Baseball gets eco-friendly

Recycling bins for cans and bottles are shaped to be obvious for what goes in them.

Captain Plastic with bags of Safeco Soil.

Kai Ryssdal: The baseball All-Star Game is tomorrow. Forty-nine thousand some odd fans will fill Chase Field in Phoenix to see baseball's best -- or at least its most popular.

That many people generate a whole lot of trash. But the park's armed with recycling bins, and the league plans to compost most of what's left over. All part of a plan, as Eve Troeh reports from the Sustainability Desk, to get the national pasttime -- and other sports too -- to go green.

Eve Troeh: A night game at Seattle's Safeco Field sounds like any other. But at the pre-game show, the Mariners get an award from the state of Washington.

Commentator: 2011 Recycler of the Year award.

Recyclers of the year, and there to accept it?

Commentator: Captain Plastic and Kid Compost.

Captain Plastic and Kid Compost, two new Mariners mascots. They're the face of a behind-the-scenes push to "green" the game.

Scott Jenkins: There's a better way to play here.

Scott Jenkins is vice president of ballpark operations. He's also a founding member of the Green Sports Alliance. It's a group of 30 pro teams -- hockey to soccer -- working with the Natural Resources Defense Council to shrink the environmental footprint of sports. Jenkins says, like any major industry, it's a big one.

Jenkins: We use a lot of water, we use a lot of energy, we create a lot of waste, we take planes.

He's tackling all that: from buying carbon offsets for the visiting team, to pressing vendors for greener products. Like any good baseball fan, he loves stats.

Jenkins: Our electric use is down 30 percent. Our water use is down 15 percent. We're currently at 79 percent recycling rate of our waste.

He says the team's saved half a million dollars a year on power bills by doing simple things like swapping a scoreboard's old light bulbs for LEDs.

Jenkins: On that board alone, enough to power 100 homes for an entire year.

But there are some non-negotiables.

Jenkins: We have to water the grass, we have to cut it, we have to fertilize it.

Astroturf's not likely to fly -- it's thought to cause more player injuries. Jenkins likes to turn off the powerful park lights during day games -- that can save more than $1,000 -- but:

Jenkins: The quality of the game is first and foremost, and if the umpire says I want the lights, or the manager wants the lights, we'll turn 'em on.

How do the fans feel? Some get confused. What were trash cans now only say "composting" or "recycling." So, what do you do with that empty beer cup?

Fans: I will be placing it in the recycling container. But it doesn't go in this one, it goes in that one. This one says for bottles and cans, that's not a bottle or a can.

Jenkins says it's a learning process. The fans are a captive audience for green products and practices.

Legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg agrees. He's started his own Sporting Green Alliance.

Leigh Steinberg: You've got millions and millions of people that might otherwise never think about the environment, and all of a sudden it's a little big glamorous, a little bit sexy, it's a little bit interesting. Sports can lead the way.

Especially if you get big names on board. Steinberg's seen athletes sway lots of social issues. So far, few players have voiced support -- or any opinion -- of environmental efforts. Steinberg's pushing his stars to take on the issue. He says it could also land them endorsement deals for green products.

At Safeco Field, the Mariners push their own green product. No bobblehead doll this time.

Captain Plastic: I've got a dirtbag -- would you like one?

Captain Plastic tosses five-pound bags of Safeco Soil into the arms of departing fans. It's made partly of trash composted after Mariners games. It stinks, like manure.

Fan: It smells like awesome compost. I can't wait to put this in my pots.

Some people ask for two bags.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

Captain Plastic with bags of Safeco Soil.

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Sports organizations must take the lead in marketing profitable sustainable practices. When Farm Aid took their show to Milwaukee Miller Park in 2010, 40 tons of compost was returned to farming via White Oak Farm Organics using mostly volunteers, a first for major league baseball, and a first for Wisconsin yet the effort went largely overlooked afterwards. Municipalities, counties, and state agency owners of facilities are not yet motivated to take the financial risk in regearing for waste reduction in a big way. Not all regions have anerobic digestors or facilities in place for compost production. The down economy coupled with budget reductions should boost out of box enthusiam for these benefits yet the process is slow going. With Seattle, Philadephia and other major market teams onboard perhaps a public interest wave will overtake the country. Thanks for the story... Marketplace's attention can only help.

Great story but it makes it sound like sustainability and environmental concerns are new in U.S. professional sports. The NFL Super Bowl and Pro Bowl environmental efforts began 18 years ago under the direction of Jack Groh. Every year the program has expanded into new programs and with greater numbers of participants. These programs were started at a time when team and stadium owners and staff had to be convinced that there was any benefit to such programs. I think it's much easier now to convince those running sporting events that such benefits exist and that there is public interest in sustainability. It would be good to recognize the NFL Environmental Program for its groundbreaking work in this area especially since it's likely we won't be seeing a Super Bowl in 2011 meaning Mr. Groh, like many other contractors whose livlihoods are linked to the NFL, will be out of work this season due to the strike.

this is a welcome news; my city has a public baseball field in the park that is shared by many leagues and teams. after every game the field, the dugout and the stand are filled with trash left behind from the players and audience. it is heart-breaking to see in this era and time, our fans and players alike are so far behind on the environmental concept and so disrespect to our public space.
i hope the major league will take the lead and educate our athletes and fans to become eco-friendly.

I really enjoyed this story but was VERY disappointed that you ended it with a subjective opinion on the smell of compost. This plays into the falsehood that most americans believe. Compost, if done correctly shouldn't stink. And regardless, composted manure is a FABULOUS garden amendment. Some sustainable practices are not perfect, but they are much better than our current practices. So to have ended on that note, was poor judgement- in my opinion.
thank you.

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