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Browns' Food Waste Program Helping Turn Cleveland Into 'a Green City on a Blue Lake'

Image credit: The Trash Times

Waste-to-energy is a trend we’re happy to see growing like wildfire, with new initiatives seeming to pop up weekly that turn waste generated by everything from food and alcohol to heat, humans and landfills into power at various company, industry and municipal levels.

One of the latest examples comes from the ever-more-conscious world of professional sports: The Cleveland Browns recently announced a new program to divert all stadium food waste away from landfills for conversion by anaerobic digestion into biofuel to power the city.

"When we launched Sustainable Cleveland 2019 four years ago, our mission was to bring together people who could apply sustainability principles to our local economy, and that's exactly what this group is doing," said Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. "Now fans can feel even more pride walking into FirstEnergy Stadium knowing that the Browns are taking huge strides toward our goal of being a green city on a blue lake."

"One of our top priorities is innovation, and this new system not only helps our stadium operate efficiently but also preserves valuable resources in our community," said Browns president Alec Scheiner. "We are fortunate to partner with great Cleveland companies in this positive effort that aids our city."

Real estate management company Forest City Enterprises saw the opportunity to spark an innovative urban partnership with the Browns, quasar energy group, Ohio State, InSinkErator and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The Browns are the first professional franchise to implement the Grind2Energy™ system from InSinkErator to convert food scraps into a slurry, which is transported to an anaerobic digester operated by quasar at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). At the digester, which periodically adds cow manure to lower acidity and boost methane, quasar produces biogas for energy and fuel uses.

"We like to think that what we've built here is a roadmap for developers, communities and companies across the country," said Jon Ratner, VP of Energy & Sustainability at Forest City Enterprises. "We believe this is one of those moments where people will stop viewing something — in this case, food waste — as a challenge, and start seeing it as a real opportunity."

The implementation of the system at FirstEnergy Stadium will:

  • Divert 35 tons of food waste from landfills every season
  • Reduce CO2 emissions by 28,000 pounds per year
  • Generate enough electricity to power a single-family home for a year and a half
  • Produce enough natural gas to heat 32 homes for an entire month
  • Recover enough nutrients for three football fields’ worth of new crops at nearby farms

"Anaerobic digestion is the starting point for sustainable solutions with economic benefits that will affect every American," said Mel Kurtz, president of quasar energy group. "It's a new way to think about how we use our food."

"The Grind2Energy system is a sustainable solution for facilities like sporting arenas, grocery stores, hotels, and academic institutions, and, as seen at FirstEnergy Stadium, it has the potential to revolutionize the future of food waste," said Tim Ferry, president of InSinkErator.

"Outside of the family, the most influential role models are athletes and entertainers. And professional sports teams as well play a uniquely influential leadership role in the business community. Consequently, when sports franchises like the Cleveland Browns make ecologically intelligent commitments, it sends an important and positive signal to the marketplace," said Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D., director of the Sports Greening Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "The sports-greening movement is changing the way venues are operated, and more and more of them are focused on recovering value from food waste instead of wasting that resource in landfills or incinerators."

The Browns join the ranks of other highly respected teams and organizations that are paving the way to more sustainable events and practices across a range of professional sports:

  • In July, ESPN announced that its annual awards show, the ESPYs, would be carbon neutral and achieve zero waste-to-landfill for the fifth and sixth consecutive years, respectively.
  • For the past two years, the Seattle Mariners have teamed up with BASF to put on Sustainable Saturdays at Safeco Field, which aims to divert ballpark waste from the landfill. The season-long initiative features zero-waste stations throughout the ballpark to recycle plastic bottles and compost food waste.
  • And earlier this year, auto-racing giant NASCAR announced several initiatives, including utilizing UPS' Trackside Services, which operate with a truck equipped with a diesel exhaust fluid (D.E.F.) system used to reduce exhaust particulate matter during races; introducing the use of biofuels, incorporating renewable energy into raceways and encouraging NASCAR teams to recycle; and implementing a tree-planting program aimed at capturing 100 percent of the emissions produced during races.
  • In April, the NBA teamed up with Sprint for NBA Green Week, a weeklong initiative featuring community sustainability projects, recycling programs, giveaways, special on-court apparel and auctions to encourage fans to “go green.” Green Week is an extension of NBA Green, a yearlong program the organization uses to identify and implement eco-friendly practices throughout its business areas.
SB Issues in Focus For more examples of game-changing multi-sector and -industry #collaboration to solve some of the world's most pressing problems, check out our Issue in Focus.
SB Issues in Focus To learn more about innovative ways companies worldwide are eliminating waste, check out our Issue in Focus: #WasteNot.

Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]