For Love of the Game, and Planet: Yale Athletes Work for Sustainability in Sports

A photo illustration showing two members of the Bulldog Sustainability team wearing protective suits for a "waste audit"
January 24, 2023

Yale student-athletes have a lot on their plates: demanding course loads, intensive training regimens, practices, travel, and games. The five undergraduates who make up Bulldog Sustainability do all of that—and still find time to work on making Yale Athletics more sustainable.

Occasionally, that means donning a hazmat suit to pick through trash after a game as part of a “waste audit.”

Bulldog Sustainability is the student-athlete team working at the intersection of sustainability and athletics at Yale. This year’s group is made up of five dedicated undergraduates: Hannah Turner ’25 (softball), Oren Aviad ’25 (gymnastics), Marymegan Wright ’25 (lacrosse), Willa Ferrer ’24 (softball), and Molly McGuckin ’25 (lacrosse).

Since September, these student-athletes have worked to gather data and educate peers and fans about how to tread more lightly on the court and field. They have held public “tabling” events to promote their work and engage with Yale students, faculty, staff, and alumni around reducing waste and conserving resources.

Last fall, after receiving training from the Office of Sustainability, the students conducted a series of waste audits following three Yale sports games as part of their Zero Waste Game Day initiative. The goal was to better understand how fans were disposing of concessions and other items so Bulldog Sustainability can make recommendations aimed at reducing and diverting waste.

With guidance from Yale Landscape and Grounds, the students identified three games in October and November for waste audits: two soccer games at Reese Stadium, and a football game at Yale Bowl.

The Bulldog Sustainability team was given bags of waste and recycling from each facility after the games. They set up a tarp, a scale, and three receptacles to collect, sort, and weigh the material. Carefully recording data on every bag, they summarized their findings and recommendations for improvements.

The most common issues? Common recyclable material such as plastic bottles and paper ended up in the trash. Occasionally food waste—including in one instance a full can of Red Bull—appeared in the recycling, contaminating the rest of the material in the bin so that it may no longer be recyclable.

Based on their findings, the Bulldog team is drafting recommendations to share with the Office of Sustainability and Yale Athletics. Turner says these will center on improved signage and receptacle placement that, the students hope, will help fans get material into the right bins. These priorities are made all the more important, Turner explains, because Yale is set to host the Yale-Harvard football matchup next fall, and no game at Yale has the potential to generate more waste than the Game.

Along with waste audits, Bulldog Sustainability promotes Green Team certification to Yale athletic squads, wherein teams can earn points for practicing sustainable behaviors such as using reusable water bottles and walking to sports facilities rather than driving. This past fall, no fewer than eight Yale athletic teams qualified as Green Teams—a testament to the work and organizational skills of the Bulldog Sustainability crew.

“It’s obvious that our environment is deteriorating, and everything we can do now to promote sustainability on a small scale is going to help in the big picture,” says Aviad.

“Bulldog is a great way to build community around a cause that a lot of people care about and a way to specifically build team camaraderie around sustainability,” adds Turner. “It can be inspiring to engage with your teammates over a shared interest.”

Each month, Yale Sustainability features a ‘Sustainability Champion of the Month’—a student, staff, or faculty member who is leading the charge toward a more sustainable campus. If you know a sustainability champion at Yale, email and tell us about them.