Food & Beverage: Special Events/Hotel/Dining/Sports Venues

Penn State’s University Park campus sees in excess of a million visits per year from persons attending sporting events, concerts, etc. This represents an excellent opportunity to engage and educate about sustainability, but it also presents significant challenges for materials management. We suggest the University continue with its current best practices while addressing the many challenges associated with the extremely diverse set of venues and events that occur annually at University Park. Back-of-the-house collection of food items should be mandated for all on- campus operations while also investigating options for increased post-consumer collection of food and food service items. Collection of recyclables must be streamlined to make it easier for fans/customers while also conforming to the realities of collection systems. Persons with purchasing authority must have and follow guidelines for procuring items that will break down in whatever system the University is using for biomass management.

This subcommittee focused on the main waste streams from athletic events and other special events taking place on the University Park campus and at Penn State lodging properties and on-campus eateries. The subcommittee identified opportunities, barriers, and constraints, as well as possible solutions for reducing waste and costs while achieving environmentally preferable outcomes. The current systems for materials management, as well as items being purchased, sold, and consumed at these locations were also examined.

Recommended goals and principles to impact Penn State’s waste stream:

Short term

  • Collect all back-of-the-house food items for composting
    • This is already happening with food prepared by Hospitality and many campus food service locations.
    • This should be mandated as part of a new policy and would apply to any location at which food is being prepared.
  • Remove all miscellaneous plastic waste stream collection bins from venues
  • Streamline collection of recyclable items and remove/change all non-conforming or confusing collection systems.
    • There are many different “systems” currently in place across campus. Some units appear to make their own policies or are not aware of Penn State waste management best practices (e.g., Student Affairs uses blue Slim Jim trashcans that are imprinted with recycling logos in the IM Building to collect trash. In some locations there are signs asking users to “recycle here” even though the materials collected are not recyclable. Pegula Arena still has signs in restrooms asking patrons to recycle their paper towels).
    • Collection of waste and recycling varies from venue to venue. These variations need to be identified and then individual collection plans created for each venue.
    • The Education and Awareness subcommittee should endeavor to make the system more consistent and usable.
  • Create/revise system for staff to collect recyclable containers (e.g., plastic bottles) after all sports and special events.
    • Practices are currently in place at most events held at the Bryce Jordan Center and Pegula Ice Arena in which ushers sweep the stands after fans leave.
  • Ensure that anyone purchasing “compostable” items knows what items will work in Penn State’s system (e.g., BPI certified)) and no non-approved items are purchased.

Long term

  • Increase purchase of compostable foodservice items for use at on-campus events, if Organic Materials Processing and Education Center (OMPEC) has capacity to take increased volumes
  • Require that all catered events on campus be zero waste. This would require using compostable or recyclable foodservice items, as well as having a collection system in place.
  • Develop and use a common system for materials collection at the various venues on campus. This could include stand-alone entities, such as the BJC with the caveat that different venues may have different solutions for their environment.
  • Develop and use a common system for signage/communication at venues
  • Any future renovations to Beaver Stadium and other Intercollegiate Athletics venues should include sustainability improvements
  • Consistent principles should be developed and applied to the purchase of food and foodservice items sold at Athletics and special events
  • Rewrite contracts with branded retail dining establishments so that their operations are more aligned with Penn State sustainability goals
  • Consider options for all special events, such as Special Olympics or THON, to reduce waste footprint. This could range from mandates for compostable foodservice items to the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) providing materials collections systems at any event.
  • Work with Athletics Concessions to ensure future purchases dovetail with overall waste management goals.

Success will be measured by improved diversion rates and increased purchase of compostable items.


A combination of the Office of Physical Plant, Athletics, Hospitality Services, and other Auxiliary and Business Services (A&BS) units would be necessary for implementation of these recommendations. Management at these units will have to be on board and willing to make investments in time and manpower as needed. Ultimately, leadership in A&BS will have to mandate that many actions take place and investments are made.

Specific Penn State partners needed to implement these recommendations are the Office of Physical Plant, Athletics, Hospitality Services, Housing and Food Services, and venue management. Externally, the Green Sports Alliance, industry partners (such as PepsiCo), and Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority could be collaborators.

Implementation costs have not been quantified, and some are discussed in more detail elsewhere. Regardless, investments will be needed for 1) compost management to deal with greater volume and address contamination, and 2) improved infrastructure for materials management, and better communications to educate and inform students, employees, and visitors. A significant amount of funds would need to be allocated for OMPEC and then, presumably, for increased cost of the purchase of compostable items. The Sustainability Institute or the Office of Physical Plant should have a person charged as the waste reduction  and recycling programs manager with oversight of these areas.

Short-terms goals could be completed as soon as Fall 2019, while long-term goals are most likely a 12- to 24-month process.

Returns and Impacts

Operationally, quantifiable returns are unknown at this time. However, it is reasonable to assume that there will be small reductions in waste fees for all campus foodservice providers if they can send additional waste to OMPEC instead of to the landfill. It is unknown whether the true cost of one ton of material processed via OMPEC is less expensive than sending one ton to the landfill. Most foodservice operations currently appear to do a very good job of diverting pre-consumer food waste to OMPEC. There may not be much improvement Penn State can make in this area, and thus the returns may be minimal.

Academically, there are many possible angles for resident education to work with the Office of Physical Plant, Athletics, and others to gain experience working on the “Living Lab” that Penn State operations provides. The University has a strong relationship with PepsiCo and other corporate partners that should be leveraged and should continue working to grow partnerships with external groups such as the NFL. The Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management is an example of an academic unit that could provide coursework for students who want to learn from this process.

The complexity and breadth of the Penn State University Park campus operations provide a plethora of options for research. Both undergraduate and graduate students could gain valuable experience while also assisting the University. The Sustainable Operations Council could work with the Sustainability Institute to allow the academic and operational sides of the house to work together. This could be the conduit for both research and educational collaborations.

Depending on the investments made in infrastructure, communications, etc., reevaluating these strategies on a bi-annual basis would be recommended.