UVA’s Office for Sustainability Strives To Make Every Game a ‘Green Game’

March 21, 2023 By Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu

On Feb. 11, as fans of University of Virginia’s men’s basketball team trickled out of John Paul Jones Arena following a nail-biting win against Duke University, second-year student Sophie Briscombe’s job was only beginning.

Just moments before, the global environments and sustainability major was sifting through the arena’s trash bins. Her next task was to pace through the 14,500 seats in JPJ, tediously collecting compostable items that game-goers left behind. 

Not many UVA students devote their time during athletic events to picking up garbage, but the volunteers of Green Games do. 

Green Games is an effort of UVA’s Office for Sustainability to divert the waste produced from home athletic events from a landfill and toward more productive locations.

After participating in Corner Cleanups, an initiative to pick up trash on The Corner, Briscombe was looking for more ways to protect the environment as a student. That’s when she came across Green Games. 

“It makes you sweat,” Bricombe said. “You don’t realize how much waste comes from a sports game until you’re the one carrying the trash bag and collecting it.”

In fact, Green Games volunteers collected 1,266 pounds of compost, some of which was initially placed in the incorrect waste bins during that Virginia vs. Duke basketball game.

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Students hauling compostable waste in John Paul Jones Arena
This year, Green Games swept the stands of John Paul Jones Arena at four home basketball games and educated game-goers about disposing of their waste responsibly. (Contributed photo)

Green Games typically recruits 15 to 20 student volunteers per athletic event. The volunteers are divided into three groups based on the different waste streams at UVA athletic events, which include landfill, recycling and compost. 

“If we see an aluminum water bottle in a landfill bin, we’ll go ahead and pull that out and put it into a recycling bin to make sure it ends up getting recycled,” Lela Garner of the University’s Office for Sustainability said. “Similarly, if we see a compostable product, like a popcorn bag, in the recycling bin, we will place it in the composting bin.”

Garner is the sustainability specialist for student engagement in the Office for Sustainability. For the past five years, she has been coordinating programs and initiatives for students to advance the University’s goals for sustainability.

When the game ends, the student volunteers leave their posts at the trash bins and start picking up the trash left in the stands.

“It’s a very tedious process,” Briscombe said. “We take bags and go to all the seats throughout the stadium and pick up trash, compost and recycling. We try to collect as much as we possibly can, but we have a limited amount of manpower and time.”

Portraits of Nora Raleigh, left, and Lela Garner, right
As the sustainability specialist for student engagement in the Office for Sustainability, Lela Garner, right, works alongside student employees like third-year student Nora Raleigh, left. Together, the team plans and executes initiatives like Green Games. (Photos by Emily Faith Morgan, UVA Communications)

Garner oversees several groups of students, including the Sustainability Advocates and the employees of the Office of Sustainability. Together, they recruit students to participate in their initiatives.

“I help build a sustainability-focused coalition on Grounds geared toward students specifically,” she said. “In terms of Green Games, I’m in charge of bringing all the stakeholders [of UVA sporting events] together to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Nora Raleigh, a third-year public policy major in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, is one of the employees who Garner works closely with through the Office for Sustainability.

“My role within the office is to plan events and then recruit the volunteers needed for said events,” Raleigh said. “I serve as the student contact for Green Games and work with the student volunteers.”

Over the past 12 years, Green Games has taken several forms, but it first stemmed from the University’s participation in RecycleMania in 2010. The nationwide competition among college campuses across the country sought to determine which school could recycle the most waste at athletic events.

From Six Football Games
Volunteers Collected


Pounds of Compostable Products


Pounds of Recyclables

Since, the Office for Sustainability implemented more environmentally friendly initiatives at home football games through the combined efforts of the stakeholders of UVA athletic events and game attendees.

In 2018, the efforts were expanded to include Green Games, where volunteers would divert waste once per year at home football and basketball games.

The Office for Sustainability sought to increase its efforts across Grounds after the Board of Visitors passed the 2020 to 2030 Sustainability Plan with the goal of reducing waste across Grounds by 70%.

Based on the overwhelming support of student volunteers, Green Games underwent a semester-long pilot program, where Green Games’ volunteers were present at each home football game.

Throughout the six home football games last fall, Green Games had 60 student volunteers divert waste to their correct bins, resulting in the collection of 74,475 pounds of recyclables and 12,749 pounds of compostable products.

Group photo of student members of Green Games outside Scott Stadium
Last fall, Green Games went to work at each home football game. The group diverted 12,749 pounds of compostable materials and sent them off to Black Bear Composting. (Contributed photo)

The piloting continued into the basketball season at JPJ. Green Games was present at two women’s basketball games and two men’s basketball games and, altogether, the group diverted 3,071 pounds of compost. 

Compostable products received from athletic events and around Grounds are sent to Black Bear Composting, a facility located in Crimora, a small town just north of Waynesboro, that turns food scraps into rich compost materials. Some of the compost is then returned to the University to be used for gardening. 

Looking forward, Green Games hopes to become a sustainable force present at every home athletic event. 

“The Office of Sustainability is just one of the main organizers of Green Games,” Garner said. “This initiative involves multiple different stakeholders, and we could not do it without them. We’ve been incredibly grateful for the support that both UVA Athletics and UVA Dine have offered throughout this process.” 

Outside of relocating waste, Green Games has a goal of educating game-goers.

Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do
Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do

“During time outs, the fans come through the halls and wonder what we’re doing,” Briscombe said. “We make sure to interact with the audience to make them aware about their waste consumption and where it goes. 

“Us being environmentally conscious makes the fans conscious.” 

To Garner and Raleigh, waste diversion is all about efficiency. 

“As a university, we are a community that takes up so many resources,” Raleigh said. “It is much more efficient to pick up and repurpose waste in a sustainable way. 

“I see sustainability as such an emerging field, and I see the power within the UVA community to be a leader in that field.”

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