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Heroes of Zero

Imagine throwing a party for 107,000-plus people — and trying to do it with as little impact on the environment as possible.

That’s the challenge before The Ohio State University many Saturdays in the fall, when hundreds of thousands descend on the campus to take part in game-day traditions and tailgates.

In 2011, the university set a goal to achieve “Zero Waste” — or 90 percent diversion rate from landfills by recycling, composting or repurposing — within its stadium. It since has reigned supreme among collegiate recycling programs and is looked to internationally for its eco-friendly best practices.

Equally intriguing, however, is the societal good Ohio State wants to achieve along the way with its wildly successful sustainability program. Some of the people crucial to its success are high school students working their first jobs, ROTC cadets raising funds for training programs and inmates attaining job-readiness skills.

Meet them and other “Heroes of Zero” as you go behind the scenes of what it takes to make a sporting event greener than a football field.

Part 1: Gathering on game day

Bulk coffee creamers, compostable nacho trays and a host of other decisions are made before consumers even step up to the concession stands at Ohio Stadium. Meanwhile, high school students like Kiana Dukes educate fans about what to recycle, what to compost and provide the ever-important “first sort.”

A lot of decisions go into what products make their way into Ohio Stadium in order to make it a Zero Waste facility.

Part 2: Rise and shine

Fans leave behind almost 50 percent of game-day materials in the stands, and Ohio State’s Navy ROTC has been cleaning up the mess for decades. Toting garbage bags and leaf blowers, midshipmen spend hours snaking their way from the bleachers at the top of Ohio Stadium to the field, collecting stale popcorn, cans and hot dog wrappers.

Nearly 50 percent of game-day materials are left in the stands. Navy ROTC plays a crucial role in recycling and composting.

Part 3: A real job

The inmates at the Southeastern Correctional Complex quickly separate plastic bottles from caps, explaining that there are 11 kinds of plastic that come from Ohio Stadium on game days. Supervisors say these men gain a sense of dignity and job-readiness skills, while the money earned from recycling is converted into additional educational programming at the prison.

Inmates at the Southeastern Correctional Complex gain job-readiness skills in the final stages of processing.