October 25, 2014, by Paul Brown
Arsenal FC has its own waste disposal centre to deal with what big crowds of spectators leave behind.
Image: Julian Osley via Wikimedia Commons
Shouts of “what a load of rubbish” are heard at hundreds of football matches around England every weekend – but researchers say fans should direct them at overflowing waste bins rather than at players and referees. LONDON, 25 September, 2014 − Most English football clubs, and the millions of fans who watch them, don’t think beyond what is going to happen on the pitch in the next 90 minutes. Saving the planet is the last thing on their minds, according to research into the Football League. At the other end of the scale, universities are seriously concerned about their effect on the environment. The world’s top teaching universities are combining to lower their impact, and believe that their students − the leaders of tomorrow − will continue these efforts when they begin their careers. Football, which has a major influence on the behaviour of millions of young people, is a major industry in the UK. Eleven tiers make up English football’s pyramid. The Premier League is at the apex, followed by the Championship and Football Leagues One and Two, and then a national league structure – with 59 leagues across the country providing a feeder system through to the Football League. This means that hundreds of matches take place each week, attracting crowds of spectators in varying numbers. While the numbers decrease in the lower leagues, the huge amount of games played means the aggregate number of spectators is on a par with the Premier League.
Of course, the big money is made by Premier League clubs, which get millions in revenue from sponsorship and worldwide TV. But one thing all the clubs have in common is that food and drink generates extra revenue − and plenty of waste. Football does sometimes manage to notch up an environmental goal. Like many large businesses, some of the top clubs take seriously the amount of waste that fans produce during matches − mainly because it costs clubs a lot of money to dispose of it. For example, Arsenal FC now has its own waste recycling centre, and Manchester City and Manchester United have made such improvements in waste generation and disposal that none of their waste now goes to landfill. In the lower leagues, however, the problem is still largely ignored. The School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex, UK, decided to investigate to see how much rubbish was produced by the highest profile and most popular sport in England, and what effect they had on greenhouse gas emissions. The amount of waste generated by each one of the nine million fans who watched games in the lower leagues in the 2012/13 season was 3.27 kg each. That amounts to 30,146 tonnes of waste over the season, about a quarter of which went to landfill and produced more than two million kg of carbon dioxide to add to climate change. In their paper, published in Scientific Research, the researchers say that waste per person at an average lower league match was 10 times that produced on big sporting occasions such as FA Cup finals – less than a quarter of a kilo, compared with 3.27 kg. The amount produced over a season by the eight lower tiers o f the football league is three times the amount produced at the 2012 London Olympic Games. According to the researchers, this shows that the management of the lower league football clubs need to do more to monitor and reduce their waste. The incentive, apart from saving the planet, is that taking rubbish to landfill is expensive. The tax each club has to pay per tonne of waste produced has increased from £7 in 1996 to £40 a tonne in 2014.
“Although many corporate organisations have moved to a wider social audit . . . football clubs have not yet moved in this direction”
The paper suggests that football also has a moral responsibility because sport has wider effects than other businesses in providing support and inspiration in such areas as education, health and fitness, environment, art, and culture. The report concludes: “Although many corporate organisations have moved to a wider social audit of their performance that includes triple bottom line reporting of their economic, environmental and social performance, football clubs have not yet moved in this direction.” In contrast, some of the world’s top teaching universities − meeting at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark this week – have launched a green guide to reduce their impact on the environment. The International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) guide focuses on sharing experience about how universities can become more sustainable. This includes reusing materials, eliminating rubbish and recycling as well as extensive programmes of reducing energy use in laboratories, lecture theatres and residential accommodation. Among the universities taking part are Oxford and Cambridge in England, Yale in the US, Peking in China, Tokyo in Japan, Eth in Switzerland, and the National Universities of Singapore and Australia.
Jørgen Honoré, University Director at Copenhagen, said in launching the guide this week: “Universities have the opportunity to create cultures of sustainability for today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders, and to set their expectations for how the world should be. The green guide provides real-world examples to inspire innovation and creative action at universities around the globe.” The guide includes 23 case histories from these major universities, including installation of solar roofs, and some have already made big strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “At the University of Copenhagen, we have already achieved ambitious targets,” Honoré said. “We have reduced our energy consumption per person by 20%, and we have cut our CO2 emissions per person by nearly 30% since 2006. “Many of our buildings have been made more energy efficient − for example by replacing ventilation units, installing LED lighting, insulating pipes, and making laboratory work more energy efficient.” In the war on waste reduction, it seems that the current score stands at something like Football United 1, University Academicals 5. – Climate News Network
Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.