Each football Saturday, thousands of tailgaters descend on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s campus.
It’s a time-honored tradition that brings together Husker fans of all ages — and, thanks to the efforts of Go Green for Big Red volunteers, it’s also making strides in sustainability.
Go Green for Big Red participants meet two hours before the kickoff of each home football game to distribute green recycling bags to tailgate spots around Memorial Stadium. The organization was founded in 2009 by sustainability director Prabhakar “Prabs” Shrestha, who wanted to find an easy way to reduce the games’ impact on the environment.
That simple mission has yielded big results. Based on data compiled over the last 10 years, Shrestha and current volunteer coordinator Anthony Kohel estimate that 50% of all tailgating trash is now recycled.
“With so many people on campus for football Saturdays, there’s bound to be a large amount of waste,” Kohel said. “Go Green reduces what we take to the landfill by recycling a large portion of those materials.”
Shrestha said that although tailgaters have always responded positively to the group’s efforts, he’s noticed an uptick in enthusiasm over time.
“The good thing about these parking lots is that it’s the same folks at the same place for many years,” Shrestha said. “You start to build a connection, and now, people expect green bags.”
It’s a trend that Natalie Bielenberg, a political science and Spanish major from Omaha, has witnessed firsthand. Bielenberg has volunteered for Go Green for Big Red for the past two years, and said she regularly has tailgaters ask her for extra bags or bring their own for the next game.
Volunteering regularly for the organization, she added, has been a fulfilling way to see sustainability in action.
“It’s one of the few things you can do and watch it make a difference right there, when you see them recycle when they probably weren’t going to before,” Bielenberg said. “Focusing on sustainability is really important for the university because it’s so big, and it can leave a large ecological footprint.”