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Monday, January 2, 2012

Panthers Winning Recycling Season

The Carolina Panthers hit a winning streak in their third season of game day tailgating recycling.  During the 2011 season, Panther fans separated 31.31 tons (62,620 pounds) of bottles, cans and cardboard into yellow plastic recycling bags before entering the stadium.

City of Charlotte staff collects the bags placed by fans on the parking lot curbs and delivers them to Mecklenburg County's Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where the contents are processed for recycling.  In addition, the Panthers separated 50.66 tons of plastic cans and bottles inside the stadium for delivery to the MRF.

Jake handing out recycling bags
How does a successful program like the Panther Tailgating Recycling get started? Collaboration among government, non-profit and for-profit organizations is the program backbone. A visionary, who also serves as a facilitator, provides the driving force to create the program. Jake Wilson, Keep Mecklenburg Beautiful Executive Director, is the visionary who pulled together an impressive team committed to a common goal.  

To learn more about Jake, read the IMPACT Blog post, A Man of Controversy, A Man of Action, where Jake is honored as the February, 2011 IMPACTOR.  The Panther's tailgate recycling program is only one of the many amazing accomplishments KMB has achieved under Jake's reign.

Les Epperson and his City of Charlotte Solid Waste Team provide the collection services for delivery to the county owned MRF.  It is impressive to witness city and county government leaders teaming together for a common goal where all benefit, especially the community.

Darlene Heater, Charlotte CENTER CITY
with Les Epperson, City of Charlotte
Charlotte CENTER CITY Partners served in a strong supporting role by creating the necessary synergy among  various organizations for success.  Forming a parking lot consortium of the six main parking lot owners in the four blocks surrounding the stadium was a key CCCP contribution.  Hands on Charlotte agreed to recruit and coordinate the 8 - 15 volunteers for each game.  Kerry McCray, HOC Project Leader & Volunteer, recruited, educated and inspired volunteers each game day.

As the program's main sponsor Bojangles provides the yellow recycling bags along with $50 in gift certificates per game.  A $25 certificate goes to the "Best Tailgater" and another to the "Best Parking Lot Attendant."  A little competition goes a long way in increasing recycling rates.  At the end of the season, Bojangles caters a "Thank You Luncheon" at the stadium for those who contributed to the program success.

A team player, the Panthers promote the recycling program in season ticket holder communication, game promotion flyers and in their media outlets.  Educated fans now ask for their yellow recycling bags if not given one upon paying their parking fee.

According to Jake, the recycling program has minimal contamination, 3 -4 % at the most.  Food waste in the bags is nominal and there are occasional napkins.  Red polystyrene tailgating cups are the biggest contaminant.  Hmmmm.... maybe a cup manufacturer would sponsor a recyclable cup for the program's fourth season!  

The yellow bags are baled at the MRF along with other plastic film for recycling.
Bank of America Stadium where the Panthers
play and fans tailgate
To maximize recycling outside the stadium, the City places 75 recycling bins close to the stadium entrance. Fans are not permitted to bring beverages into the stadium and the bins fill with containers from the last sip before entering the facility.

One of the surprising program snafus are what Jake calls "Aluminum Pirates" who steal the bags filled mainly with cans.  Although the stolen material most likely ends up in the recycling stream, the lost material hurts the program metrics.  Also, the aluminum is a valuable revenue source for the county-run MRF.

The Panther Tailgate Recycling Program is indicative of the synergies alive within Charlotte's corporate, non-profit and government sectors who are ready to bring sustainable practices to the community.

In early 2012  the Sustainable Food Court Initiative intends to announce a mall pilot in Charlotte.  See the ZWZ Blog post, Fertile Charlotte Grounds, for a recap of the SFCI Team October Charlotte visit.  Jake was instrumental to a successful visit and Elemental Impact is excited to know our work with Jake is just beginning.

Stay tuned as seeds are germinating in fertile Charlotte grounds for thrilling sustainable tales!

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