The green light: ASU, Salt River Fields team up, move forward to make sustainability priority

SCOTTSDALE – Baseball fans from around the world descend on metro Phoenix each year for spring training, where they can enjoy the sun and up-close views of their favorite stars.

For a group of Arizona State students, however, the six weeks of Cactus League play is a time for hard work and research on a zero-waste initiative.

Stadium concessions at Salt River Fields, the spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies, generate not only revenue but trash. Lots of it. In a partnership with the two teams, the ASU School of Sustainability is experimenting with ways to keep environmentally harmful refuse out of landfills.

Throughout spring training, which ends Tuesday, 11 undergraduate and graduate sustainability students attended Diamondbacks and Rockies games to collect trash and survey and educate fans.

“It’s a really cool opportunity to work with three different agencies to do a cool initiative that could potentially spark a new innovation in these new parks throughout sports,” ASU student Eduardo Quinata said. “Being a sustainability major about to graduate and trying to find my new path with what I want to do, it’s super-empowering to know that these little initiatives and these teams and programs are really making an impact, and I am really excited to be a part of this team.”

During games, the students wore green hats and surveyed fans about recycling and their team’s efforts to reduce waste. “Recycle Rally” occurs In the eighth inning, when students collect empty drink cups to use for research afterward.

When the game has concluded, students empty trash bags from around the ballpark and separate items into 25 types of waste, including organic (food), compostable paper (such as hot dog and drink trays) and non-ferrous metal (aluminum).

Once the material is collected, the students record their findings, from what was recycled to how many items were thrown in the trash.

The initiative is spearheaded by Colin Tetreault, ASU instructor of sustainability and a former senior policy adviser to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton in Phoenix. Tetreault has worked on numerous projects to enhance sustainability across the country and around the world.

“Major League Baseball saw the value in spring training in that when we go to spring training, it’s not just local fans. It’s actually a lot of imports from a variety of places in the entire United States, so we are kind of going to do two broad impact aspects,” Tetreault said. “We are having a really sophisticated fan engagement opportunity, so we are helping to educate the fans. We are helping to make the experience at spring training more fun and exciting by doing things like social media, the jumbotron and public address announcements.”

Major League Baseball has been the most proactive when it comes to sustainability, according to a 2014 study in the Global Journal on Advances in Pure and Applied Sciences.

Although the task might not seem glamorous, the students, who will conduct a final report of their findings, hope to help keep keep waste out of landfills to ultimately create a cleaner world.

For Tetreault and his students with similar mind-sets, the goal is that the initiative will spread not only to Cactus League parks but eventually to large venues across the country.

“The key is having the partnership with ASU,” said Dave Dunne, Salt River Fields general manager. “They are here every day for 32 straight days … having the kids engaged and students engaged in this, that’s a huge piece for us. It’s just great. On behalf of the Rockies, the Diamondbacks and the partnership with ASU, we are all really pleased … and we are looking forward to getting the total numbers and evaluating even more for next season.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Follow us on Twitter.