The recyclable components of the waste stream discussed in this article are somewhat unconventional: Paper, plastics, cans, peanuts, crackerjack…

Recycling at sports stadiums and arenas has become a key component of most teams’ game plan. And in most cases, waste and recycling companies are essential players in that strategy.

The New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) earlier this year issued a report, “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment.” It praised professional sports for being a cultural leader in the environmental movement.

“In a cultural shift of historic proportions, the sports industry is now using its influence to advance ecological stewardship,” says the report’s executive summary. “At the same time, the sports greening movement has brought important environmental messages to millions of fans worldwide. Sport is a great unifier.”

Republic Services recycling collection NFL Indianapolis Colts  RCA DomeAnd recycling is a huge part of that, says Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist and director of the Sports Greening Project for the NRDC. He says of the 126 pro teams more than half have recycling initiatives. “Recycling is the most visible component of any team’s green project. It’s where fans interact with environmental policy. They don’t see energy, but they see the recycling programs.”

Customer expectations grow as a result, both for the team and for the recycling service providers it hires. “They’re educated on recycling, how it’s the right thing to do,” says James Saxe, director, field sales for Phoenix-based Republic Services Inc. “The fan base is starting to demand it. The key is that you have to make it convenient for them to do it.”

Cincinnati-based Rumpke Consolidated Companies Inc. works with their hometown Major League Baseball club, the Reds, who want to have the greenest ballpark in America, says Amanda Pratt, Rumpke’s director of corporate communications. Her department is actively involved with the Rumpke’s recycling operations because “it won’t be successful unless you have education and promotion tied to it.”

The Reds have about 150 recycling containers spread around the ballpark and throughout their corporate offices. The team operates its own cardboard compactors. There’s a facility management Green Team trained to empty the containers and get recyclables directed to the right place. The team is augmented by the Green Guardians, about 25 volunteers who, during weekend and big-attraction games, go through the stands during the seventh-inning stretch to collect bottles and cans for recycling. A video message starring Reds rightfielder Jay Bruce shown during the game reminds fans to recycle. Bruce does radio ads for recycling on the Reds Radio Network as well.