UM Football Stadium Hosts MI Recycling Raccoon Squad

Ann Arbor, MI - Michigan’s acclaimed Recycling Raccoon Squad — the starring messengers of the state’s national award-winning Know It Before You Throw It recycling education campaign — made their debut Saturday at the Big House to help kick off this fall’s University of Michigan (UM) college football season.

Images of the Recycling Raccoon Squad and educational signage about recycling best practices will adorn about 250 locations throughout Michigan Stadium and be displayed on 127 televisions in the concourse and premium seating areas during the entire 2022 season. Stadium-goers will be encouraged by the Recycling Raccoon Squad to place their waste into the right area to avoid contaminating the properly sorted recyclables and compost.

The installation represents a new sports marketing partnership between UM and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) that can help UM get closer to achieving its zero-waste gameday initiative that has the aspirational aim of diverting 90% of the football stadium’s waste from landfills.

“It's exciting for EGLE to team with the University of Michigan and help support its recycling goals and climate change priorities,” said Emily Freeman, Acting Supervisor for EGLE’s Sustainable Development and Recycling Units.

The new UM football recycling campaign with EGLE builds on the success of similar efforts EGLE has promoted during UM hockey games at Yost Ice Arena and basketball games at Crisler Center; at Michigan State University football, hockey, and basketball venues; during West Michigan Whitecaps minor league baseball games in Grand Rapids; and at the Rocket Mortgage Classic professional golf tournament in Detroit, among other sporting events.

“Regardless of what team you root for, all Michiganders can agree on the importance of recycling as a way to protect our environment, support local businesses, create jobs and divert waste from entering landfills,” said Freeman.

On any given Saturday during a UM home football game, the more than 111,000 people who filter in and out of Michigan Stadium generate approximately 6.5 tons of recyclable materials, such as cardboard pizza boxes, aluminum cans and plastic bottles and containers. They also produce approximately 2 tons of compost, which includes food waste created by patrons and the specially designed compostable food trays, napkins, coffee lids, soda cups, cheese cups and lids, deli wraps, popcorn bags, spoons, forks, knives, and straws distributed by the Big House’s food and beverage vendors.

“I think UM using a marketing campaign to improve our recycling habits is a fantastic idea,” said UM junior and Traverse City native, Sidra Smith, while posing for a photo during Saturday’s game in front of a Recycling Raccoon sign. 

“This represents one of those rare times when fans of the Maize and Blue can proudly say ‘Go green,’ and actually mean it,” Smith laughed.

Michigan Athletics began a phased approach to zero waste during the 2016 season, by sourcing and testing the durability of compostable products and packaging and refining post-game cleanup operations to properly separate waste streams.

Each Sunday after a home game, the stadium is cleaned, and waste is separated into compost, recycling, and landfill bins, to be taken to their respective locations for sorting and disposal.

A zero-waste Michigan Stadium builds on the more than 20-year history of recycling game-day waste and supports the UM campuswide sustainability effort known as Planet Blue. The effort stems from recommendations by a committee of students, faculty, and staff to advance the university’s progress toward its 2025 sustainability goals, specifically to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill by 40% below 2006 levels and to strengthen the culture of sustainability on campus.

Most of the game-day waste that is recycled at the Big House is used in the Midwest to create new products, said UM Office of Sustainability Program Manager Alison Richardson. All UM football stadium recyclables go to the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority plant near Chelsea.

About half the waste is disposed of by fans in hundreds of compost and recycling bins throughout the stadium on game day. Some contamination inevitably occurs as fans mistakenly place items in the wrong bins. The Recycling Raccoons’ messaging supports existing, UM-specific signage, to minimize recycling miscues and reduce contamination of materials, Richardson said.

While the waste generated at seven home football games per year amounts to only a fraction of a percent of UM’s overall campuswide waste, the educational value in doing waste diversion at the Big House is significant, Richardson said.

"The stadium is obviously a very public stage and iconic facility,” said Richardson. “Each game provides us the opportunity to engage and educate a wide audience. The Zero Waste Program at Michigan Stadium is a very visible way to demonstrate UM's commitment to sustainability."

Recycling in Michigan has reached a new all-time high, up 35.4% from pre-2019 levels, according to a 2022 EGLE analysis. This equates to Michigan now capturing over 500,000 more tons of cardboard boxes, milk cartons, plastic bottles, organic material, and other recyclables, which equates to more than 110 pounds per person each year.

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