Recycle effort pushed by NFL

If NFL Environmental Program Director Jack Groh can help it, nothing that can be reused will get thrown away after the party’s over and the Super Bowl XLVII invasion packs up and leaves town.

Groh said he started the job 20 years ago, and since then has been expanding the effort to make the massive event as energy efficient as possible and reduce the impact to the environment. Through partnerships with local non-profits, Groh works to make sure that extra food and supplies go to where they are needed most.

As the program has evolved throughout two decades, Groh said the NFL is always trying to be proactive and stay ahead of the curve. Initiatives today include solid waste management and recycling, prepared food recovery, materials donations and reducing the greenhouse gas impact.

To encourage others to minimize their impact, event managers and contractors receive a “Greening Guide,” filled with guidelines for planning accommodations, transportation, meetings, food service and events. The tips are not regulations or requirements but rather suggestions, the guide says, under the notion that, “Decreasing our environmental impact is a responsibility we all share.”

Many of the efforts can also save money, Groh noted, in not requiring the cost to remove as much waste.

“Both of these factors — waste reduction and greater efficiency — also have the potential to reduce the costs associated with producing your events,” he said.

The guide includes tips for small things that can add up — such as instituting a “no idling” policy for vehicle stops longer than three minutes, using biofuels when available, properly inflating tires to save fuel and carpooling when possible.

For outdoor events, the guide includes suggestions such as: “Use nontoxic paint for ground painting or marking” and “Walking paths should be clearly marked and keep traffic away from sensitive natural areas.”

Groh said that cardboard alone makes up about 30 to 40 percent of the recycling efforts, with sites for recycling various materials set up at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and at hotels serving as team and NFL headquarters.

To compensate for the power usage, the NFL is partnering with Entergy to purchase renewable energy offsets, including purchasing travel offsets that will reduce the impact of air travel by NFL staff and teams.

Another project aimed at counteracting carbon emissions involves a partnership with the nonprofit Hike For Katreena and sponsors the planting of several thousand trees in local neighborhoods. Groh said the tree-planting efforts will include a ceremonial planting in the spring when the “golden shovel” is officially passed from New Orleans to the next host community in New York and New Jersey.

To involve children, the Super Kids Super Sharing event put students at local schools to work collecting and redistributing new and used books and sports equipment. Last week, more than 11,000 books and more than 2,000 pieces of sports equipment were given to schools, after-school programs and city recreation programs.

Partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans, Groh leads a massive effort that collects tens of thousands of pounds of food and distributes it to those in need.

Following strict health standards, the food “recovered” has to have never left the kitchen or have been exposed to the public.

But with the multitude of banquets, VIP parties and catered events, as well as daily meals for the teams and staff, Groh said there is often extra food that is prepared but not needed.

Once that food is identified, Second Harvest is on hand to collect it. Groh said that while the private organizations holding their own parties don’t have to participate, he contacts as many as he can and encourages them to donate their unused food.

In addition to food, Groh works to make sure that other materials of value don’t get thrown away. From pencils and notepads to carpet and banners, everything left behind by the NFL staff that Groh can get his hands on gets donated.

There’s about 5 to 6 six miles of fabric used to decorate the dome, hotels, streets and the airport, Groh said. Events, from classy parties to kids’ fitness experiences, are constructed in temporary locations, leaving behind tens of thousands of square yards of carpet and artificial grass, as well as other reusable materials. All of that material will be recovered through a partnership with The Green Project of New Orleans, Groh said.

In the hallways outside every office used by the NFL staff, Groh said there will be boxes to collect any unused office supplies, which will then be packaged and donated.

“It’s hard for anyone to throw anything away after the Super Bowl because I’m always looking over their shoulders,” Groh said.

And, he said he’s constantly looking for more things to save from the trash bins and landfills. Groh said people will call him regularly and ask him if he can use a palette of this or a box of that.

No matter how big or small, he always says yes — knowing he can find someone who can.