Coordinated effort needed to keep Phoenix Open zero waste

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — As darkness descends upon TPC Scottsdale, the cacophony of cheers and catcalls from the loudest fans in golf are replaced by a new sound.

Back-up beeps.

Not long after the last putt drops at the Phoenix Open, large haulers, delivery trucks, water trucks, pick-ups and carts fill the chilled air with a beeping symphony.

Pulling off the world's largest zero-waste event takes a meticulously-coordinator effort — and a lot of late-night noise.

“It's an interesting footprint because it's so spread out, but our operations side makes this place look like Disneyland every day,” said Janette Micelli, director, external affairs, Waste Management corporate communications. “We could have had hundreds of thousands of fans come through the day before and it's absolutely pristine.”

The Phoenix Open has become known as the rowdiest stop on the PGA Tour, a week-long outdoor party with more than 700,000 guests known as the Greatest Show on Grass.

Like any party, the aftermath can get messy — about 500 tons worth.

Recycling has been a big part of the clean-up plan for years, but when Waste Management came on as the title sponsor, the company launched a zero-waste initiative to divert 100% waste away from landfills.

Since 2013, the Phoenix Open has accomplished its goal through recycling, composting, donating materials for further use and storing materials to be used again. Everything else gets sent to a waste energy plant.

The Phoenix Open's zero waste is certified by an outside company every year, and it became the world's first tournament to by certified by the Golf Environment Organization in 2017, a designation repeated last year.

“We are fine tuning the process every year,” said David Brannon, Waste Management's director of operations for the Arizona/New Mexico, Four Corners area. “There were a lot of challenges early on and we just tweak it to make it a little better.”

Zero waste is not just during tournament week. It starts with the first day construction materials arrive in the fall — Sept. 28 this year — until the last piece it taken down, typically sometime in March.

To ease the back end of the process, Waste Management coordinates at the front end with partners, sponsors and vendors to ensure all materials can be recycled, composted or stored.

Once tournament week hits, the clean-up operation is a well-oiled machine.

The Houston-based company brings in 55 district managers from around the country and hires about 1,000 temporary workers. The biggest day is Saturday, when 320 workers try to wind their way through up to 200,000 spectators to keep the mess to a minimum.

Waste Management has 4,800 side-by-side recycling and compost bins spread across TPC Scottsdale, the densest concentration in the high-traffic areas between the stadium 16th hole and the first tee.

The company has worked on educating fans about recycling in recent years and tried to help the push with the bin design; recycling bins are green with a circle opening, compost bins white with rectangular openings. Bags inside the bins are also green and white to make it easier for workers to sort.

The materials are taken by carts and wheeled bins to compactors set up at strategic places broken up into zones around the course. The compactors, a recent addition, can hold anywhere between two and five tons, whereas the old open-top containers held about a half-ton.

Removing glass from the course is a tougher chore since it has to be separated from the other materials. Workers dump the wine bottles — a good portion from the 16th hole — into separate bins, and a local company turns those into glassware.

Water from the various kitchens and on-course bars is recycled to use in the portable restrooms on the course. Waste Management has partnered with Change the Course to restore 320 million gallons of water to precious ecosystems across Arizona.

Some recycled bottles are turned into materials used to make head wear and apparel sold in the merchandise tent. Waste Management also has worked with vendors so any extra food is served to the workers or sent to food banks, preventing extra waste.

“There's a lot of different ways we're sharing the message around sustainability,” Micelli said.

The rowdy 16th hole, with its triple-decked stadium, presents its own set of problems with up to 16,000 daily fans creating about 36 tons tons of waste during the week.

Waste Management created a food waste route at No. 16 to limit contamination in the recycling process and built chutes on the back side to more efficiently start the waste-removal process. The company also added sinks for moving ice from the hole's 54 bars to be recycled instead of being dumped in the dirt, as in year's past.

“On the biggest day, it's creating about 8 1/2 to 9 tons of waste, so that structure is contributing a large amount,” Brannon said. “So we had to figure out how to get all that off to where it's ready for the next day.”

Off-site removal begins after play is done and most of the fans have left, usually sometime after 6 p.m. With headlights from carts and trucks crisscrossing every direction, Waste Management brings in its 25 trucks in a highly-coordinated effort to remove the waste.

The trucks take the waste to a compost facility and a separate recycling facility, where workers hand sort the materials into the proper piles while removing any waste that ended up in the recycling stream.

Sorting through all the materials takes about four weeks, with more coming in during the tear-down process, when countless beer cans turn up under the scaffolding.

“Fans are not going to have a good time if the amount of material here piles up,” Brannon said. “We've found ways to become more efficient to make sure that doesn't happen.”

By doing so, they've turned the Greatest Show on Grass to the Greenest Show on Grass.

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