Last semester, students from Carnegie Mellon University’s innovative course “Design and Policy for Humanitarian Impact,” taught by Kristin Hughes and Tim Zak, worked with local organizations and the staff at PPG Paints Arena, home of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, to reduce the amount of waste going from the stadium into Pittsburgh’s landfills. In a stadium environment, the sheer volume of people and the large amount of consumption creates as much as two million pounds of garbage in local landfills, urging a need for improved diversion practices.
Over the course of their study, students Hannah Salinas, Caroline Hall, and Matthew Churilla were able to create prototypes of redesigned recycling lids that fit on to the current bins at the PPG Paints Arena. Their final design encourages fans to recycle by utilizing subtle cues. The holes on the lid match the shape of the cans and trays, and signs instruct fans to empty their food containers before recycling, helping to keep recyclable items from being contaminated with food waste. They found that these lids increased the rate of recycling, and that implementing these lids would be a cost effective first step to improve the waste diversion in the stadium. The students believe similar designs could be implemented in other stadiums with equivalent success.
Local regulations implemented as part of Act101 compliance require that facilities make recycling bins available. These regulations have been static for many years and lack updates to reflect modern diversion best practices or to encourage continuous improvement. This has caused the Pittsburgh region to fall far behind diversion leaders like Seattle and San Francisco. This has led to disparate results with some organizations overachieving while many lag behind.
“The involvement of Pittsburgh’s local government is a vital step in improving waste diversion,” said Kristin Hughes, Design Professor who advised the project. “While mandating recycling bins as part of Act 101 has been a great initial step, Pittsburgh’s policies do not measure or use goals to increase the effectiveness of recycling programs, and could go even farther to include composting.”
Through a combination of local government support, collaboration between stadiums, and dedicated stadium staff, the diversion rate at PPG Paints Arena could approach 60%, matching or surpassing other leading stadium diversion rates. By improving customer engagement, creating a composting program, and using sorting teams, PPG Paints Arena could keep over a million pounds of waste out of Pittsburgh landfills each year.
“The Sports and Exhibition Authority’s oversight of regional entertainment venues can be used to increase diversion,” added Churilla. “Goals for waste diversion would be a great first step to encourage local entertainment venues to pursue better receptacle design and better diversion practices.” Pittsburgh’s total waste diversion rate is only at 22%, well behind the 34.5% national average according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Steps like these within stadiums at both a design and policy level would contribute several steps to bring Pittsburgh up to national standards.
The hope is that connecting the processes and people between stadiums and Pittsburgh’s local government will enable them to learn improved methods and practices from each other. Through both collaboration and design that is tailored to each individual space, Pittsburgh can become a national driving force behind diversion innovation.