On a typical football game day in Knoxville, a stream of orange-clad bodies can be seen flowing into Neyland Stadium. UT's Office of Sustainability is working to make that stream just a little greener.
Started in 2006 by Facilities Services, the "Make Orange Green" campaign has become UT's driving force for environmental awareness.
"Gameday Recycling probably has the biggest impact of all our projects," Elizabeth Boehmer, UT's sustainability outreach coordinator, said. "Having 100,000 fans all on campus creating waste offers an enormous opportunity to promote recycling. Being able to prevent as much waste as possible from going to the landfill is such an awesome thing."
Office of Sustainability staff members and approximately 15 volunteers start working at 8 a.m. on game days in what Boehmer calls "a huge operation."
The volunteers pass out plastic bags to tailgaters as a way to discourage littering and promote recycling.
During the game, the group disperses for a sweep outside the stadium, cleaning up any litter on the ground.
Saturday and Sunday are spent collecting the glass, paper, aluminum and plastic that can be taken to an off-campus recycling facility.
"This effort would take a lot longer and be a lot less successful without our awesome volunteers," Boehmer said. "It's definitely physical work, but it's also very rewarding."
Gameday Recycling is just one of the many projects spearheaded by the Office of Sustainability.
Ninety percent of UT dining locations participate in the Mug Project, an initiative started in 2011 to completely eliminate the use of paper cups and other single-use containers on campus.
The waste produced by single-use cups in one year requires 485 trees, 290,000 gallons of water and enough energy to power four households for a year.
With the Mug Project, students can get a discount of 15 percent off specialty drinks at places like Starbucks, or 99 cent refills when they bring their own reusable cups to participating campus locations.
"The Mug Project has been pretty successful," said Jay Price, UT's environmental coordinator. "The first year, we eliminated about 50,000 single-use cups and we've continued to increase that number each year."
This fall, incoming freshmen were given a 32-ounce water bottle emblazoned with the slogan "Make Orange Green."
In Boehmer's opinion, starting freshmen with a reusable container is a simple way to spark interest, conversation and responsible consumption.
"There are so many water-filling stations around campus with clean, filtered water," she said. "It's so easy to reuse this bottle and there's a lot less waste as a result."
The goal is to make practicing eco-friendly habits easy, something Shafer Powell, a junior studying environmental science, believes to be crucial for real change.
"People tend to choose the more environmentally friendly option if, and only if, it's convenient," Powell said. "People will throw all of their recyclables into trash cans until it's no less convenient to do otherwise."
Price sees the recycling movement on campus growing more prevalent, though not as rapidly as it could be.
"Recycling in communities in Tennessee is still relatively new, so we feel like we're playing a big role in educating students," Price said. "We're recycling about 20 percent of the waste on campus, so there's still a long way to go. But we've come pretty far and are going to continue to improve."
Thanks to Make Orange Green, the dining halls at Presidential Court and Morrill take part in composting extra cooking materials and post-consumer waste.
Each week, about 4,000 pounds of compostable material is collected.
"Composting is something that's unique because we do it ourselves," Price said. "We don't send the material out to be processed by someone else, we process it at our own facilities and use it on campus at the UT organic farms and community gardens."
Several events on campus, like the freshman picnic during this year's Welcome Week, have been completely waste-free. Compostable plates, utensils and napkins were used and all the extra food went to the compost site.
Boehmer has noticed many student groups on campus also working to promote sustainability, including Students Promoting Environmental Awareness in Knoxville and Eco-Vols.
"College campuses are where all environmental movements start because there's so much energy, enthusiasm and brainpower in one place," Boehmer said. "This enthusiasm is why we can have projects like Gameday Recycling have volunteers come out every week."