IU Natatorium scores a first with successful zero-waste initiative

  • July 13, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana University Natatorium achieved a 93 percent diversion rate for post-consumer waste while hosting the Olympic Diving Trials last month, becoming the first athletic venue hosting an Olympic event and the first in Indiana to achieve a zero-waste goal.

During the eight days of the competition, only 175 pounds of the 2,790 pounds of waste that were generated by more than 10,000 spectators and athletes was disposed of as trash. The rest was recycled or composted. The trash was then burned for energy rather than being sent to a landfill.

Being a zero-waste venue means that by weight, at least 90 percent of all waste must be recycled or composted. Only 10 percent may be disposed of as trash. Typically, most of the contents of a trash can could have been recycled or composted.

A number of athletic facilities, particularly at the collegiate level, have tried to reach zero waste, but many have fallen short, said Jessica Davis, director of the Office of Sustainability at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. It is only fitting that the renowned world-class IU Natatorium achieve that first in Indiana, having witnessed many athletic firsts over the years, she said.

The IU Natatorium selected the Olympic Diving Trials to achieve the zero-waste goal, Davis said. The event followed the recent completion of an extensive $20 million renovation.

"We thought this would be a great opportunity to tell the storied history of the IU Natatorium and to look forward and show how it will address one of Earth's biggest environmental problems in the way it operates," she said.

The majority of waste generated at the Olympic Diving Trials came from food purchased at the natatorium's concession stands and vending machines. Some came from packing associated with souvenirs.

That's why achieving zero waste requires working with food vendors to ensure that any product can be disposed of in a way that is not trash, Davis said.

For the IU Natatorium, that meant examining all of the food products typically offered at natatorium concessions. "We sorted them as recyclable, compostable and trash and worked at eliminating trash items," Davis said.

Even straws came under scrutiny. "The straw's paper wrapper was recyclable, but the straw itself had to be trashed," said Davis. "So we looked at getting a paper straw that would be compostable."

The zero-waste goal was reached with minimal additional expense, Davis said: "It wasn't so costly as to make people say, 'we can't do this.'"

In terms of infrastructure, the IU Natatorium installed compost bins in addition to existing bins for trash and recyclables. The Greening IUPUI grant program and sponsorships from Busch Systems and Citizens Energy Group covered extra costs associated with purchasing the compost bins and bags for the compost bins.

A team of six volunteers talked daily with spectators about the zero-waste initiative and examined the waste bins throughout the day to ensure items had been sorted into the correct waste bins. When they saw an item had been improperly sorted, they would move it to the correct bin.

"Generally, we were pleased by how well visitors sorted their own waste correctly," Davis said.

Two food items proved troublesome: coffee cups and popcorn boxes. They were consistently thrown in trash bins instead of recycle bins.

"I think some of that comes from a notion people have that if a recyclable has touched food, it can't go in the recyclables bin because it is contaminated," Davis said. "That's not true. The recycling industry has evolved enough to be able to take products with some food contamination on them."

Davis said reaching the zero-waste goal was a team effort that included the Indiana Sports Corp., USA Diving and Chartwells, the food vendor for the IU Natatorium.

Going forward, the IU Natatorium wants to operate as a zero-waste venue for at least other large athletic events, if not on a more frequent basis, she said.

The challenge now, Davis said, is to make the zero-waste initiative at the natatorium more efficient so that it can operate on its own with little oversight.