EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Think of the Super Bowl and you think of excess: Big money, big parties, big crowds and an even bigger mess left behind when the circus leaves town.
Well, at least the messy part is getting smaller. Beginning in the 1990s, the National Football League has sought to gradually reduce the footprint left behind by the Big Game, and the league is taking steps to make the Feb. 2 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium the most environmentally friendly yet, from planting trees to offset carbon emissions to composting food waste to using biodiesel to power generators.
"We try and stay ahead of the curve," said Jack Groh, a consultant who directs the NFL’s environmental programs. "We try and push the envelope every year."
Most of the attention focused on this year’s Super Bowl is, understandably, on the challenges of holding it outdoors in the Northeast for the first time. Another, less-celebrated first: MetLife Stadium will compost food waste on game day, the first time that’s happened at a Super Bowl.
It’s not new for the stadium. Dave Duernberger, MetLife Stadium’s vice president of facilities, said the stadium produced 195 tons of food waste for composting last year, up from 153 tons the year before. Duernberger expects about seven or eight tons to be generated during the Super Bowl, which will go into a giant compactor and then be trucked to a local facility for processing.
Another innovation is the use of biodiesel fuel processed from waste cooking oil. According to Groh, a biodiesel mix will be used in generators that will power Super Bowl Boulevard, the 13-block party on Broadway that will feature entertainment and a giant toboggan slide, as well as generators that are augmenting the power supply on the MetLife Stadium grounds.
The head of Public Service Electric & Gas, the utility that provides power to the complex, has estimated that it will take about 18 megawatts of electricity to power the entire complex for the game, or what would be needed to power 12,000 homes. Of that, PSE&G president Ralph LaRossa said as much as six megawatts could be provided by the generators.
Greening the Super Bowl has been a passion project for Groh, who started out as a journalist before forming an environmental communications firm with his wife. He did his first work for the NFL at the 1994 Super Bowl in Atlanta, at a time when the simple recycling of plastic bottles and cans at stadiums was a significant step forward. He continuously seeks out new ways to wring as much value out of things that normally would be discarded.
For example, in the weeks leading up to this year’s Super Bowl, the NFL sponsored e-waste recycling events in New York and New Jersey that collected 9,000 pounds of old phones, computers and other gadgets, according to Verizon, which partnered in the program. Tens of thousands of trees have been planted in the metropolitan area to offset carbon emissions created by the game, Groh said.
After the game, the league will donate several miles of fabric signage to nonprofits or other groups for repurposing. In New Orleans, Groh said, local designers took the fabric and used it to make purses, dresses, shower curtains, beanbag chairs, tote bags and wallets.
"Our primary objective is to see that it doesn’t go to a landfill," he said.
The efforts have drawn a thumbs-up from the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, whose president, Jeff Tittel, called the programs "good for the environment and good for the NFL’s image."
"The NFL is doing a better job reducing greenhouse gases and offsetting carbon than the state of New Jersey is," said Tittel, a consistent critic of Gov. Chris Christie’s environmental policies. "That’s the irony, they understand climate change better than our governor does."