By Bret Scroggins
The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, better known as “March Madness,” is one of the most watched and attended sporting events of the year. With nearly 150,000 fans attending last year’s semifinal and championship rounds in Houston, it’s easy to understand why more cities are competing for the opportunity to host. To the surprise of many, Phoenix was chosen to host the 2017 Final Four, making it the first western city to host since Seattle in 1995. However, as with all other highly attended sporting events, hosting provides a challenge to the Phoenix Local Organizing Committee (PLOC) to implement strategies to handle the amount of waste that will be generated.
With this in mind, the PLOC has hit the ground running with the goal of making this year’s Final Four the most sustainable to date. Each year the event produces an enormous amount of food, packaging, scrim (signage for the events), stages, and other materials that aren’t always recyclable or compostable. The PLOC is taking this into account in hopes of reducing the footprint and legacy the games will leave once the championship game concludes.
Along with the NCAA, the PLOC believes the best way to make an impact is to create as close to a Zero Waste event as possible. Their goal is to divert 90 percent of the waste generated during the events by following the famous three R’s: “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.” The committee will focus specifically on the music festival being held at Hance Park in Phoenix, the fan fest downtown at the Phoenix Convention Center, as well as the Final Four games taking place at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
Waste collection will play the biggest role in achieving the Zero Waste goals and also understanding the impact the games have on host cities. During the events, volunteers will be assigned to waste stations where they will encourage fans to “Slam Dunk Waste” by educating them on which items go into the corresponding bins. Additionally, the committee will be working with vendors to encourage all items brought into, used, and distributed during the events be either recyclable or compostable.
Waste from throughout the week of events will be transported and sorted in a separate facility before it travels to landfills. Sorting the waste beforehand will allow the PLOC to gain an idea of the diversion rate, with all trash, compost and recyclable material weighed and recorded on a daily basis. Scrim and banners used throughout the week will also be weighed and stored in order to prevent the materials from ending up in landfills. With help from the City of Phoenix and NCAA volunteers, old scrim and banners will be transformed into backpacks for local schools, banners for future events, shade structures, and gift bags.
The committee has the unique opportunity to utilize the Final Four to engage fans and encourage sustainable habits following the tournament. By promoting sustainable initiatives during the Final Four, the PLOC and NCAA will be able to reduce its negative environmental impact on the local community. Achieving these goals will limit waste creation and increase the diversion and reuse of materials, thus providing a positive and lasting legacy for both the Phoenix community and Final Four tournament.
The NCAA Final Four events will take place April 1-3. For more information on the Final Four’s green initiatives and to attend the events, visit phoenixfinalfour.com.
Bret Scroggins is a student at Arizona State University studying Business: Sports and Media Studies. He is an advocate of utilizing the power of sports to change and promote sustainable behaviors within the community.