BY James Savage
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns fans attending the football home opener Sept. 1 might have goalposts in mind, but a new initiative aims to make compost part of their game-day strategy.
Trash cans inside Cajun Field have been removed to make way for stations that hold separate bins where fans can choose whether their garbage will be composted or recycled rather than sent to landfills.
It’s part of a larger campus-wide effort to produce zero waste. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette approved a Sustainability Strategic Plan in July that calls for reusing, recycling or composting trash that otherwise would be bound for the dump.
So, the stadium will serve food on biodegradable plates or in reusable containers instead of plastic-lined paper products. Wooden spoons, forks and knives will replace plastic utensils. Fans will consume beverages from either aluminum cans or recyclable plastic cups, and they can request compostable straws.
Cajun Field is the first stadium in Louisiana to move toward a zero-waste goal, said Gretchen Lacombe Vanicor, director of the University’s Office of Sustainability. She added that if the Cajun Field pilot program is successful, the composting initiative could expand to other campus sites.
Tailgaters outside Cajun Field and fans inside the stadium sent an average of 10.3 tons of materials per game to landfills since 2014, Vanicor said.
“With the changes we have made inside Cajun Field for this season, we believe more than 90 percent of the materials inside the stadium will be either compostable or recyclable.”
Vanicor said trash cans will remain in tailgating areas for now, but “we encourage fans to minimize their waste, choose reusable containers when possible, and avoid purchasing Styrofoam and glass containers.” Neither is accepted in recycling bins, so they’ll end up in landfills, she explained.
After each of this season’s six home football games, recyclable materials collected inside the stadium will be sent to a processing and recovery facility.
In addition, Vanicor expects an accumulation of about 20 cubic yards, filling roughly three dumpsters, of compostable material per game.
It will be trucked to the University’s Experimental Farm near Cade, La. There, discarded food, containers, straws, cups and other biodegradables will find new life as ingredients for compost, organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow.
Compost also reduces the need for chemical-based fertilizers, and lessens methane emissions from landfills.
UL Lafayette received the St. Martin Parish Council’s approval for a pilot composting program in August. The Experimental Farm is in St. Martin Parish.
In addition to the materials collected at Cajun Field, compost made in Cade will contain materials from local sugar mills, said James Foret, an instructor in UL Lafayette’s School of Geosciences.
That includes bagasse, the dried residue left after juice is extracted from sugarcane; nutrient-enriched mud from filtration systems; and ash from boilers. Tree and grass trimmings from the Experimental Farm and the University’s main campus will be added as well.
Each brings a necessary ingredient to compost, Foret explained.
Bagasse provides carbon, for example, and food waste infuses the mixture with nitrogen. Water and aeration also are important to the decomposition process.
Every few weeks, farm employees will use a mechanized turner to “fluff” the 10-acre compost plot, Foret said.
“Fluffing brings in fresh oxygen. It’s like inhaling. Every time we run over it with a compost turner, the whole pile inhales fresh air.”
Making usable compost takes up to three months.
When it’s ready, employees will spread the compost in select sites on the farm’s 600 acres. Foret said some of the mixture may make its way back to campus for use in flower beds, around oak trees or on athletic practice fields.
But first, materials to make the compost need to be collected.
The Office of Sustainability is seeking volunteers to staff the dual composting and recycling bins in Cajun Field. They’ll help fans navigate the new disposal system, Vanicor said.
The annual Herbert Heymann Football Classic kicks off at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1. The Ragin’ Cajuns will face the Grambling State University Tigers.
The five remaining regular season home games are: Coastal Carolina, Sept. 22; a Homecoming matchup against New Mexico State, Oct. 13; Arkansas State, Oct. 27; Georgia State, Nov. 10; and South Alabama, Nov. 17.