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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: The Zero-Waste House That Jeter Built

by Susan Hellauer

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.
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It was the hottest ticket in town and I—Yankee fan from my Bronx birth—had snagged one in the left field main deck, thanks to my old friend Wendy, who had a ticket to spare. It was May 14th, Derek Jeter night, and the Yankees honored the 42-year-old former captain and future Hall of Famer by retiring his number (2) and unveiling his Monument Park plaque. The pre-game ceremony—for which all remained standing—was filled with career-spanning clutch-play highlights, Jeter-era Yankee greats, and a Wagner opera’s worth of heroic fanfares.

When the emotional hour-long event was over, the ever-considerate Wendy took all the snack boxes, cups and food wrappers up to discard them. She returned after a long absence looking puzzled: there wasn’t a garbage can to be found anywhere. Finally, she spied a maintenance man pushing a cart, and tossed in the trash.

But that trash in her hands wasn’t trash at all. Rather, it was destined for diversion—to be recycled or composted, never to see a landfill. The new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009 across the street from the now-demolished 1923 House that Ruth Built, was designed from the get-go as a sustainable, zero-waste oasis, and not a daily avalanche of food-related garbage, like most stadiums.

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Green from the ground up

NY Yankees zero waste

Birds-eye view of the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Starting with recycled steel and concrete, and diversion of construction waste, the home of the Yankees has become one of Major League Baseball`s greenest operations. Photo courtesy The New York Yankees.

Thanks to organizations like the 384-member (and growing) Green Sports Alliance, teams and stadiums of all kinds are making strides toward zero waste. The shift is sparing landfills millions of cubic feet of garbage each year, reducing energy and water use, and cutting down on carbon emissions. And the Bronx’s 47,422-seat Yankee Stadium is one of Major League Baseball’s greenest operations.

There was no need to convert the new stadium to a more sustainable profile: it was all baked in, right from the recycled structural steel and concrete aggregate used in its construction. The 31,000 square-foot Great Hall, through which most guests arrive, is built with massive open-air archways that allow for natural cooling and ventilation: no air conditioning required. The energy savings per game from this alone equals about 125 New York City apartments shutting off their air-conditioning for a summer day.

The savings don’t stop there. The stadium’s ultra-efficient plumbing fixtures spare about 3.1 million gallons of water each year, reducing water use by 22 percent. And automated building controls are calibrated to reduce power consumption of lighting and ventilation systems when not in use.

Food, glorious (ballpark) food

NY Yankees zero waste

Concessions at the new Yankee Stadium feature utensils and containers that are entirely compostable. Photo courtesy The New York Yankees.

Let’s face it, when you’re at the old ballgame, you’re going to eat and drink things you might not otherwise consume—and probably too much of said food and drink. All those treats get to your seat in disposable packaging, which in the old days would have been collected and stuffed into a parade of private trash haulers and driven hundreds of dirty, diesel-fuming miles to a distant landfill. No more.

At the Bronx cathedral of baseball, all disposable cutlery and food-service packaging, including trays, boxes, plates and cups, are made of compostable materials instead of petroleum-based plastics. These, along with food waste, are composted. And cardboard, glass, metal, other plastics and paper are recycled. Through the efforts of fans and Yankee Stadium staff, approximately 85 percent of the stadium’s total trash will be diverted away from landfills this season–and that figure is inching up to 90 percent, which would qualify the operation as true zero-waste. Whatever trash is left to be hauled is compacted right at the stadium, which means fewer trash packer trucks on the road, improving air quality.

NY Yankees zero waste

Trash and recycling bins at the stadium have been replaced with bins to accept glass and metal containers [round openings] and compost [square opening]. Photo courtesy recycleaway.com, who created 250 of the new bins

Feeling guilty about the fried goodies you gobble at a Yankee doubleheader? This should make you feel better: During the course of a typical season, more than 20,000 gallons of cooking oil from the Stadium are collected and donated for recycling. This oil produces more than 18,600 gallons of biodiesel fuel which, when used in vehicles, results in a carbon reduction of more than 30,000 pounds—the equivalent of removing approximately 27 cars from the road for a year.

And all that good, unsold food hanging around at the end of a home stand? The Yanks work with the nonprofit Rock and Wrap It Up to get it to New York food charities.

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Lighting the way

NY Yankees zero waste

HID lights at the new Yankee Stadium (l.) were replaced by state-of-the-art LED lights in 2014. Among their many benefits is reduced glare for players and spectators alike. Photo courtesy Green Sports Alliance and the New York Yankees.

New York Yankees Vice President of Stadium Operations, Doug Behar, was awarded the 2015 Green Sports Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award for implementing one of the most progressive environmental programs in professional sports. But he didn’t stop there. Behar had one more massive energy-saving idea on deck.

Prior to the 2016 Major League Baseball season, Behar oversaw the installation of light-emitting diode (LED) field lighting at Yankee Stadium, becoming just the second MLB stadium (after the Seattle Mariners) to use the state-of-the-art energy-efficient lighting system. These LED lights are 40 percent more efficient and 50 percent brighter than the previous field lighting at Yankee Stadium.

The new lights improve the game experience from all angles. They create an enhanced visual environment for both players and fans, provide improved color rendering for broadcast engineers, and reduce light pollution by minimizing stray lights. The planet scores another win too: the energy saved is enough to power about 45 homes every day.

Going, going, CO2 gone

In a 2015 interview with greenbiz.com, Ops VP Behar addressed even more ways that the Yanks and its owners, the Steinbrenner family, plan to reduce their carbon footprint. Those trucks that haul compost, recycling and trash from the Stadium now use ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel for a cleaner journey, and there will soon be far fewer of them: Behar said that anaerobic digesters (already in use by the Cleveland Indians), will soon be operational, using compostable materials to produce energy.

All of the energy that the Yankees are now purchasing is from “green, from non-polluting  sources,” said Behar. They also purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECS), which support investment in renewable energy production.

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A quiet revolution

Once fans catch on, say Yankee stadium officials, they are 100 percent with the new zero-waste program. Photo courtesy recycleaway.com

It was no surprise that Wendy and I (of all people!) didn’t know about the Yankee organization’s major-league sustainability initiatives. Doug Behar admitted that the team has not been shouting about their zero-waste and related efforts. The Steinbrenners just “want to do the right thing, be a positive example for our community, our borough, city and Major League Baseball,” said Behar, who noted that fans have been enthusiastically supportive when they have caught on.

Zero-waste wasn’t a headline in 2009 when the new Yankee stadium opened, but ever more organizations and municipalities are proposing and working toward zero-waste targets in the not-too-distant future. New York City is looking at 2030. San Francisco is aiming for an ambitious 2020. The entire State of Maryland has 2040 in its sights. There are more people than you might imagine—families with kids and pets even—who maintain zero-waste homes, producing no more than a jelly jar of trash in a year.

Perhaps the most powerful effect of watching the Yankees win in a low-carbon, zero-waste, water- and energy-efficient all-American ballpark is how normal, how eminently rational it all begins to appear. Because it is.

Learn more:

Read Earth Matters every Saturday on Nyack News And Views, or sign up for the Earth Matters mailing list.

Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.

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