Before any football game, tailgating is a tradition. People get their parking space and set up their grills for ribs, burgers, brats, chicken, and many other favorite foods. In 2017, Michigan State University’s grounds cleaners reported collecting over 16,158 gallons of trash from dumpsters after a tailgate. That’s just one college and one game. 

In 2022, Gillette Stadium set up a program to keep 642 tons of tailgate and stadium trash and recyclables from reaching landfills. While the Patriots grounds crew are making strides, it’s also up to the fans to do the right thing. Eco-conscious tailgating is important, and fans should start incorporating green practices into their tailgating parties.

Check the Rules

Before you plan any pre-football game tailgating, check the stadium rules as some limit the use of grills. For example, Gillette Stadium allows tailgating up to four hours before kickoff and two hours after the game, if it’s a day game. Open flames are not allowed.

The Houston Texans open the lot four hours before kickoff (five hours for Platinum members), and all tailgating is limited to your 8’ x 16’ parking space. Towed barbecues require you to purchase an additional pass that’s acquired in advance. Open flames are allowed, but there’s no use of a liquid starter. Quick-starting charcoal or an electric starter is recommended. 

As rules do vary a lot, you must check before you arrive. You don’t want to show up at a game and learn you can’t cook parts of your meal. You also want to make sure there is going to be a spot for you to dump your ashes.

Bring Everything in Coolers and Reusable Bags

When you’re packing your foods, make sure you pack everything in reusable bags and coolers. If you have to shop for items, use your reusable bags at that point, too. The goal is to bring in very little that you’ll have to throw out or recycle at the stadium.

Pack items in as much reusable material as you can so that you’re not stuck with a lot of plastic wrap, foil, boxes, and wrappers to throw out. Not every district accepts foil and plastic film, so you could be creating headaches if you don’t follow the signs over recycling and trash containers.

Avoid Utensils and Stick to Finger Foods

If you stick to finger foods, you won’t need plastic forks, knives, and spoons. Even compostable utensils take time to break down. Instead of steaks, serve kebabs, burgers, chicken drumsticks or wings, and hot dogs or brats. People won’t need more than their fingers to eat these items.

Are potato chips an important part of your meal? Buy them in bulk rather than individual bags that end up in the trash. If you need desserts, bring a tray of something you make yourself rather than individual dessert cups or plastic-wrapped baked goods.

Don’t Cook Too Much

As tempting as it is to make an entire pack of burgers, if you don’t have enough people to eat them all, don’t bring that many. Wasted food ends up drawing animals to dumpsters and landfills. Rotting meats adds pollution to the air. It’s better to cook just as much as you need and then make extra if people ask for another.

Bring Compostable Plates

Instead of Styrofoam or plastic plates, purchase compostable, eco-friendly options. Plates made of paper or bamboo are better. Just make sure the paper plates are not coated. 

Another option is to have a cheaper set of plates that you bring to the tailgate and bring back home to wash. You won’t add anything to the waste stream when you use normal dinner plates.

Use a Solar Power Station

If you have anything that requires electricity, spare your car’s battery and invest in a portable power station. Use that to recharge phones and keep foods in a slow cooker warm. Set up the solar panel as soon as you’ve parked and make sure you adjust the solar panel if the sun moves.

Purchase Larger Drink Bottles

Instead of purchasing a case of water bottles and ending up with 12 or 24 plastic bottles to recycle, purchase bigger reusable bottles that you can refill in the stadium. A reusable mug and bottles of soda or full growlers of beer are better than dozens of cans or glass bottles.

When you’re shopping for drinks, look for companies that incorporate recycled glass, plastic, or aluminum in their beverage containers. Don’t buy Styrofoam cups as they are not recyclable. It’s better to drink out of a bottle, can, or ceramic mug you bring from home than to purchase foam cups.

A newer trend is to purchase boxed water. While it’s a nice idea, make sure they are recyclable in the area where the stadium is located, otherwise, they’ll end up in the trash. They may be better as the paper comes from renewable trees, but they keep the water in with aluminum and plastic liners, which makes it hard for recycling facilities to separate. It’s better to use a refillable bottle.

Ride Together

Save fuel and commute in one car to the stadium. It may be better to borrow or rent a van and bring everyone in your party. You lessen the exhaust fumes this way. Plus, it’s easier to find parking when you’re not trying to find a lot of spaces that are adjacent to each other.

Pick Up After Yourself

Take out what you bring in. While a single-use charcoal grill may be handy, it’s going to add to the trash. You can’t recycle a scorched steel grate and aluminum pan. If you have to bring a grill, consider an electric smoker and use the solar outlet to power it, or bring in propane, if allowed, and bring everything back home when you’re done.

Pick up all of your trash and make sure you compost what is compostable, recycle anything recyclable, and discard as little trash as possible. Leave nothing behind.

Leave Plenty of Time for Cleaning Up

Leave time before the game to ensure you have time to properly recycle and dispose of items. Don’t wait until the last second and rush to get things put away and brought to the correct bin.

Pack up your items and check that you haven’t dropped any packaging that could blow away. While there are grounds workers who clean up, they shouldn’t have to pick up after you. Do as much as you can to return the parking lot to how it was when you arrived.

Know What Can Be Recycled 

One of the hardest parts of working in a recycling facility is that people often recycle things that aren’t recyclable. It creates more work and can cause recycling to get dumped due to contamination. Rinse containers to keep food waste from getting all over the recyclables. Only recycle items that are accepted at the area facilities. 

If you’re not sure, ask a stadium employee. If they’re not sure and you know you can recycle them at home, bring them home. The goal should always be to end up with as little trash as possible.

Recycle Nation offers an online guide to assist you in finding what’s recyclable and what isn’t. Enter the stadium’s ZIP code and look up the item you are planning to bring. This helps you know what you need to take home and what you will be recycling correctly when you’re done tailgating.