FEATURE: Penn State Wins, Now What About the Trash?

Over 106,000 people have just witnessed Penn State defeat Big Ten opponent Nebraska. People walking out of Beaver Stadium are talking about potential postseason scenarios, the Blue Band’s halftime show or their plans for the holidays.

However, for a small army of people, the focus is on something different—garbage.

In fact, by the end of the next day, that small army will have dedicated nearly 850 man hours to cleaning up the waste that has been left behind in Beaver Stadium’s tailgate lots. For a normal game, that adds up to nearly 20 tons of recyclable content alone. When a team like Michigan comes to town, that number exceeds 25 tons.

Driving past the fields around Beaver Stadium after a game day, you will see thousands of blue bags lined up in an almost orderly fashion. These bags are designed to help make trash collection and recycling easier.

Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant plays a large role in the cleanup efforts. Beforehand, OPP places A-frames in many of the tailgating lots to make sure trash and recycling bags are easily accessible. The day after a game, OPP is in charge of sending out the crews that will pick up the bags and manually sort whatever has not been placed into a bag. 

“It’s a huge effort,” Susan Bedsworth, a Marketing & Communications Specialist at OPP, said.

The crews do most of the work by hand, relying only on claw-like grabbers to save them from repeatedly bending their backs. 

“For the most part, they have their trucks which they go around and load up,” “It’s definitely manual labor.” said Bedsworth.

OPP is also tasked with ensuring intramural, practice, and community fields are free of glass and other hazards.

While the plan for collecting all this waste has been successful, the question of whether it has made an impact still remains.

“I don’t know exactly if we have the numbers to say that there’s been an improvement but I’m not sure we’ve always placed such an emphasis on it,” Bedsworth said.

“I do think, in society in general, as we’ve gotten more into recycling… people want to do that in all places, not just at their own homes.”

The emphasis Bedsworth is talking about comes through a closer relationship between all the parties that share a stake in the management of gameday trash.

Penn State Athletics, Penn State's Sustainability Institute and the Center County Refuse and Recycling Authority are all partners with OPP in this effort. 

Due to the increased attention the waste issue has received over the last season, Bedsworth says the stakeholders are planning to work together even more in the coming year. The goal is to better support many of the new initiatives and ideas that fans may have seen come into existence during the season.

One of those initiatives is a brand new pilot program called the Tailgate Ambassadors.

Hannah Samuels is the coordinator of the Tailgate Ambassador program. A “new and improved” version of a previous program called STATERS (Students Taking Action to Encourage Recycling), The Tailgate Ambassador program sends students out to Beaver Stadium’s tailgating lots with the goal of handing out garbage and recycling bags. According to Samuels, the program is designed to be a fun way to encourage sustainable tailgate practices.

"We are not out there to be the recycling police or anything like that”

"We hand out recycling and trash bags to fans in an effort to encourage recycling and less littering. We also distribute can coozies, bottle openers, and temporary tattoos to fans as a fun treat and a thank you for recycling and not littering.”

Samuels points out that in years past, STATERS was focused solely on recycling. While the Tailgate Ambassador program does share a common theme in recycling, Samuels says the Tailgate Ambassador program is about more than recycling.

"We wanted to create a stronger relationship with all entities involved including OPP and athletics.”

Another difference in the programs is in how students are brought in.

"STATERS was a volunteer based program. It had great intentions but the numbers would fluctuate with people that would show up” Samuels said.

The Tailgate Ambassador program avoids this problem through incentives.

"Organizations receive $500 for every 10 people they bring. They work 4 hour shifts before the game and still have time to tailgate"

The incentives have worked. Student organizations like the Vegetarian and Beekeeper clubs, the University Park Undergraduate Association, and various Homecoming and THON groups have all been Tailgate Ambassadors.

On football weekends, the program sends out at least 40 ambassadors.

While Samuels attributes the program's success in this pilot year to the positive attitudes its student workers bring, she also had praise for the fans themselves.

"Fans get very excited when Tailgate Ambassadors approach. It is not uncommon for us to get offered free food. Penn State fans are great to work with.”

Andrew Lashinsky