I began picking up recycling at Fenway Park this season as a member of the “Green Team.” This is a name for volunteers who agree to pick up recyclable material around Fenway Park while the Red Sox play baseball. It’s a very relaxed volunteer duty with no supervisors, a voucher for a free hot dog and soda, and you are only asked to collect recycling between innings up until the 7th. Great deal right? Well then, tell me why I’m the only one doing it most games?
For fun, I have turned my volunteer experience into a challenge of sorts. A challenge that involves baseball-inspired recycling statistics like Bagging Average, Scavenger Efficiency Rate, Contamination Error, and season-aggregated environmental equivalencies. More stats will come along as I continue, but right now I’ll explain these and their methodologies. Let’s judge the Green Team’s performance! Hopefully we won’t be demoted to Triple A…
Me with my Couchsurfing guest, Jack, from South Korea, on our way to lead the charge at Fenway!
Bagging average – This is a basic stat that gives a great picture of how much work the Green Team as a whole managed to accomplish over the game’s duration. Like, “Batting Average” in baseball, it is simply calculated by dividing the number of bags collected less Contamination Errors by the number of bags of recyclables that could be potentially collected in the stadium.
To decide the total “number of bags that could be potentially recycled” in the stadium, an estimate is formulated by taking a small sample of Fenway’s 37,949 seats. The sample consists of 108 seats located in Lodge Box 159* in order to get an average waste generated per person. In the 5th inning, when even the fair-weathered fans have arrived, I take a bird’s-eye-view photo from the section above in the balcony. This way, of the 108 seats available, I can count how many people are seated in them, and account for no-shows. Next, after the game has ended and people have emptied the section, the recyclable material that is left behind is bagged. Taking this quantity of left-behind material and dividing it by the number of people who were at the game in that section approximates the number of fans responsible for a certain number of bags of recycling. Finally, this approximation (bags of recycling/fans) will be extrapolated to the stadium’s attendance. For example, I find that 100 fans were sitting in the section during the game. Afterwards, I collect roughly 1.25 bags of recycling from the same section. Checking the post-game box score reveals that 37,000 people attended the game, which results in 462.5 potential bags of recycling in the stadium.
(1.25 bags/100 people) * 37,000 = 462.5 bags that could be potentially recycled in stadium
Please note that an individual’s Bagging Average is never likely to exceed 0.050, which is a little confusing if you try to compare it to baseball’s “Batting Average.” Bagging Average isn’t meant to be an individual stat, but rather a team stat, where volunteers work together to collect as many bags of recycling as they can. Then, you will see the kind of numbers that make scouts drool.
*Lodge Box 159 is chosen as a good representation of the median-valued seats in Fenway; a stadium where a seat can range from $800 behind home plate to $18 in standing room. This is to hopefully balance out variables that might affect the amount of concessions the fans consume and thus the amount of recyclable materials they leave behind; such as fan’s disposable income or exposure to vendors hawking their concessions. To keep estimates consistent, this section of the stadium will always be used.
Scavenger Efficiency Rate – Each game I carry a pedometer that tracks the number of steps I take while collecting the recyclables. I turn it on as soon as the first pitch is thrown, and turn it off after the final out. Scavenger efficiency is simply the number of bags collected (including contaminated bags) by the number of steps walked. An efficient and effective recycler achieves the best outcome for the least amount of effort. Number of steps walked is an indirect measure of energy exerted after all. This may mean that the volunteer should frequent sections where fan consumption is high and there are a lot of items to collect, or organize his or her recycling route in an effective way to minimize travel.
Contamination Error – You realize almost immediately that you’re not only a recycler, but also a gatekeeper. While, you’re going around picking stuff off the stadium floor, people are watching a ball game, and think you’re just a poor sap collecting trash. It’s quite common for people to try to give you their refuse. Half eaten hot dogs, ketchup and mustard packets, chewing tobacco-filled cups, you name it! Unfortunately, if these unaware fans are successful getting their trash into your bag, it may contaminate the recyclable items. Alright, maybe not exactly the aluminum cans, and plastic items, but it especially decreases the value of the paper and fiber products, which makes them harder to process in a recycling facility and lowers their value in the resale market.
Each time you allow someone to throw a piece of trash into your bag it counts as a Contamination Error, which results in a deduction from the total number of bags collected. This, of course, lowers the Bagging Average of the team. So it is encouraged for Green Team volunteers to make eye contact, and explain to people that they are only collecting recycling. Not trash. Understandably, not everyone knows the difference, so it lends to a bit of education. At least to the extent that they will then know what’s in their hand can’t be recycled. It puts them on the spot in a public place, and is bound to leave a lasting impression on them. Hopefully, in a good way.
Environmental Equivalencies and Season Totals- Thanks to the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies calculator we can convert CO2 emission savings from mixed recycling to a range of interesting equivalents, such as “miles driven in an average passenger car” and “number of tree seedlings grown for ten years.” The EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) estimates CO2 emission equivalent benefits from mixed recycling, and uses national waste data and life-cycle greenhouse gas emission factors for waste management to do so. (More detail here). It determines a 3.15 metric ton CO2 equivalent savings per short ton of waste recycled instead of landfilled, based on the assumption that all households recycle 100% of all recyclable materials generated as waste. A pretty hefty assumption if you ask me.
From here, it is estimated with strong confidence that a typical bag of mixed recycling collected at Fenway Park weighs around 10 lbs. Therefore, one 10 lbs bag translates to 0.0158 metric tons of CO2e saved. ((10/2000)*3.15), and is then plugged into the calculator to generate equivalencies.
Also, “season total bags collected as a team” does not include contaminated bags.
A quick note that an individual recycler, even on a good day (30 bags collected), doesn’t display much of an impact on the environment. It’s the combined effort of multiple volunteers recycling over an 81 game season that really makes a difference. This is why I hope you’ll join me at Red Sox games for baseball and recycling! It’s free!