.04 apiece, compared to its compostable counterpart, which averages about $0.12 cents each.
Given the extremely tight budgets in school meal programs, affording compostable plates seemed impossible until the Urban School Food Alliance districts used their collective purchasing power to innovate a compostable round plate for schools at an affordable cost of $0.049 each.
The molded fiber compostable round plate is produced from pre-consumer recycled newsprint, the Alliance says. It is FDA-approved and manufactured in Maine by Huhtamaki North America. The Alliance round plate has five compartments, with the beverage compartment strategically placed in the middle to balance the weight of a typical meal.
In Arizona, one of the state’s largest school districts, Paradise Valley Unified School District (PV Schools), which generates nearly 1,500 tons of waste per year, is finding new uses for trash through a partnership with the Mayo Clinic of Arizona, the City of Phoenix and the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN) — a program operated by Arizona State University’s (ASU) Sustainability Solutions Services. Sustainability students from Paradise Valley schools completed an assessment on the district’s current waste strategies, finding opportunities for improvement and for educating their peers.