Cargill joint venture uses corn sugar to help major league sports teams reduce solid waste from fans’ food service.
All around the world, sports fans flock to stadiums, arenas and ballparks to cheer for their favorite teams. From 2013 to 2014, more than 170 million fans packed premier league stadiums to watch international soccer, with another 130 million buying tickets to see professional football, baseball, hockey and basketball games at venues across the United States and Canada. With many of these fans consuming food and drinks during events, an enormous amount of waste is generated by the sports industry each year. In the US alone, major league baseball fans create more than 1,000 tons of waste every season—and until recently, all but a tiny percentage has made its way into landfills.
That is changing, thanks to Cargill’s bio-plastics joint venture with NatureWorks, LLC, the world’s largest producer of polylactic acid polymer. The partnership is significantly increasing the amount of sports waste being composted and recycled.
NatureWorks grew out of a Cargill research and development project in the 1990s, in which researchers were challenged to find a marketable use for cornstarch sugars. They came up with a low-carbon-footprint resin, made by liquefying cornstarch sugar and forming it into hard pellets, which are then sold to manufacturers. The pellets can be used in a variety of products normally made from plastics, including diapers, cell phone cases and food service packaging. Marketed under the brand name Ingeo®, these products can be 100% compostable.
At Target Field in the United States, home to the Minnesota Twins baseball team, located just 13 miles from Cargill headquarters, the team has signed a three-year agreement with a foodservice manufacturer to provide hundreds of thousands of cups, plates, trays, eating utensils and straws made from Ingeo materials—all of which can be mixed with food scraps to create organic waste.
Bottles and cans have long been recycled at the ballpark, but by composting Ingeo-based products more commonly made from plastic, the Twins hope to increase the amount of waste diverted from landfills to 90%, compared with last year’s 73%. More teams are taking on the challenge of increasing the sustainability of their game-day operations. Some venues are converting waste into compost, used as mulch on fields and green spaces.
“Over the past several years, a number of sports teams with recycling and composting rates around 10% have dramatically increased their rates to 80% or more,” said Scott Jenkins, chairman of the Green Sports Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping enhance the environmental performance of sports teams, venues and leagues.
Cargill continues to encourage more sports teams to increase the sustainability of their game day operations with compostable products. And as stadiums expand their use of Ingeo-based goods to reduce landfill waste, the company is looking to help other industries, like the American restaurant sector, minimize their carbon footprints to help make all food service more environmentally safe.