2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open touted as ‘greenest show on grass’

golf stock imageWhile the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open was touted as the “greenest show on grass,” and the efforts certainly were commendable, I’m not sure how successful it was at becoming a reality.

In a release in November of last year, Waste Management (Houston, TX) announced that it had achieved “another first in golf sustainability, becoming the first tournament in the world to attain GEO Certified Tournament status from Scotland-based GEO Foundation.”

Paula Davey, Director of Sales and Marketing at Waste Management, said: “The achievement is another proud milestone for our organization. Waste Management not only wants to stand out as a leading environmental services provider, but we hope to change how golf tournaments and communities view sustainability everywhere.”

To achieve this, Waste Management explained there were no trash receptacles on the tournament grounds, only recycle and compost bins (and small ones at that). Zero Waste Stations were staffed with “recycling ambassadors” to guide fans on the right way to recycle—by pouring out liquids before recycling cups, for instance, and informing people on the kinds of paper products that are compostable.

Fans could take time out from watching their favorite golfer on the 16th hole to learn “recycling rules” at the Zero Waste Station. In fact, the rules for recycling and composting are quite exacting, and if the recyclates and compostables are not in compliance, the material will ultimately end up in the company’s waste-to-energy facility. After all, Waste Management promised “100% landfill diversion through recycling, composting, donation, reuse and waste-to-energy.”

Janette Micelli, who handles media for Waste Management, responded to my question about the Zero Waste Station, by writing, “the goal of our Zero Waste Stations is to help fans understand the recycling and compost collection system that is set up at the Open, as it is customized for the event. We share some common tips they can apply—for example, recycle your bottles, cans and paper, and never include food and liquids in the recycling.

“We understand the varying rules of recycling across North America, so we don’t get very specific, nor do we have a large amount of time to engage. We are just happy to share a little about our zero waste efforts with those attending the golf tournament.”

At the end of Sunday’s last round, 719,179 people had passed through the gates for the seven-day event—record crowds every day. A local news reporter was standing in front of two Waste Management bins for recyling and composting that were not only full but had a mountain of plastic bottles and paper stacked around them. They easily could have filled four or five more bins. Additionally, the hillside behind the reporter, who was interviewing a Waste Management representative, was littered with bottles and paper. It was obvious that not only were there not enough bins to hold the waste, but that people continue to litter no matter how many bins are available and how many instructions and “rules” are provided.

Micelli wrote in response to my question about this situation: “Bins are serviced by a team of our workers during the day and taken to areas where they are collected at night. Our planning includes taking care of the extra cleanup that is required for one of the most-attended sporting events in the world. When the crowds are clearing, our team is moving into action to consolidate and collect leftover materials. Within hours and into the evening, the event is clean and ready to go the next day.”

Maybe not enough people stopped by the Zero Waste Station to get educated in recycling and composting and learn the rules. Or perhaps they just didn’t take the time to find a bin. Or, upon seeing the bins full, started piling up their bottles and paper around the bins, which is a start. At least the waste got near the bins. People are into convenience. More and larger bins perhaps would have encouraged more people to take advantage of the Zero Waste program.

Recycling needs simplification. “We know that materials don’t always immediately make their way into the proper containers; however, they are sorted further at our transfer station prior to going onto recycling and compost facilities,” said Micelli.

If it’s not easy and simple, people will respond to the whole idea like my neighbor. When I saw him putting non-recyclable materials in his blue bin, I tried to explain why certain things he was putting in the bin weren’t recyclable.

“Oh, I know, but it’s all so complex keeping up with numbers and materials and what can and can’t be recycled. I just throw it all in and let the recycling people figure it out,” he replied.

That’s probably the attitude of most people. We’ve got to figure out a way to implement the KISS method—keep it simple, stupid—for recycling and composting if this is ever going to work. Complying with the various methods of dealing with paper and plastics along with the attendant rules about what can and can’t be recycled, composted or co-mingled takes time, money and exorbitant amounts of energy to accomplish. It’s not easy—or cheap—being green!

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