recycleI happened to see a post over at Sideline Soccer that caught my eye. The folks at TreeHugger listed soccer as the 2nd most environmentally unfriendly sport because of how popular it is and how much traveling the players do:

For many, soccer is a fantastic, beautiful sport. The game unites cultures, countries, and backgrounds in a common bond of athletic competition. It requires nothing but some friends, a ball, and an afternoon full of fresh air: Unless you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people who play it professionally. Then, you’ll need buses, cars, and airplanes to transport you across continents. After all, soccer (rather, football, to everyone but us stubborn Americans) is the biggest, most widely followed sport in the world–and that means players across Europe, Australia, North and South America, Africa, Asia, virtually everywhere except Antarctica are traveling from game to game, collectively creating a fossil fuel-burning storm

OK, I’m a fairly environmentally friendly person and do believe we’re killing our planet, but that’s a pretty weak reason to make the sport #2.

But it got me thinking of youth soccer and the impact we have on the environment. Our league makes every effort to have enough trash cans and recycle bins near where parents and teams sit, but even with close to a dozen each for a four field complex, they are overflowing after a Friday and Saturday of matches. Even worse is how many plastic water bottles are thrown into the trash and not recycled.

Youth soccer is REALLY unfriendly to the environment in terms of trash generated. Many of us choose convenience over environmental impact. Our family often will buy a couple of cases of bottled water at Costco and the kids grab one on the way to practice as we rush out the door instead of using water bottles. On match days, there’s the cooler of drinks consumed by the adults and kids. As a coach, I see MANY half filled water bottles that players toss in the recycle bins (or worse, leave on the ground – oh the hills that should be run for that).

On a bigger scale, I was responsible for stocking our concessions stand for a few years. We have around 900 players in our league. We sold $20,000 in snacks and drinks, and the bulk of it was drinks in plastic bottles. I would run to Costco with a full size pickup every week or two and load it down with dozens of cases of water, Gatorade, and soda. The latter, at least, being easy to recycle. The trick is not all leagues have recycle bins.

We’re just one league. 17 million kids play some form of soccer. The mind boggles at how many clear plastic bottles are used and throw out by that group alone.

The easy answer is, as soccer families, we should make it a point of using friendlier methods to keep the kids hydrated, including water bottles (just don’t use bottles with Bisphenol-A) and mixing up sports drinks from powder instead of premixed in plastic bottles. That’s not too hard to do, and it certainly would have a BIG impact if a lot of people did it and leagues started to encourage families to reduce their plastic waste. But that’s easier said then done, and I admit our family isn’t very conscientious about it. We use water bottles maybe half the time we head to practice and the rest we grab bottled water. Leagues would be loathe to lose a revenue source from concessions. But here’s a thought. If you could get an inexpensive ‘fountain soda machine’ in your concession stand, say 2-4 ‘spouts’, and load it with Powerade/Gatorade of various flavors – you could offer to fill water bottles for X amount of money and likely STILL make more in profit. The reason is, the profit margin on fountain drinks is HUGE. Wonder how practical that would be. You wouldn’t need CO2, since you wouldn’t want to sell soda that way (well maybe you would to the parents in paper cups)

What other ideas do you all have that families and leagues could take to reduce their waste? I know for us, just having more recycle bins and encouraging people to USE them (vs tossing bottles in the trash) would be a big thing. Encourage parents to talk with their kids, because it’s the kids who usually will toss a bottle in the trash – they don’t know better. Beyond that, it would take some creativity.