Throw it Out at the Old Ballgame

With a new baseball season under way, fans will once again enjoy their peanuts and crackerjack. And then, in that same grand old tradition, they will simply drop their garbage on the floor.

A single hot dog wrapper might not seem like much, but multiply it by the 26 million frankfurters consumed at major league baseball stadiums in 2002, add all the other junk generated by 68 million or so fans, and you get enough trash—about 34 million tons—to, well
fill a stadium.

An increasing number of baseball teams and sports stadiums are starting to recycle trash.
John Van Hasselt / Corbis Sygma

"Per-person/per-game" estimates vary widely, from Seattle Mariners" fans generating three pounds to the Minnesota Twins" rooters" mere half-pound. Because the clean-up scenario can be different for each team, expenditures run the gamut, from $200,000 for the Colorado Rockies to more than $1.2 million per year for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

So is this situation handled in an environmentally conscientious manner? Rebecca Hale, director of public information for the Mariners, proudly noted her organization’s efforts. "We have an aggressive recycling program here that in 2002 generated 23 tons of cardboard, five tons of plastic and two tons of paper per month," she says. "We also use recycled rainwater to irrigate the playing field." The teams handle recycling in various ways, but most use private contractors to haul their paper, plastic and glass.

Marty Sewell, a representative for the world champion Anaheim Angels, describes the cleanup detail at Edison Field, which has an estimated per-game "load" of eight to 15 tons, depending on crowd size and any special events. "The largest component is cardboard," he says, "which is separated mostly at the concession stands. We also recycle glass bottles from the restaurants and portable beer stands. The next phase in our program is to deal with the plastic bottles, and we’re taking a look at the problems of recycling in public areas."

Perhaps the most environmentally conscious ball club is the Milwaukee Brewers. Brewers maintenance supervisor Paul Rutowski says the team recycles more than any other, despite the added collection burden inherent in leading the league in tailgate parties. "There are more than 150 stations set up [in the parking lots] for used charcoal, recyclable paper and co-mingled trash," says Rutowski. There are also recycling stations scattered throughout Miller Field’s concourses, encouraging fans to help keep things tidy.

Can baseball teams improve their refuse philosophy? "We’re pleased with the results we’ve seen with recycling," says the Mariners" Hale, "but we want to do better. We’re constantly looking for ways to get more material out of the waste stream."