IU Natatorium to become first zero-waste athletic facility in Indiana

Diving trials at Natatorium to be first Olympic event to achieve zero waste

  • June 6, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana University Natatorium will be ready to operate as a zero-waste athletic facility when competitors arrive June 18 for the Olympic Diving Trials, becoming the first athletic facility in Indiana to achieve zero-waste goals and hosting the first Olympic event to have the zero-waste designation.

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's only fitting that the renowned world-class IU Natatorium will achieve that first in Indiana, having witnessed many athletic firsts over the years.

The accomplishment will carry weight with major athletic organizations.

"Sustainability efforts are important to the Indiana Sports Corp and its partners, including the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and USA Diving," said Caleb Kolby, events coordinator with the Indiana Sports Corp. "IUPUI's efforts will really set a new bar for best practices, and the Indiana Sports Corp is pleased to play a role in it."

Being a zero-waste venue means that by weight, 90 percent of all waste must be recycled or composted. Only 10 percent may be disposed of as trash.

In a typical trash can, about 75 percent of what has been thrown away is recyclable, while another 20 to 25 percent is compostable, Davis said.

Efforts to achieve zero waste are taking root in higher education, especially athletics, said Davis: "It gives you the opportunity to engage and educate fans in one location about the waste they create.

With the Olympic Diving Trials in June and the recent completion of an extensive $20 million renovation of the IU Natatorium, "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," Davis said.

A major challenge is to review food that is sold at a facility and work with vendors to ensure that any product can be disposed of in a way that is not trash, Davis said. "For example, you can't have a food product that comes in a wrapper or container that isn't recyclable or compostable, because that adds to your trash line," she said.

For the IU Natatorium, that meant meeting with the foodservice providers to examine all of the food products they typically offer at concessions. "We sorted them as recyclable, compostable and trash and worked at eliminating trash items," Davis said.

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

"We have essentially eliminated trash from the food products that we're offering," Davis said. "That's why we're confident we can hit the 90 percent mark."

Instead of having just trash and recycle bins, additional bins were installed at the IU Natatorium for compostable waste. The recycle and compost bins are larger than the trash bins, providing a visual reminder as to what needs to go where, Davis said.

To help fans, athletes and others dispose of waste in the correct bins, a Herron School of Art and Design visual communication design class led by assistant professor Pamela Napier was asked to design new signage, among other things, for the zero-waste initiative.

"The students learned they had split seconds when people approach bins and one second to capture them, where the people are wondering, hmm, what do I do with this," Napier said.

The zero-waste initiative is also capturing the attention of the business community.

"The zero-waste initiative has really resonated with sponsors in a big way," said Richard Lord, the IU Natatorium's business development manager. "It resonates because it's a best practice. It's the right thing to do. It's something people will be excited to hear."

Lord said zero waste was an important factor in securing a multiyear, six-figure sponsorship.

For other organizations, zero waste was the primary component that led to sponsorships, Lord said, including Busch Systems International.

"Making the right choices takes inspiration, education and participation," said Craig Busch, CEO of Busch Systems International. "By constantly striving to reach higher standards of environmental responsibility, you can encourage colleagues and peers to do the same -- and this is what can be accomplished by the zero-waste efforts at the IU Natatorium. We've chosen to support these efforts because we believe in this program and because eco-responsibility is everyone's responsibility."

IU Natatorium will be the first zero-waste athletic facility in Indiana.

IU Natatorium will be the first zero-waste athletic facility in Indiana.

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Richard Schneider