NFL, Mercedes-Benz Stadium aim for positive environmental footprint

During Super Bowl LIII, the trash talking doesn’t just happen on the field.

It actually begins months before the big game when groups and venues like the National Football League and Mercedes-Benz Stadium discuss what to do with the tons of waste and items that can be recycled or repurposed.

That includes trash, wood, cardboard, aluminum, glass, plastic and compostable material like food.

It has to go somewhere, and officials want to make sure it doesn’t all end up in a landfill.

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Big events produce big waste.

“We want to decrease the environmental impact of all our Super Bowl activities,” said Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program and a founding member of Sport and Sustainability International. The organization was founded in Europe in 2017 to bring together people interested in addressing environmental issues in sports.

He estimated that this Super Bowl will produce 60 tons of waste. That doesn’t include items that can repurposed or reused.

“We want to be a good guest, but the second piece is we want to leave a green legacy in each host city,” said Groh.

In January, for example, the NFL and the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee, along with other partners, held a “green week” of community environmental events.

Those events included the planting of more than 30 trees at the Salvation Army Bellwood Boys and Girls Club on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, and also a recycling rally at Zoo Atlanta that resulted in the collection of 42,446 pounds of e-waste for recycling.

Volunteers collected 87 pallets of items like desktop and laptop computers, monitors, televisions, stereo and audio equipment, small electronic appliances, glass items and 281 cellphones.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be packed for Super Bowl 53. The stadium is LEED Platium certified. CONTRIBUTED

Earlier this week, more than two dozen nonprofits met in Centennial Olympic Park to determine what material they could reuse after the entertainment venue Super Bowl Live ends, said Groh.

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The initiative has been around for 25 years since Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome, said Groh.

After last year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis, dozens of charities benefited from a big haul of reusable items. Local food banks also scored big with donations of unserved food, according to media reports. Additionally, materials from temporary offices such as pens, pencils and desks were also donated, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“If we do leave a footprint in a host city, we want it to be a positive one,” said Groh.

For its part, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the first professional sports stadium in the nation to achieve the Platinum LEED designation from the U.S. Green Building Council. The facility can power 10 Atlanta Falcons games or 13 Atlanta United matches with the renewable energy generated through 4,000 solar PV panels.

“We’ve adopted a zero-waste mindset,” said Scott Jenkins, general manager for MBS. “We were very intentional from the beginning to be mindful of our environmental impact from how we operate to how architects designed our trash and recycling rooms.”

The NFL and the stadium will have a team in the stadium on game day helping fans recycle and rewarding them with good recycling behavior. If spotted putting recyclable items in the bin, they receive a Super Bowl cap.

Recycled water bottles were also used to make material for the jackets worn by Super Bowl volunteers. The recycled bottles were made into a material is known as REPREVE which is made by Unifi.

The stadium also uses compostable cutlery, straws and serviceware so fans only have to recycle plastic and aluminum.

The aluminum collected during games, including the Super Bowl, goes to a local company that redeems the material and donates the money to Atlanta Habitat for Humanity to build homes.

Others are watching.

“If you have a million people in Atlanta doing Super Bowl activities, there’s going to be a lot of waste produced,” said Ted Terry, director of the Georgia Sierra Club, one of the nation’s oldest and most influential environmental organizations. “That means a lot more cars on the road, more traffic congestion, more energy consumed. It can be impactful in a negative way to metro Atlanta. It’s important because we all live on this planet.”

Groh said the NFL vision is spreading.

“Everybody who’s in the event business pays attention to the Super Bowl because it’s considered the crown jewel of events in America,” he said. “Since the NFL began doing this, other sports organizations and facilities have emulated what we’ve done.”

Organizations such as food banks and the Lifecycle Building Center, a building material reuse nonprofit, are among potential beneficiaries of the Super Bowl cleanup.

Shannon Goodman, executive director of Lifecycle, said the 7-year-old nonprofit has previously received flooring material, benches, doors and cabinets from trade shows and event build-outs that it later sells from its Atlanta store or donates to other nonprofits.

“Events like this help us build awareness about our mission,” said Goodman. “There are a lot of people who are really into sports, but they may not necessarily, naturally think about waste diversion.”

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NFL representatives are also talking with Atlanta Habitat to determine what — if any materials — can be repurposed and sold through the nonprofit’s Reynoldstown’s ReStore location.

Atlanta Habitat would not use the items to build or repair homes because the organization uses new products in its homebuild projects, said spokeswoman Jill Strickland Luse.

Terry, with the Georgia Sierra Club, praised the NFL, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the city of Atlanta for efforts to be more environmentally conscious.

“It shows you can have a good game, do everything that goes with the Super Bowl while still making sure we’re reducing our carbon footprint and protecting the environment.”