At the University of Florida, where football culture dominates campus the entire fall semester, acting responsibly on game days is essential.
UF's Interfraternity Council has a virtual monopoly on student tailgating, providing free drinks and “hype” prior to kick-off on game days. While the practices of these student organizations undoubtedly boost student morale and encourage school spirit, the means through which the fraternities achieve these goals must be reconsidered.
Before games even begin, campus is littered with red Solo cups and other single-use plastics from students going between fraternity houses and leaving their trash behind. Despite recycling efforts by Sustainable UF, most of this single-use plastic waste ends up in landfills.
In order to combat waste and make progress toward UF’s sustainable goals, fraternities must reassess their current tailgate system. To do this, I propose the implementation of a deposit-return scheme (DRS). Under such a system a consumer pays an additional charge for a serving container upfront, which is reimbursed upon returning the reusable container at a collection point.
On a study abroad program in Europe this summer, I saw the success of this program firsthand. At bars, biergartens and even a music festival, I was charged two extra euros for a glass plate or cup, and upon returning to the bartender before I left, I received my two euros back
I noticed these venues were significantly cleaner than most bars or events that I’ve attended at home; with no single-use plastics, there was very little trash on the ground. Although the cost was initially higher, I didn’t pay any more than I would have if the DRS was not in place. The DRS allows companies to provide reusable containers and minimize waste while encouraging accountability for consumers.
At UF, my proposal for a DRS would work very simply. When students arrive at a fraternity house, they would pay $1 or $2 and receive a reusable cup for drinks while inside. Each fraternity could have their letters or another design on their cup to distinguish from other fraternity houses.
When the student plans to move on to another house, they would return their cup at the exit and receive their deposit back. All participating fraternities would have the same price so that the same two dollars would get the student into each house.
A large-scale example of a working DRS is in Norway, where consumers who purchase plastic water bottles pay an additional 25 cents. Upon returning at “reverse vending machine” collection points located in most grocery stores, the customer receives 25 cents back.
The system has worked so well that Norway recycles 97% of their plastic water bottles today. Ten European countries have implemented this system on a large scale, including at their grocery stores, pubs and other beverage retailers; the least successful country, Estonia, still has a return rate of 82.7%.
When discussing the issue of waste reduction at tailgates, an easy initial answer is compostable cups. But a life-cycle energy analysis found that standard reusable plastic cups must be used 17 times for every paper cup in order to offset their environmental cost. Although this seems like a high number, the payoff can easily be achieved for fraternities; there are around 10 home football games each season, and the cups could be used throughout the rest of the year for other events.
The transition to reusable cups through a DRS can be extremely beneficial for fraternities at UF. Beyond the immediate environmental positives, the cups can be a source of profit; if a student elects not to return a cup at a tailgate, whether by forgetting or by choice, the house would make $2.
This concept could be an added element to tailgating and fraternity life, as houses seek to better design their cups and tailgate concept overall. Even more importantly, this possible profit does not come at the expense of the consumer; students have the choice to keep the cup or return it to save money. Any revenue is a bonus for the fraternity and an added incentive for implementation.
More than a way to decrease waste for a few days every year, the implementation of DRS and reusable cups at tailgates makes a statement that fraternities are willing to change to do what’s right. Even if unpopular, this project demonstrates to others that UF and the university’s fraternities are moving in the right direction to promote sustainable student life.
Emma Goldberg is a second-year environmental engineering student at UF.