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Practicing Sustainability On Gameday

I’ve always been fascinated by the way we, as a university community, come together on gamedays. Despite occasional freezing temperatures and loathsome noon kickoffs, there’s always an unwavering pride present. These games exemplify the Penn State identity. The way we celebrate on Saturdays is never just a celebration of the football team—but, rather, a celebration of the community as a whole. 

Of course, participation in the Penn State community isn’t limited to Saturdays at Beaver Stadium, but there’s no other place that captures the spirit of this university so completely.

As legend says, the “We Are” chant was established as and continues to be an inclusive statement. Its continued use serves as a testament to the community that exists in Happy Valley. When half of the stadium echoes “Penn State,” it’s obvious how united we are, and our core values—Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, Discovery, Excellence, and Community—are apparent. 

Expression of Penn State’s values should not be limited to “We Are” chants or use of buzzwords. Rather, they ought to be lived and expressed through our actions, especially on gamedays. Still, there are aspects of our football Saturdays that don’t entirely align with these core values (and no, I’m not talking about the underage drinking).

We can’t live our Penn State values while engaging in environmentally unsustainable behavior. This is our community; what’s stopping us from keeping it clean? 

Gameday sustainability issues present an opportunity for meaningful growth.  Cheering for our football team and for Penn State is more purposeful if we act upon our core values. Behavior changes really aren’t that hard and, if done together, they can have a massive impact. Thankfully, there are numerous pain-free ways we can change our actions to live more sustainably on gamedays. 

Waste Disposal

This is easy. Don’t leave your trash on the ground and recycle correctly. 

There are more than 100 tons of waste produced during a typical gameday. By weight, this is equivalent to “throwing out” approximately 40 RVs. Penn State takes on a huge cost to remove this trash. This, in turn, means that you, the tuition-paying student, are directly affected by the trash and litter on gameday financially. And, of course, this trash is ugly. We should pick up after ourselves not only to save money but also to preserve the beautiful campus we love. 

And, although everyone wants to do their part to recycle, doing so incorrectly creates much more harm than good for both Penn State and the environment. 

Only glass, plastic bottles, and metal cans can be recycled; all other items should be discarded in the trash.

It’s important not to engage in “wishful recycling” (attempting to recycling things other than glass, plastic bottles, and metal cans), as this contaminates the recycling bags. Contamination forces Penn State to simply trash these “recycling” bags or pay a hefty fee; unfortunately, this is common.  

Although it might feel strange, the best practice is: “If in doubt, throw it out!”

Gameday’s Four Rs

By integrating the “Four Rs” into your gameday routine, you can significantly reduce the amount of waste you produce—reducing Penn State’s waste management costs and better living Penn State’s values. 

  • Refuse: Don’t take what you don’t need. Buying clothes second-hand and opting to go without the single-use plastic water bottle are good examples of how to ‘refuse’ during gameday. 
  • Reduce: Take less. Using one disposal cup instead of many or one plate instead of several is a great way to “reduce” during gameday. After the game, be sure no tailgate leftovers go to waste. 
  • Reuse: Opt for and ask for reusable products. This includes bringing your own water bottle and reusable cutlery to a tailgate, encouraging others to serve food in reusable dishes, and reusing shakers. 
  • Recycle: Recycle if you can. Again, don’t engage in wishful recycling. Recycle only glass, plastic bottles, and metal cans; everything else goes in the trash. 

Sustainability this Saturday—and Beyond

Environmental sustainability is about community and communication. 

Coordinating with your parents (or your friend’s parents, or the random people you just met) to pick up their leftovers after the tailgate may pose logistical challenges. Still, conversations like these are important and may result in you getting free food and making new friends. 

Helping others correctly recycle and picking up litter may seem mundane, yet doing so is immensely important. The smallest of acts can help create a gameday environment where our Penn State values are present not only during the “We Are” chant but also in our actions. Through making small changes—and then talking about why you made them—sustainability can become a natural part of Penn State culture.

We constantly demonstrate our ability to act as a community: If we can all coordinate to wear white, we can coordinate to pick up our trash—and be cognizant of our shared values, too. Looking forward to this Saturday, let’s beat Indiana and remember what it means to be a Penn Stater in both pride and practice.

Nora Van Horn is a featured columnist on Onward State as part of a partnership with the University Park Undergraduate Association. She is UPUA’s Director of Sustainability.

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