Home Run For Organics Recycling

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been diverting food waste from all areas of PNC Park to composting since 2009. The Boston Red Sox initiated a program in 2011, starting with restaurants in Fenway Park.

Nora Goldstein
BioCycle July 2013, Vol. 54, No. 7, p. 27

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In early January of 2009, AgRecycle, Inc., a source separated organics composting company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, received a phone call from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The major league baseball franchise was interested in initiating a composting program. “I remember the call vividly, as I grew up in Pittsburgh and started going to Pirates games when I was very young,” says Carla Castagnero, president of AgRecycle. “The person on the phone said, ‘We would like to compost. Can you help us do that?’ I said yes immediately, and we set up a meeting at the ballpark.”

Since AgRecycle began servicing the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009, PNC Park’s use of compostable products has increased significantly, including at the concession stands.

Since AgRecycle began servicing the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009, PNC Park’s use of compostable products has increased significantly, including at the concession stands. Photo by David Arrigo, courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates

The meeting was with Sissy Burkhart, Cleaning Operations Manager in the contract services division of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and her boss, Jeff Podobnik, Senior Director of Security and Contract Services. “Within five minutes of sitting down, I recognized that this meeting was much different from the ones I typically have with corporations that are interested in initiating composting programs. Usually they want to do it because composting is philosphically a good thing to do and it meshes with their sustainability goals,” continues Castagnero. “It usually takes several meetings to evolve from a conceptual idea to an action plan. That was not the case with the Pirates. They were serious and jumped directly into discussing the operational details of the program, not the philosophy. They wanted to know how to get it done.”

This let’s do it attitude came directly from the top of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, according to Burkhart. “When Bob Nutting became Chairman of the Pirates in 2007, he took a deep dive into the organization to find areas where we had to improve in both baseball and business. Bob has a great appreciation for the environment and the positive impact that implementing greening initiatives at PNC Park and in his other businesses could have in helping preserve it.”

Sissy Burkhart (inset), Cleaning Operations Manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, coordinates the organics diversion program within the ballpark.

Sissy Burkhart (inset), Cleaning Operations Manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, coordinates the organics diversion program within the ballpark. Photo by David Arrigo, courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates

The program was branded “Let’s Go Bucs. Let’s Go Green,” and was rolled out in 2008. It focuses on three key elements — recycling, conservation and awareness. In its first year, the Pirates achieved a 28 percent diversion rate. By 2012, that had risen to 64.5 percent. “I’ve been told their goal, after a sold out game of approximately 40,000 fans, is to generate no more than 20 50-gallon bags of true trash,” notes Castagnero. “They aren’t there yet, but they are definitely moving in that direction. For example, in 2012, we collected 646.7 tons from PNC Park comprised of food scraps and compostable items, up from 130.7 tons in 2009. This season — and this is only the half-way point — we’ve already collected 453.1 tons.”

In March, Nutting was honored by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for his leadership in the sports industry’s movement to adopt sustainable business practices, both with the Pirates and the Nutting family-owned Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Ogden Newspapers publishing company. NRDC has been a key player in the greening of professional and college sports venues (see accompanying article). “Bob is one of the pioneers in the professional sports greening movement that has made sustainability the rule rather than the exception,” said NRDC President Frances Beinecke at the NRDC Game Changer Awards Gala where Nutting was honored. “Bob and the Pirates are on the forefront in leading a cultural shift toward environmental responsibility in sport.”

Rolling Out Organics Diversion

During contract negotiations, Castagnero explained to the Pirates organization that AgRecycle’s composting permit only allows it to take source separated organic waste streams therefore no recyclables and trash are allowed. “From day one, to the middle of our fifth year with the Pirates, they have only ever given us a clean stream,” she notes.

Food waste and compostables are collected in smaller carts and then emptied into 2 cubic yard containers that are set out in a cul de sac near the right field gate.

Food waste and compostables are collected in smaller carts and then emptied into 2 cubic yard containers that are set out in a cul de sac near the right field gate. Photo by David Arrigo, courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates

In the first year of the food waste diversion program, which got underway in April 2009 when the baseball season started, only kitchen organics were collected. PNC Park has two food service concessionaires, Aramark and Levy Restaurants Inc.. There are multiple dining facilities within PNC Park, including the concession stands, in-park restaurants, and “public-facing” restaurants that open up to the park as well as to the sidewalk on the outside of the park. (These restaurants are open year-round.) As part of its contract with the Pirates, AgRecycle initially trained the chefs and Burkhart’s staff on source separation protocols. “After we signed the contract in 2009, I was given access to all the chefs in catering, as well as the person responsible for the food contracts with Aramark and Levy,” says Castagnero. “This helped us gauge the quantity of food waste we could expect from the kitchens.”

AgRecycle, which started in 1991 as a yard trimmings composter, began its food waste collection service in 2006. From the beginning, it has used the color yellow for all components of its food waste program — the cans in the kitchen, all signage, containers and its collection trucks. “We call it the yellow trail,” she adds, “which facilitates training and program operations because of the consistency.” The first step in bringing a new generator on board is to conduct a kitchen audit to determine what is and isn’t compostable. For example, parchment paper can have silicone threads running through it, and can’t be included with the food waste or it can be silicone-free and appropriate to divert to composting. That is why it was key that AgRecycle was given access to the kitchens within the ballpark prior to the start of the 2009 season.

Food waste from the Pirates and other accounts throughout the Pittsburgh region are composted at AgRecycle’s facility in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

Food waste from the Pirates and other accounts throughout the Pittsburgh region are composted at AgRecycle’s facility in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

Castagnero notes that since the program with the Pirates began, PNC Park has “dramatically” switched over to compostable products. “They even use a compostable popcorn box. Initially, we sourced compostable products for them, but both of their food service contractors are involved with composting in other markets, and now we’ve reached the point where they just make us aware of what they are using, and send us the verification that is it compostable.” All soft drinks are served in compostable cups; beer is served in recyclable cups as part of the park’s contract with its recycling service provider.

In 2010, the Pirates began diverting food waste from throughout PNC Park, including the seating area of the stadium known as “the Bowl.” Fans routinely leave uneaten food and containers under their seats. (PNC Park does not have any sorting stations for fans to use at this time.) At the conclusion of every game, prior to sweeping and pressure washing the Bowl, crews go row by row to pick up the bulk trash. They are followed by a green team that collects the recyclables. The bulk trash is sorted by a dedicated team of 10 people in the ballpark’s recycling center (located in the service tunnel) to separate out the compostables. Next, the compostables are taken from the recycling center in yellow tip carts and emptied into AgRecycle’s yellow, 2 cubic yard (cy) containers.  The last step is to wheel the 2 cy containers to the cul du sac outside the right field gate for AgRecycle to unload. The containers are serviced in the morning following every home game.

During the off-season and when the team is on the road, the Pittsburgh Pirates rent the stadium facilities for events such as concerts, weddings and corporate meetings. Between those events and servicing the restaurants that are open to the public, AgRecycle collects food waste from PNC Park year-round, as needed. Overall, diversion at the park has been so successful that the Pirates decided to close off the garbage chutes inside the stadium that facilitated moving trash from the higher level stands.

Greening Fenway

In 2008, the Boston Red Sox, in collaboration with NRDC, rolled out a five-year plan to bring “green” practices to Fenway Park. Over that time period, the Red Sox organization switched to low-flush toilets and waterless urinals, began using biodiesel in its mowers, and installed energy-efficient HD LED message boards and solar thermal panels that heat the hot water used in several of the kitchens at the ballpark. “The solar thermal panels account for about one-third of the hot water used in Fenway Park, and replace the natural gas traditionally used for the process,” says Christopher Knight with the park’s facilities group that oversees greening initiatives.

On the source reduction and waste diversion side, volunteers on the Red Sox Poland Spring Green Team collect plastic bottles and cups during home games, which has boosted recycling rates (other materials are recycled as well). The Red Sox also have a robust food donation program to Boston area shelters.

At Fenway Park, the Red Sox “Green Team” collects plastic bottles and cups during home games. Photo courtesy of Boston Red Sox

At Fenway Park, the Red Sox “Green Team” collects plastic bottles and cups during home games. Photo courtesy of Boston Red Sox

And in 2011, working with Aramark, Fenway Park’s food concessionaire, the Red Sox implemented food waste composting. “Our chefs were the driving force behind the organics diversion program,” notes Knight. “It’s their passion and their recognition of the importance of reducing waste and composting that really drives the success of the program. Pre and postconsumer food waste is collected and picked up by Herb’s Disposal, where it is taken to two composting facilities — Brickend’s Farm and Rocky Hill Farm.

This season, the Red Sox expanded the program to collect food waste, such as cooked sausage and soft pretzels, from concession stands throughout the ballpark. Everything sold in the concession stands is premade so there isn’t any food prep waste. Staff at the concession stands place the food waste in boxes, which are brought to a central location in the stadium to be diverted to composting. The team plans to continue working to improve and expand the organics diversion program.

In 2012, the Boston Red Sox joined the U.S. EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and was recognized for their exemplary programs later that year. Through EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, New England-area businesses are rethinking opportunities to reduce food waste going to landfills, and they are making a real difference,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of the U.S. EPA’s New England office. “Sending food waste to a landfill represents a missed opportunity to reduce costs, protect the environment and help our neighbors.”

Top-Down Commitment

From AgRecycle’s perspective, success in composting at Major League ballparks is dependent on the team’s commitment to the program. “Ballparks are so complicated because they have private suites, clubs, different restaurants, concessions and the stands,” explains Castagnero. “It’s not that there is just one location that prepares and serves the food. Composting has to be something that the team owners want, and in turn, the team coordinates the staff and practices internally.

“The Pittsburgh Pirates talk about their greening initiatives in real terms. They have real goals on how much they want to get recycled and composted each year, how much energy and water they want to save and overall, how to continually improve their sustainability practices. With the Pirates organization, composting was truly a top-down commitment.”

 

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