It’s time for football and the U-M team kicked off its season with many new starting players, new maize uniforms, and renewed optimism that we will beat our arch rivals. One big change fans may notice is the Michigan Stadium Zero Waste Initiative. Paul Dunlop, the Senior Facilities Manager for Michigan Stadium, leads the Zero Waste Stadium efforts. The Zero Waste stadium is one of the Major Statements for U of M’s commitment to sustainability.
The most prominent change fans will see at The Big House from the Zero Waste initiative is the new recycling and compost bins at over 500 locations within the stadium gates. These bins replace the trash cans of old and make it easy for the Wolverine faithful become familiar with sustainability on campus and the 2025 waste reduction goals. “Even though Michigan Stadium only produces .003% of the overall waste on campus, the big goal of the Zero Waste Initiative is to introduce people to the U of M sustainability efforts,” said Dunlop.
So where do people put their trash? All of the concession stand items are recyclable or compostable, and there are easy-to-follow instruction signs at nearly every bin station to ensure fans know which bin to place their recyclable and compostable waste. The signage looks the same as signage on campus, but with specialized items from the Big House. “People will become familiar with the signs at the games and then throw their items in the correct bin on campus,” state Dunlop.
While everyone should do their best to put their waste in the stadium bins, less than 50% of the waste makes it into a bin. Most is left around the bleachers and picked up by volunteers on Sunday mornings. Every Sunday morning, hundreds of volunteer will walk around the stands with three bags: a compost bag, a recycling bag, and a trash bag. Afterwards, the bags will be taken to different facilities for sorting and disposal.
Paul is “Excited that the Michigan Stadium Zero Waste Initiative is coming to fruition, after a few years of planning and trials.” He explained that it took time to help all vendors understand the new Zero Waste rules and switch to compostable and recyclable containers. Switching to all compostable utensils was a cost that many vendors were not accustomed to. Another big hurdle: hot dog wrappers. “We received complaints that the compostable hot dog wrappers we tested last year did not keep the hot dogs warm enough.” New hot dog wrappers are being tested this season. The program will continue to adjust and improve as feedback is given.
Although Jim Harbaugh is great, Paul may be the most important person at the Big House on Saturdays. It is exciting that over one hundred thousand fans will learn about the university’s sustainability efforts at the Big House, waste will be diverted from a landfill, and a young fan can enjoy a warm hot dog nestled in a compostable wrapper while cheering on our Wolverines!