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Waste Not
How to Win Big with a Recycling Challenge

Last year, we set the record for World’s Largest College Recycling Event; but we didn’t want this to be a one-time win. So this year, we’ve recruited new partners to heighten the competition and increase the impact.

Sporting event attendees generate about 39 million pounds of trash every year in the US, based on US Environmental Protection Agency data. That’s a lot of waste — but it’s also a ton of potential for engaging huge crowds in recycling and reuse.

Eastman has done this successfully; and we see the potential for your brand to do the same. The results include, first and foremost, a win for environmental sustainability — while helping build awareness and reputational benefits for your brand.

First, let’s look at the replay

Eastman is headquartered in East Tennessee, home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. (We love our Vols!) Partnership with the university has been an important channel for Eastman to engage local communities in environmental sustainability initiatives. Since 1993, in fact, Eastman and supporting partners have called on Vols fans to participate in our Good Sports Always Give Back program by depositing plastic cups and bottles in the orange recycling bins located throughout Neyland Stadium.

During the 2022 football season, we issued an epic challenge to Vols fans and Neyland Stadium vendors: We called on them to recycle every piece of plastic, aluminum and paper product (plus behind-the-scenes boxes and pallets) used on campus during a single game day.

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Together with more than 100,000 Vols fans, we set the record for World’s Largest College Recycling Event. Over one great day of football, we collected more than 38,450 pounds of waste. Eastman and other local partners then turned that waste back into valuable, useful materials through both mechanical and molecular recycling technologies. The total weight also included food that was donated to local food banks or composted.

New season, new strategy

We didn’t want this to be a one-time win for recycling — so this year, we’ve recruited new partners to heighten the competition and increase the impact. Vols fans at Neyland Stadium will compete against University of Michigan fans at The Big House to see who can recycle the most waste on one game day this fall.

How can your brand get in the game?

Whether your venue is a high school track meet, a college football showdown or a sold-out professional basketball game, you can launch your own recycling challenge that drives results.

How do you get a recycling challenge up and running? Based on our own experiences, we recommend this game plan for brands that are ready to give recycling a sporting chance.

The game plan

First, identify partners with diverse capabilities, resources and communication channels. Sports teams (including competitors) and their venue managers are a good starting point. Consider whether to invite sustainability leaders at partner (or even competitor) brands to join you, especially if they have local facilities or standing team/venue sponsorships. Continue building your team with …

  • Waste management and recycling companies

  • Producers of plastics and other recyclable materials

  • Local municipalities, community leaders and local event leaders

  • Sustainability offices at nearby colleges and universities or relevant nonprofits

  • A record-setting company

Once you’ve identified partners, host introductory conversations to describe what you want to do and cast the vision for why this is important. This is the time to define hurdles that need to be cleared and brainstorm how you can work together so that each partner (even competitors) can benefit.

Next, it’s time to build a simple, streamlined plan for execution. Leverage the resources and expertise of each partner to determine what materials you can and will recycle, reuse and donate. Learn what recycling infrastructure is in place — or, on the other hand, what needs to be in place — to recycle those materials. Plan ahead for how you will track and report on results.

Bring in the volunteers! Volunteers will help make the challenge possible. Plus, this is a great way to put your brand in front of new audiences. To find volunteers, tap into your partners’ existing volunteer bases and call on other key audiences for each partner. Be sure to get event vendors involved, too — empower them to champion this cause.

Issue the challenge before and during the event. As a companion to the execution plan, you need a promotional plan that makes use of each partner’s media channels. Consider local news and radio, websites, onsite signage, video, social channels, etc. Spread your reach by using hashtags that are already popular for the sports teams, brands and colleges involved. Use video to capture the action and excitement before and during the event.

Enjoy the big day! There’s not much to say about this step, except to carry out your agreed-upon role — and have fun watching the crowd participate.

The challenge doesn’t end on game day. As partners transport, sort and recycle or reuse the waste that was collected, your role is to keep engaging fans and your key audiences by telling the story. In addition to more general messaging, don’t forget to communicate the outcomes to volunteers, partners, your own employees and the venue. Keep talking about it on your social media, using the same hashtags. Feature additional videos that capture the why behind the challenge, report your results and clearly explain the record you set.

Last but not least, leverage the momentum over time. See if you can beat your recycling record again next year or issue a challenge to your “cross-town rival.” Doing this more than once will help cement the public’s association of your brand with successful recycling initiatives and community involvement.

Ready to get started?

The new football season has already kicked off, but it’s never too late to find new ways to turn waste into potential. Visit info.eastman.com/HowToWinBig to learn more about the insights we’ve learned through Good Sports Always Give Back — and get inspired about what you can do!

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