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Philadelphia Union’s Subaru Park Achieves Zero Landfill Status

As part of their partnership with Subaru, the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners become the first MLS club to reach the sustainability milestone.

There was a ceremonial re-opening of the Philadelphia Union’s Subaru Park before Saturday’s 1-0 win over Nashville to announce that the Chester, Pennsylvania stadium is now the first soccer-specific stadium in MLS to achieve zero landfill status.

That means that all the waste generated at Union games will either be reduced, reused, or recycled rather than landfilled or incinerated. Within an average year, the team said, Subaru Park will divert roughly 357,480 pounds of waste from local landfills.

“Part of the partnership with Subaru and why they became a naming rights partner for us was they want to impact the community,” Tim McDermott, the Union’s team president, told Boardroom.  “It was important to them that there was action associated with it.”

https://twitter.com/PhilaUnion/status/1452681365783253002?s=20

McDermott said that this initiative was a good syncing of the companies’ core DNA and values. When they came up with this ambitious goal, everyone involved was very bullish on the idea, but there were some logistics and aspects they needed to figure out before moving forward.

“There was a lot of education that had to take place,” McDermott said, “myself included, of understanding at the simplest level, what is actually recyclable? And what is compostable? And what is not, for that matter?”

Most people, McDermott continued, only have two waste compartments at home: trash and recycling. But as he learned throughout the process of helping Subaru Park convert to zero landfill status, that recycling on an industrial scale isn’t that simple. There was a lot of education everyone had to go through at the individual employee level to actually delve into their waste and understand what was really being produced.

“You actually go into the trash cans and you’ve gotta pull it all out,” McDermott said. “And you have to see, how many paper towels are in there? How many cartons are in there? How many recyclable bottles are in there? And you literally take an audit and start to analyze and deconstruct it to see ‘well this can go to compost, we can actually get rid of this.’ And a big piece of it is changing some of the intakes.”

At all Union games, the team asked the popular supporters group Sons of Ben to change the cups they use at pregame tailgates to recyclable ones. Subaru Park installed more than 100 MAX-R Containers throughout various locations at the stadium. Evaluations were done on all of the products coming into the stadium and determined there were many items that could be eliminated or replaced with a better, recyclable or compostable option. As an example, Subaru Park saved 47,000 pounds of plastic cups by simply serving a beverage in its original recyclable container. These combined efforts helped cut the amount of waste each fan generates in half and increasing the amount of waste each fan recycles at Union games fivefold.

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“We take pride in sharing our zero landfill practices wherever we can,” said Alan Bethke, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Subaru of America, Inc., “and we hope this incredible milestone inspires professional sports stadiums worldwide to adopt more sustainable practices.”

Those are just part of a robust series of steps that included reducing the packaging on items the team bought through its procurement process to using more packaging that might be recyclable or compostable. And throughout this process, McDermott was quite surprised by one major aspect.

“What we found out is that the cost differential was fairly negligible between what we were doing and now what we are doing,” he said. “And at the same time, reaching our goals of being a zero landfill stadium.” 

To be able to do good in the community and not negatively impact the team’s bottom line was something McDermott, the Union, and Subaru are authentically proud of.

“It’s an amazing, heroic, all-in effort from a lot of people, both at Subaru and inside the Union walls,” he said.