The NFL draft could draw up to 200,000 fans to Philadelphia this month for a three-day football gorge fest along the Ben Franklin Parkway.
And, because this is Philadelphia, they’ll want sandwiches and snacks. And, because it’s football, they’ll want beer.
That means thousands of pounds of food, thousands of gallons of drink — along with containers and cups to wrap and carry it all in— all sold by vendors lining the Parkway. About 168,000 fans were registered to attend as of March 31.
So where will all the waste go? And will the unsold food just get tossed?
The NFL says the Philly event will feature an ambitious amount of recycling, not only of trash but also of unused food and materials.
And city officials, using what they learned from the Philadelphia Marathon, say they’re aiming for “zero waste” – meaning realistically that at least 90 percent of trash and leftover food does not end up in a landfill.
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The city and the league have lined up plenty of volunteers to help.
“We did have over 200,000 people go to Chicago last year for the draft,” says Jack Groh, director of the NFL’s environmental program. “From the environmental perspective, we looked at those numbers and said there is going to be an impact on the City of Philadelphia and its environment. So we need to step up and do something about it.”
The three-day draft runs April 27-29, with free admission along a half-mile stretch of the Parkway. Events include interactive exhibits, games that calculate your vertical leap and 40-yard dash, virtual reality experiences, and player autograph sessions.
According to Groh, 16 stations with trash, recycling, and composting bins will be placed along the Parkway. And all building materials, including carpeting and wood, will be dismantled and donated for reuse.
Extra or leftover food will go to soup kitchens and shelters throughout the area, or it will end up at a compost facility in Fairmount Park. Food donations could exceed the 11,000 pounds given during the Democratic National Convention in July, officials estimated.
Some highlights of the effort:
- Signs, decorations, lumber, and carpeting will be donated to organizations including Habitat for Humanity and Resource Exchange. The materials will be remade into such things as whiteboards for classrooms. Carpeting is expected to measure in the hundreds of thousands of square feet— the city will take some of it.
- Volunteers recruited from Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, the Sierra Club, local universities, and other groups will staff 16 recycling stations, helping the public to put everything in the right bin.
- Four water bottle refilling stations, each with four spigots, will be available, staffed by volunteers.
- The NFL and Verizon are putting up $10,000 for urban forestry as part of a matching grant. The Philadelphia Parks Department is proposing to use the money for projects such as a pollinator habitat restoration, community gardening, and tree planting along the Delaware River. Separately, the NFL and Verizon plan to eventually plant 10 trees for each player drafted in 2017.
- The league will purchase Renewable Energy Certificates that would equal the amount of electricity used to power activities in the Draft Experience site along the Parkway. The certificates are sold on a market as a commodity to businesses that need credits to comply with regulations. Ultimately, they provide income to producers of renewable energy.
Kaitlyn Bowdler, deputy director of sustainability at Philabundance, said the nonprofit really doesn’t know how much food to expect. But it’s ready to send food to any one of 350 agencies, ranging from soup kitchens, to shelters, to food pantries in nine counties.
Bowdler said one in five Philadelphians faces hunger.
“We’re reducing food waste and alleviating hunger,” Bowdler said of the effort with the NFL, which includes using an app, Food Connect, to find the right nonprofits to take donations that are too small for her group. “If we can’t take the small 10- to 50-pound donations, we want to help support others that are doing that work.”
Nicholas Esposito, director of Mayor Kenney’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, said he has worked closely with the NFL.
“This is an extreme measure of conscientiousness,” Esposito said. “I think the NFL is taking that extra step to having sustainability at a deep level.”
Already, 160 volunteers from Temple University, Roman Catholic High School, and PowerCorpsPHL, an AmeriCorps program, among other organizations, have signed up to help direct festivalgoers.
It’s more complicated than you might imagine. Bread, salad, fruits, and other organic items will be composted, but meat has to be kept out of that stream, destined for vegetable gardens.
Best case scenario: That vendors and festivalgoers do all they can to avoid generating waste.
“The best waste-management plan is the waste you don’t create,” Esposito said.