Sorting behind the scenes: What fans don’t see at ‘zero waste’ venues

Long after a Hawks game ends and the fans go home, a different type of team is still hard at work sorting thousands of pounds of waste at State Farm Arena.

Sofi Armenakian, the arena’s head of sustainability, calls this team the “zero waste squad,” which works out of the “resource recovery room.” On a recent game night, the squad stood over a metal table ripping open bag after bag of recycling, compost and landfill waste to ensure no cross contamination before the materials were packaged in bulk and sent off with various private haulers.

“We don’t call it the trash room; we don’t call it the trash team,” Armenakian said. “How we talk about things matters and there’s a sense of pride that our zero waste squad has.”

State Farm Arena and Mercedes-Benz Stadium have both celebrated achieving a “zero waste” designation from Green Business Certification Inc., a nonprofit trade organization, for diverting at least 90% of their waste from landfills. At State Farm, that amounted to more than 2.5 million pounds diverted from landfills in 2022, according to Armenakian.

While fans may notice the prominent signage around recycling and composting bins, what they may not see is the work and resources that both venues have put into reducing waste in recent years. That includes public awareness campaigns; replacing single-use plastics at food and drink vendors with compostable or recyclable utensils and cups; contracting with commercial composters and hiring dozens of people to sort through thousands of tons of waste after every event.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to the Falcons and Atlanta United, spends about $550,000 a year on its waste reduction efforts, including 32,000 hours of labor spent sorting, a representative said. The venue’s sustainability office is working aggressively to reduce that cost as it seeks to bring other stadiums and sports teams on board with its mission, they added.

Credit: Mitch Martin/Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Credit: Mitch Martin/Mercedes-Benz Stadium

“We’re always looking at ways of cutting back the amount of waste, which hopefully will bring down the labor costs,” said Andrew Bohenko, the sustainability coordinator for Mercedes-Benz. “We want to show that it’s working and that it’s making a difference just as much as we want to show that there is a business case in that it makes economic sense for us to utilize these processes in the stadium.”

A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at