Stadium sustainability: MU combats waste at football games


Seniors Emily Getzoff and Wendy Zhang pick up trash at a Roots and Shoots meeting outside of RBHS. photo by Devesh Kumar

Abby Kempf

Seniors Emily Getzoff and Wendy Zhang pick up trash at a Roots and Shoots meeting outside of RBHS. photo by Devesh Kumar
University of Missouri-Columbia football games are a hub of human activity, and often of human waste. The MU Sustainability Office is hosting an event to curb the amount of waste that ends up in landfills at both the Nov. 5 and Nov. 21 MU home football games. RBHS’s environmental group Roots and Shoots is teaming up with the office to stand at trash cans during the game and help patrons sort their waste from landfill trash, recyclables and compost.
Hannah Peterson, a graduate assistant at MU, is putting the event together for her graduate research project with the aid of her advisor, Dr. Mark Morgan.
“The goal of this project is to determine which method influences football fans best to sort their waste into recycling, compost and landfill,” Peterson said. “Methods include: grouped bins [by] recycling, compost, and landfill, grouped bins with messaging and grouped bins with messaging and a volunteer. Ultimately, we hope to be able to make suggestions to facility managers, or anyone that deals with waste bins, as to which method they should implement.”
Senior Luis Mendez, a member of Roots and Shoots, plans to attend both football events because he sees the importance of sorting through trash to ensure nothing is wasted.
“If we don’t properly place our trash in the right bins to begin with, it will lead to a lot of avoidable issues such as pollution and litter,” Mendez said. “Plus, with bins for compost, it will be “reusing” natural resources and the recycling for man-made items such as glass, which don’t belong in landfills.”
The president of Roots and Shoots at RBHS, senior Wendy Zhang, agrees with Mendez, citing the ill effects of ever-increasing landfills as motivation for the event.
It’s always been a goal to reduce our carbon footprint. Landfills are a huge source of man-made methane emissions, and a big part of it is due to organic matter anaerobically decomposing in them and making methane gas,” Zhang said. “Keeping organic matter like food scraps out of landfills is really important.”
Zhang, and fellow senior Emily Getzoff, were inspired to start up a Roots and Shoots club after Dr. Jane Goodall visited MU last year. Roots and Shoots is an international organization run by Dr. Goodall dedicated to humanitarian and environmental services.
“We do service projects around the community for different causes. Last year we sold plants and crafts made of recycled materials at our booth at the Earth Day celebration downtown and raised over $650 for the Jane Goodall institute,” Zhang said. “The money given to the [Jane Goodall Institute] was for protecting forests, chimpanzees and helping people in the Congo basin live sustainable livelihoods.”
Mendez decided to join Roots and Shoots because his love and concern for the environment. He enjoys doing hands-on work, like cleaning up around the school.
“I joined roots and shoots to be surrounded by others who are equally passionate about helping our environment in any way a group of high schoolers can, Mendez said. “When the weather was warmer, we would split up into teams and go around RBHS and pick up as much trash/litter as we could. We would go to the bleachers on the football field, along the road to Panera, near the Career Center and Bethel Park. Now, we are currently planning activities to do now that the weather is getting colder.”
While Zhang is passionate about cleaning up the environment, she also knows the importance of larger scale restorative practices. She has an array of tips for anyone who wishes to help the planet and combat different issues such as global warming and food waste.
“Definitely recycle on a daily basis. Creating a bin or something at home is easy, since the weekly trash pickup will also take your recycling bags. And then the stuff, like turning off lights when you leave the room and insulating your home so you won’t have to use as much energy. A good tip is to turn the heat down before you leave the house in the morning if you’re not going to be home all day. It may seem small but if a lot of people do it then it becomes significant,” Zhang said. “Eating locally produced and organic foods also helps. A lot of greenhouse gas emissions come from transporting food and many fertilizers are fossil fuel-based. Going vegan [helps,] since raising cows is actually horribly wasteful.”
Tackling monumental issues such as animal agriculture are on Zhang’s agenda, but she also focuses on events like Peterson’s that help to educate the public on how small decisions like throwing a recyclable into a trash bag are so destructive.
“Currently, the annual recycling rate in the United States is a little over 30 percent, meaning that we still have much to improve on. Unfortunately, landfills don’t have the time or staff to sort through every bag of trash that they receive, meaning that tons of recyclables end up there everyday,” Peterson said. “If we can sort those things out before they get to the landfill, we will not only reduce the amount of trash, but also reduce the amount of raw materials used to make new things (recycling), and giving nutrients back to the earth (composting).”
Peterson and her team encourage anyone who is interested to volunteer at one or both of the football games. Volunteers receive free admission to the game and will be trained on how to help fans sort their waste. Anyone interested should contact the Sustainability office at MU.

“Anybody can volunteer if they are interested,” Peterson said.