Concessions Goes Greener

No, it’s not green popcorn or green ice cream, or even green eggs and ham. Concession’s manager Alan Wilkinson has taken the group’s sustainability efforts to new heights—and has become a national leader in the process.

Alan Wilkinson receiving his 2014 Be Spartan Green Award.

Alan Wilkinson receiving his 2014 Be Spartan Green Award.

It’s been a long time since Alan Wilkinson has seen a MSU football game – even though he’s been at Spartan Stadium for nearly every home game in the last 15 years.

“Yeah,” the MSU Concessions Manager laughs when asked about being a spectator. “I haven’t really been able to watch a game since I was in high school. But

even though I can’t see the field itself, I feel like I always know what’s going on in the stadium—you can just tell by the atmosphere of the event when the team is doing well. You can feel it in the air.”

Wilkinson and his Concessions team are old pros at reading the atmosphere at MSU events. The department, headed by Wilkinson and his management team of Justin Evans, Dale Nagele and Alex Terranova, provide food and beverage options to thousands (if not millions) of people during more than 400 events each year. That includes the big events like football and basketball, as well as smaller or less frequent events, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Walk, the MSU Car Show or Vet-A-Visit.

“No matter what the size of the event, we always want to be part of the fun,” said Wilkinson. “People come out to watch the team, see a show, or walk around the exhibition, but we want to make sure that Concessions is part of that fun time. We’re always looking for opportunities for Concessions to contribute, to make a difference.”

That attitude of making a difference extends beyond providing food and beverage options to hungry fans and participants during the event—for Wilkinson and his team, it also meant finding ways to make a difference before anyone shows up and long after they’ve gone home.

Sustainability Before, During and After
For many years prior to Wilkinson’s leadership, the concessions team had been donating leftover food items to Lansing’s Food Movers Program and recycling cardboard regularly. But as Michigan State’s sustainability efforts began to ramp up, Wilkinson knew Concessions had to be part of the solution as well. That meant taking a look at the entire life cycle of concessions products — from sourcing, product selection, preparation and disposal — and finding new and creative ways to lessen the impact on the environment and keep as much out of the landfills as possible.

Q&A with Concessions Manager Alan Wilkinson

What’s the most interesting thing Concessions has ever sent to the MSU Surplus store?
One year we had a really mild winter, and we didn’t sell as much hot chocolate as we normally would have, so we had a lot leftover.  We sent them a whole bunch of 3-pound bags of hot cocoa.  That’s a lot of cocoa for one person!

What’s the most challenging place you’ve ever needed to set up concessions?
Without a doubt, it was the Game of Change they had at Jenison in 2012.  It was essentially a full, modern-day basketball game held in a building without the permanent concession facilities.  We had a good time setting up pop-up stores throughout the building, but it was a challenge!

What was the most interesting event you’ve ever attended as part of MSU Concessions?
The U2 concert.  I didn’t get to see a bit of it, but we could still hear everything!

If you could have purchased one thing from the MSU Surplus Store, what would it have been?
I saw the Zamboni there one.  That was pretty cool!

“We’ve made a focused effort on offering regionally made food at MSU events, which cuts down on shipping waste and gives us a chance to showcase local food,” said Wilkinson. The group has also made a point of selling reusable cups and mugs at events – making them collector’s items in some cases.

Concessions has been recycling cardboard and plastic for decades, and uses all paper products – they no longer use any foam — and the group works very hard to get to zero waste in the back of the house. But the biggest impact came when they looked at ways to reduce food waste from products not eligible for donation.

Make the Garbage Can Really Small
When the anaerobic digester came online at Michigan State, Wilkinson and his group were some of the first to look for ways to contribute. An anaerobic digester is an oxygen-deprived, heated, sealed tank where organic waste decomposes quickly, producing methane for fuel, and MSU has the largest system on any college campus in the United States.

“We really wanted to get started on sending inedible food waste to the digester instead of just having to throw it away,” said Wilkinson. “I didn’t want to wait; I kept asking, and we realized that we could use bins that weren’t working for the residence halls.”

The containers that had originally been used at the residence halls for food waste were becoming problematic because the handles had an area that leaked – and with the variety of food waste coming from the dining areas, it was getting pretty messy. Concessions knew those same containers would work well for their purposes, since they usually deal with opened, pre-packaged dry items, such as pretzels, popcorn and buns.

“So we went from having one huge container in each concession stand that was overflowing with trash, we replaced it with three containers: a 55-gallon bin for plastics that goes to recycling, the 30-gallon for food waste that goes to the digester, and we made the garbage can really, really small.”

Those efforts have made a huge difference: the group currently send between 500 and 800 pounds of food waste per football game to the digester—food that would have gone to the landfill in the past.

Team Green
Wilkinson credits the sustainability success to the teamwork between all the groups on campus, particularly the service provided by the Recycling Center.

“They have been instrumental to making this work,” Wilkinson said.  “They send us 90-gallon gondolas where we can dump all the collected food waste, then they will take them to the digester, empty them, rinse it out and bring it back to us ready-to-use.  It’s been a fantastic team effort.”

Wilkinson is also particularly proud to be part of a department and campus so committed to sustainability.  “Nationally we are at the top of our game in terms of concessions food recycling- and that includes pro venues.  Honestly, I don’t know of any other university concessions program doing a food recycling program.  It’s great to be part of a university that can look for new ways to make a difference.  We want to be Spartan Green.”

By the numbers:
  • 22,000 Souvenir mugs sold last year
  • 17,000 Tons of organic waste utilized by MSU’s anaerobic digester last year
  • 15,000 Hot dogs prepared for each Football Saturday
  • 1,000 Prepared and unsold hot dogs donated per Football Saturday.
  • 500 Pounds of food waste sent to the anaerobic digester after each Football game.
  • 400 Events per year where Concessions are sold

Feed the Worms! Join the Compost Club.

Stop! Step away from the trash can with that apple core – those coffee grounds – that stash of used tissues. That’s worm food, and somewhere in south campus on the Student Organic Farm, there’s a hungry Red Wiggler worm (let’s call him Ralph), who’s longing for your organic waste. This summer, help feed worms like Ralph by joining MSU’s new Compost Club.

Sponsored by MSU Sustainability and the Student Organic Farm, the Compost Club will provide university employees with a landfill-alternative disposal option for their compostable organic waste (i.e. fruit scraps, paper napkins, tea bags, etc.). This means you, as the environmentally friendly, tree-hugging Spartan we know you are (even if it’s hidden deep inside), now have a chance to divert even more waste from your landfill containers.

Here’s how it works: For $20 a month (or less when purchasing at a multi-bin discounted rate), club participants will receive a 20 gallon collection bin, to be exchanged on a weekly basis via bike trailer (yes even our collection method is environmentally friendly). Once collected, the organic waste will be shred and delivered to the Student Organic Farm to undergo vermicomposting, a process in which worms (like Ralph) and other micro-organisms are utilized to turn organic waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer. Compost produced through this program will then be used for growing vegetables and herbs at the Student Organic Farm, and will also be sold to the public through the MSU Surplus Store. All proceeds generated through this program will go towards supporting MSU Bikes and the Student Organic Farm operations.

So if you think about it, by joining the Compost Club, not only will your waste help feed worms like Ralph, it will go towards returning nutrients to an entire ecosystem, all while feeding the local economy. To learn more about joining the Compost Club, contact MSU Recycling at, or by calling 517-355-1723.

Feed the worms

Do Green Fences Make Good Neighbors?

You’re a good person. You make an effort to keep MSU as green as possible. You don’t litter. You recycle paper, soda cans and batteries. Heck, you even “recycle” text books from year to year.

So what’s the big deal if you don’t rinse your plastic utensils off before dropping them in the recycling bin? It never mattered before, so why is there a big push now?

The answer to that is called Operation Green Fence, which lies somewhere between your departmental kitchen sink and China. And it’s having an enormous impact on how environmentally friendly we can be at MSU.

The Big Green Fence

greenfenceTo understand what’s happening, you first have to know that for years, one of America’s biggest exports to China has been scrap and waste. Yes, that’s right:
Scrap and waste have been at or near the top of the Chinese export list for many years, even surpassing soybeans and aircraft parts at times. It’s a profitable export for the US — totaling $11.3 billion in 2011 alone. (It’s important to remember that scrap and waste aren’t necessarily garbage; they can be used as the raw material for new products. In essence, China and other countries help process these materials into their next best and highest use.)
There are many other markets and purchasers for scrap and waste—including domestic processors— and Michigan State works very hard to “recycle local” whenever possible. But China is by far the largest destination for a lot of scrap, and when the biggest player on the block makes a dramatic policy shift, the effects ripple through all markets worldwide.Continue reading

Free Public Electronics Recycling Event

On Saturday, March 15 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Michigan State University Surplus Store & Recycling Center will be hosting a free Public Electronics Recycling event to collect e-waste such as TVs, computers, DVD players, digital cameras and other items that have a plug or require batteries.

The collection is part of RecycleMania, a friendly competition among 461 college and university recycling programs across North America where schools vie for national recognition of their recycling and waste minimization efforts. Unlike other categories the E-cycleMania competition category is open to public giving the greater Lansing area the opportunity to support MSU in its effort.

There are no fees or limits for drop-offs, but the Surplus Store and Recycling Center only accepts residential waste (no commercial waste) and will not accept non-electronics, items with refrigerants such as dehumidifiers and refrigerators, or any household hazardous waste (paints, stains, medications) at this time.

The intersection of Farm Lane and Green Way will be blocked during the event, and visitors will be directed to enter the facility from Service Road. The Public Drop-off Center will be open for recycling, but the Surplus Store will not be open for Public Sale during that time.

See the flyer for more information.

New Paper Recycling

MSU Recycling Office Paper InstructionsMSU Recycling is working to make paper recycling easier on campus. From February through April, staff will be converting hallway recycling stations in academic and administrative buildings to reduce the number of paper containers from three to two. All paper products that are currently accepted will continue to be recycled, so this does not mean that less paper will be accepted for recycling. Rather, recycling paper will be simplified with less sorting.

The new containers will collect Office Paper and Mixed Paper, featuring the new color-coded signage you see above. Office Paper includes paper typically used in an office or classroom, such as white and colored copy paper, letterheads, notebook paper, tablet paper, index cards and computer paper. Mixed Paper includes a wide variety of lower-grade paper and paper products, such as newspaper, boxboard, beverage boxes, catalogs, magazines, directories, junk mail, envelopes, Post-it notes, ream wrappers and greeting cards.

MSU Recycling Mixed Paper InstructionsOther recycling collection (Plastic/Metal and others) will receive updated signage as well, but those collection processes are not changing at this time. Please remember that any items that contain food or other residue must be wiped and/or rinsed clean.

Recycling stations within residential facilities will convert to the new signage and collection over the summer.

MSU Faculty and staff which have at Desk Recycling or Intermediate Recycling Boxes in their office area with the “White Paper” and “Mixed Paper” label are encouraged to order replacement labels or boxes at no cost.

Labels can be ordered from the Surplus Store and will be delivered to you.

2014 RecycleMania

From February 2 to March 29, Michigan State University will compete in, an annual eight-week recycling competition between more than 400 colleges and universities across North America. Schools com2014 RecycleMania Logopete in several categories to see who can collect the most recyclable materials and reduce their landfilled waste. The goal of the event is to increase awareness of recycling and waste management programs at participating schools by involving students, faculty and staff in a fun and friendly competition.

MSU is competing in three categories again this year:

Gorilla Prize: “The Gorilla Prize category recognizes schools that recycle the highest gross tonnage of combined paper, cardboard and bottle and cans regardless of campus population.” MSU reports the total weight of office paper, mixed paper, cardboard, #1-7 plastic, and metal collected from campus (including a portion of material from the Drop-off Center) each week for the full eight weeks.

E-cycleMania: “Electronics is a special category that tracks the amount of computers, printers, consumer electronics and other e-waste materials collected.” MSU reports the total weight of e-waste reused, resold (through MSU Surplus Store), or recycled during a one-month window within the eight weeks. Items from campus and the public are included.

Grand Champion: “The Grand Champion category combines trash and each of the core recyclable materials to determine a school’s recycling rate as a percentage of its overall waste generation.” MSU reports the total weight of office paper, mixed paper, cardboard, #1-7 plastic, and metal collected from campus (including a portion of material from the Drop-off Center) as Total Recycled, and MSU also reports the total weight of refuse sent to the landfill as Trash. Total Recycled and Trash are added together to equal Total Waste, and then Recycling Rate is calculated as a percentage by dividing Total Recycled by Total Waste and multiplying by 100.

Find out More about 2014 Recyclemania Competition

2013 Tournament results.

CFL Recycling & Incandescent Swap

CFL Recycling & Incandescent Swap

Compact Fluorescent Lights, or CFL’s for short, are an alternative to incandescent bulbs. CFL’s use about 75% less energy than a normal bulb, in addition to lasting ten times longer. This makes CFL’s an economically and environmentally sustainable product. However, these bulbs also contain mercury, which, when not recycled properly, can pollute our water, air, and soil.

Starting fall semester 2013, Bailey Hall will have bins available for students to recycle their bulbs in. Staff will collect, and recycle these bulbs so that the mercury is disposed of in a proper manner. During move-in, residents of Bailey Hall will have the opportunity to swap out their incandescent bulbs for CFL’s. While the swap out program is only available to residents of Bailey, all Michigan State students are encouraged to come to the bins, and dispose of their bulbs in the proper manner.

For any questions please contact:

Alec Latta
Miya DeVoogd

2013 RecycleMania Results

Find Out More About RecyclemaniaThe results for 2013’s RecycleMania Tournament are in, and Michigan State University has met and exceeded its goal of collecting 1 million pounds of recyclables! With a grand total of 1,015,341 pounds collected, MSU finished first among its fellow Big10 participants and fourth nationally in the Gorilla Prize category and ranked equally well among Big10 schools for the Grand Champion and Per Capita Classic categories. It increased the campus recycling rate to 35.84% and has contributed to the tournaments overall reduction of carbon emissions – equivalent to taking 382 cars off the road.
To read more about the 2013 Tournament results, visit

Go Green for the Holidays

MSU Surplus Books is a great place to find unique, collectible and vintage books for reuse.American households generate more waste between Thanksgiving and New Years Day than at any other time of the year.  However, there are numerous local resources to help keep your material out of the landfill.

Make your holidays Spartan Green by following these helpful ideas.


Buy Durable, Locally Produced Products

Many products made today are not meant to last.  Think about the long-term use of a product you are about to buy.  The cheapest item may not be the least expensive if you have to replace it.

Tip: Buy a gift card to the MSU Dairy Store and other campus stores at

Cut Down On Trips

Plan your trips to the store and be prepared to purchase all the items you need.  Research products you want to purchase, their availability and price from home before traveling to the store to cut down on time, trips and gas use.

Tip: An alternative transportation solution is the Zip Car ( program on campus.

Turn Down the Heat For Your Party

How many times have you been at a party where they had to open a window or door to let excess heat out?  Body heat and warmth generated from food preparation can quickly build up in a home.  Turn down the heat in your home prior to guests arriving to conserve energy.


Use Less Bags

Approximately 380 billion plastic bags are produced each year.  Reuse bags from home or purchase durable tote bags that can be used multiple times.

Tip:  You can buy reusable tote bags at the Surplus Store.

Give Handcrafted Gifts

Reduce waste by making handcrafted gifts from items around the home or repurposed items from the Surplus Store.

Tip: Need DIY and craft ideas?  Check out our Pinterest site.

Give the Gift of Education

Invest in a future Spartan’s education savings instead of buying material gifts.  College Savings Plans are easy to open and contribute to and are a great way to provide a lasting impact to a loved one.


Buy Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable batteries cost a little more up front, but can be recharged hundreds of times resulting in big savings versus single-use batteries.  Rechargeable batteries are best used in moderate to high use devices such as digital cameras and WII remotes.

Tip:  When rechargeable batteries do eventually run out, recycle them.  Numerous local businesses and municipalities accept them.  Go to for recycling locations in the greater Lansing area.

Be a Surplustomer

There’s no better place to be green than at the Surplus Store where our products are 100% reused.

Reuse Packaging Peanuts

Packaging peanuts are collected by local UPS Stores, Pak Mail and others and reused in the shipping process.  The City of East Lansing has a list of options for reusing packaging peanuts.


Live-cut Christmas Trees

Christmas trees can be chipped and used as mulch around trees and on trails or used to make compost.  Most local municipalities accept live-cut trees for recycling.

Tip:  Earth 911 provides a list of local tree recycling locations including those in Lansing and East Lansing.

Wrapping Paper

Wrapping paper can be recycled with mixed paper at our Public Recycling Drop off Site.  Please do not recycle foil wrapping paper.

Tip: Look for alternative materials for wrapping gifts such as fabric, comics, coloring pages, etc.

Christmas Cards

Recycle Christmas cards with mixed paper at the drop off site and purchase cards made with recycled content.  Better yet, send electronic greeting cards and reduce waste.

TIP:  Buy recycled greeting cards from St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.

For more ways to reduce holiday waste, go to: