Campus & Community

At Loyola’s Gentile Arena, every sporting event is zero waste

By Rosie McCarty

The Loyola University Chicago men's basketball team plays a game in Gentile arena with the crowd in view

Hot dogs and beer are almost synonymous with sporting events. Unfortunately, so is garbage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that sports fans produce 39 million pounds of trash per year. You can’t predict if your team will win or lose, but you can usually count on its dumpsters being full.

Things work differently at Loyola University Chicago’s Gentile Arena, where all events are zero waste. Nearly all products available for purchase in the arena are either recyclable or compostable, leading to a landfill diversion rate of 70 to 95 percent. And since landfills are a sizable contributor to climate change, the slower they grow, the better.

Zero Waste Games at Gentile began as a once-a-year initiative led by Loyola’s student government. In 2019, students advocated for the practice to expand to every sporting event. And Loyola’s facilities department made it happen—in the middle of men’s basketball season.

How does a Zero Waste Game work, exactly? Follow along below as the process comes to life.

Long before the game starts, the arena concession stand orders compostable and recyclable products to sell.

Gentile’s concession stand, the Wolf’s Kettle, began as a student-run business part of LoyolaLimited. The Wolf’s Kettle student workers—from all different majors, not just those interested in sustainability—would order plates, trays, boats, cups, foil wrap, and napkins that could either be recycled or composted. Aramark food service has now taken over operations for Wolf’s Kettle but the commitment to zero waste games remains. What they buy directs how much the University can divert from landfills every game.

Loyola’s Office of Sustainability recruits volunteers to run the zero waste stations in the arena.

Each semester, the Office of Sustainability has two student interns who are dedicated to managing the zero waste process in Gentile. They staff the arena’s zero waste stations and help Loyolans—and our opponents—dispose of their items properly at the end of the game.

The bigger the game, the more zero waste stations needed in the arena. Interns recruit peers and University faculty and staff to help work the stations as needed. The volunteers are ambassadors of sustainability and help put a face to all the important sustainability initiatives at Loyola.

In Gentile Arena, you can enjoy all your regular concessions—served in compostable and recyclable containers.

Beverages—including water!—are served in cans because it’s easier to recycle. Hot dogs are served wrapped simply in foil (not foil and paper) so it can be recycled. Everything you’d see at a regular stadium you’ll see at the Wolf’s Kettle—just a more sustainable version.

Watching the Ramblers can be fun and sustainable.

Zero waste stations are set up during all men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball games held in Gentile. The stations can sometimes be found at other non-sporting events held in the arena, too.

After the game, stations are set up so you can dispose of your items in the proper containers.

There are zero waste stations all around the concourse at Gentile, making throwing away your waste as easy as possible. The main station is located across from the Wolf’s Kettle. Some items are compostable and others are recyclable. Each station is staffed with knowledgable volunteers who can answer questions about what goes where.

After all the fans have left the arena, the zero waste volunteers do a quick sweep of the stands to collect recyclable items before the cleaning crew prepares the stadium for the next game.

It’s easy to forget your empty can or leftover popcorn under your seat after a game. To make sure recyclable and compostable items aren’t sent to the landfill, the zero waste volunteers at Gentile do one final check around the arena. Whatever they find goes in the correct zero waste bins!

All of the compostable and recyclable waste is weighed before being disposed through the appropriate channels.

Thanks to Zero Waste Games, Loyola kept 1,700 pounds of waste out of landfills in 2019 and 2020. In 2016, Loyola won RecycleMania’s GameDay: Basketball – Diversion Rate award with a 96 percent diversion rate. That means the Ramblers kept the most waste out of landfills in all of college basketball!

Loyolans are committed to recycling and composting across campus—not just during sporting events. Zero Waste Games are just one sustainability initiative of many for Loyola Athletics—and the University as a whole.

In 2020, the Alfie Norville Practice Facility was awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. In addition to having energy-efficient heating and cooling, the Alfie has a green roof—one of many on Loyola’s three campuses. Loyola has the most green roofs of any university in the Midwest.