Author Topic: Waste-Free Debate Tournaments  (Read 3312 times)

joe leeson-schatz

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Waste-Free Debate Tournaments
« on: September 20, 2010, 07:47:48 AM »
This past weekend we ran our tournament at Binghamton almost entirely waste-free, even though we had approximately 400 people in attendance between our policy and worlds divisions. In the end we composted 720 gallons of waste (24 full garbage bags), recycled more than I can count, and produced ONLY 6 bags of garbage! The fact that we were ale to do this with a tournament of this size on a trial run shows that it is not hard and that with a little more effort that the debate community can do way more for the environment than simply going paperless. In fact, there is almost no excuse for why tournament after tournament we throw away hundreds and hundreds of gallons of food scraps, paper, etc when all of that can be turned back into soil instead of sitting in a landfill indefinitely. Here's how we did it:

1) We bought sturdy compostable garbage bags. They were $19.99 for a box of 30. They fully decompose in 2 years and they were available at Home Depot. This is what the box looks like: . If you buy compostable bags over the internet you can find brands that are cheaper, decompose quicker, and are larger than the 30 gallon size we decided to go with.

2) We contacted our University's physical facilities. They put us n touch with their environmental division that runs a compost collection in correlation with the Environmental Studies major. They came every morning and picked up the compost to bring to their composting site. This meant that collecting all the compost was no harder than collecting all the garbage. Instead of putting our bags in a dumpster all we had to do was put in next to a dumpster. Even if your University doesn't have a program like this most cities have composting initiatives that will pick up large amounts of compost from locations and will take it to their site in the city. Super simple. Took us one phone call.

3) We made sure to only buy plates that were compostable (not hard, just has to be paper), silverware that was recyclable (pretty easy just look for the recycle symbol, it'll be a little more expensive), and ensured that the caterers didn't bring anything that wouldn't recycle or compost (for us that meant we took care of providing all plates and silverware instead of having them provide them for us. This was cost-neutral since they decreased what they charged us since they weren't providing what they normally do for what they traditionally charge).

4) For drinks we got everyone a travel mug so they wouldn't have to throw away cups or have thousands of cans or bottles to take care of (remember: reduce is always better than recycle). We raised registration fees $5 per person to cover this expense. In the end, we didn't need to because the money you save buying drinks in bulk makes up for the cost of travel mugs. We ordered 600 since we figured people would lose and misplace them and we ended up giving out about 50 replacements. Participants loved them since it meant everyone got to take home a souvineer. We got our mugs from ( is the specific mug we went with). After getting our University logo printed on it, along with the tournament name and date, they came to about $2.85 a piece. Again, this ends up being about the same price as buying hundreds of water bottles, cans of soda, etc because you can now buy drinks in bulk.

5) We labelled all the garbage cans in the buildings for what we wanted them used for (most for compost only, aprox one per building for actual garage). We asked participants to use garbage cans in classrooms for compost only as well.

Here's the problems we ran into:

1) The coaches who checked in at registration who were given the travel mugs for the entire team did not always distribute the mugs to the entire team. This is the real reason we gave out so many replacements. Most people were very responsible with keeping their one travel mug with them the entire time.

2) Debaters are lazy and don't read signs. We found plastics in the compost, compost in the garbage, and recycling left wherever. I had a team of class debaters who were helping for extra credit who took the visible stuff in the garbage, compost, etc and put it in the right place. When I talked with the environmental studies people who run our University compost program they told me this happens a lot and that they have people at their composting site that sort what's compostable from what's not. Overall, however, they were very happy with what we were able to do with so many people in attendance. A few more announcements on this, more tournaments beginning to go waste-free, and a little more care and attention should solve this problem. However, it was the largest problem we ran into.

3) Ballots, pairings, etc. While all these were composted in the end, I feel that as the community goes increasingly paperless and people become increasingly connected there is less and less a need for everyone to get a paper copy of pairings. As ballots are entered online now as this catches on as well we should be able to eliminate the need for paper ballots as well. Again, this didn't contribute to landfills since it was composted. But, once again, reduce is only the first principle we should strive for.

All in all, it was a huge success. 6 bags of garbage for a 3 day tournament with 400 people is amazing. If every tournament we attended a year (Binghamton attends roughly 10) went waste-free that would be 7,200 gallons that would avoid reaching the landfill each year! It is even more impressive that we did so well as in a trial run where we were attempting to go waste-free for the first time. As we do this more and more we can reduce those 6 bags of garbage down to 0.

As a consequence of this success, we will run CEDA Nationals waste-free as well. Hopefully other tournaments will follow suit and attempt to significantly reduce waste production and create a better, more green, world for us all.

joe leeson-schatz
director of speech and debate at binghamton university