Who doesn’t love a tailgate party? The fresh air, the team spirit, the grilled meat, the ice-cold beer — it’s America, and this time of year, it happens every week outside stadiums coast to coast.
It also generates a lot of waste, which is a growing concern among eco-conscious venues. The University of Colorado recently announced it was converting popular tailgating spot Franklin Field into a zero-waste, aluminum-can-only area. The tailgating zone, a joint effort with metal-packaging company Ball Corp., will feature recyclable cans, compostable foodware, full compost and recycling collections. Fans who drive to the game can park in a solar-powered garage close to the field.
University of Colorado isn’t the only school promoting earth-friendly fandom. Ohio State University and the University of Michigan are among those with sustainable tailgate options, and the University of Southern California is so committed to the idea, it offers a zero-waste tailgate certification program.
This sense of environmental responsibility extends to professional sports teams and venues, as well — enough to give rise to groups such as the Green Sports Alliance. The alliance, which represents more than 300 sports teams and venues in 14 countries, promotes eco-sensitivity at sporting events.
But do tailgaters really care that much about saving Mother Earth on game day? If the preponderance of online tips for sustainable tailgating is any indication, absolutely. Green tailgating even has its own Pinterest board.
According to Steve Novak, owner of Dallas-based Cowboystailgate.com, a company that organizes pre-game gatherings for the Dallas Cowboys, fans are getting greener. “I think many tailgaters (also being campers and outdoorsy types) are conscious about leaving no trace and leaving as small a footprint as possible,” Novak says. This may be particularly true for conservation-minded millennials, whom surveys show are willing to pay more for sustainable options and are more likely than members of past generations to support strict environmental policies.
One way tailgaters are limiting their environmental impact: buying canned beer, which Novak sees more and more often at the parties his company facilitates. “I’m not sure if it’s sustainability, convenience or some combination of the two that makes them turn to cans — but that is certainly a trend in tailgating,” he says.
Novak cites the rise of craft beer among reasons for the shift toward cans. “Five to 10 years ago there were beer snobs that would say that a bottled beer tastes better, so they would stick to their bottles,” he says. But that bias is fading as more craft brewers turn to canning, he says. “The snobbery that used to be around bottles versus cans, I think that’s breaking down very fast, if not completely broken down at this point.”
Let’s talk logistics. When you’re in charge of bringing drinks to the game, you want to maximize cooler space. Bottles, with their oblong shape, aren’t necessarily good on this front.
Cans, on the other hand, pack beautifully, owing to their stackable shape and durability. Take your standard 12-ounce beer can. According to Ball Corp., these cans weigh just 0.46 ounces each, and it takes 15 of them to equal the weight of one glass bottle. This relative lightness enables distributors to haul more canned product per truckload. And because cans fit neatly end to end, consumers can fit a whole party’s worth in one cooler, thereby requiring fewer bags of ice, which usually come in plastic bags that must then be thrown away or recycled.
Another thing about glass bottles? They break easily. And when they break — like, say, when one slips out of a cheering fan’s sweaty grip or is thrown in a moment of game rage — people can get hurt.
In fact, some stadiums, such as San Francisco 49ers’ Levi Stadium, ban the use of virtually all glass containers. Cans, on the other hand? Fair game.
And when the party’s over, cans are easy to crush and lightweight for hauling away. This makes for a safer, easier and more efficient cleanup, though crushing cans may make them more difficult to sort once they reach the recycling centers.
Another popular option is a metal growler, which thirsty consumers can bring from home and refill from a keg onsite at the game, or a Crowler, a one-use, recyclable can that they can purchase pre-filled and sealed from their favorite watering hole or craft brewery. “It’s certainly better than a red solo cup, which creates trash,” Novak says.
Speaking of trash, cans are infinitely recyclable. According to Ball Corp., cans contain 68 percent recycled aluminum on average. What’s more, recycling cans saves 95 percent of the energy it takes to create a can from virgin materials. And it can take as few as 60 days for a recycled aluminum can to return to a store shelf as a new can.