Tailgate Ambassadors tackle recycling, sustainability at football games

Tailgate Ambassadors work to educate tailgaters about the proper sorting of waste and to enhance the tailgating experience by providing tailgaters with recycling and trash bags they need. Credit: Madeline Pryor / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa — On Saturday, Oct. 21, Penn State will host the Michigan Wolverines in one of the most anticipated football match-ups of the season. While the football team and tailgaters prep for the big game, the Tailgate Ambassadors also are preparing to meet an important challenge.

Supported by Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, Intercollegiate Athletics and the Office of the Physical Plant, Tailgate Ambassadors is a program consisting of students passionate about promoting sustainable tailgating practices at Penn State football home games.

The main goals of the Tailgate Ambassadors program are to educate tailgaters about the proper sorting of waste and to enhance the tailgating experience by providing tailgaters with recycling and trash bags they need.

Doug Goodstein, associate director for student engagement at the Sustainability Institute, explained the impact of educating tailgaters can make on Penn State game day as a whole.

“Most universities ignore the tailgate areas, but [Penn State] decided to start with tailgating not because it was easy, but because we knew if we could change the culture outside of the stadium, it will carry inside,” Goodstein said.

At the heart of Tailgate Ambassadors are the Penn State students that volunteer their Saturdays to catalyze conversations with thousands of tailgaters about sustainability and recycling. Tailgate Ambassadors trek through the tailgating areas around Beaver Stadium equipped with supplies, giveaways and enthusiasm for engaging Penn State tailgaters.

Hannah Samuels, the student coordinator of Tailgate Ambassadors and a community, environment and development major in the College of Agricultural Sciences, wakes up early before every home game to brief the Tailgate Ambassador volunteers on their game plan.

“We instruct Tailgate Ambassadors to work in teams. They are equipped with both blue recycling bags and clear trash bags, and they distribute both to tailgating groups,” Samuels said. “A typical interaction involves the students approaching tailgaters and reminding them to put only plastic, metal and glass in the blue bags.”

Although recycling at tailgates is a must, a visit from the Tailgate Ambassadors — in true Penn State tailgate fashion — is a lot of fun, according to Samuels.

“Our goal is to promote sustainable tailgating, but we also want to enhance the overall tailgate experience,” Samuels said. “People respond well to free things they can use, so we also distribute can coozies, bottle openers and temporary tattoos to tailgaters.”

Goodstein confirms that on a regular home game Saturday the Tailgate Ambassadors could interact with as many as 100,000 people. So, what do the Tailgate Ambassadors say about the large number of tailgaters expected for the White Out Game against Michigan?

“We’re ready, bring it on,” Samuels said.

This Saturday, Tailgate Ambassadors will be focusing their attention on the IM Fields while carrying extra giveaways and Penn State pride.

“What better way to show the community, state and the nation that Penn State is committed to sustainability, not just on paper, but in action,” Goodstein said. “These students are out talking with fans, enhancing their tailgate experience and promoting recycling all ‘For the Glory of Old State.’”

A student Tailgate Ambassador hands out recycling and trash bags to a tailgater during the Penn State vs. Georgia State football game on Sept. 16, 2017. Credit: Madeline Pryor / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated June 18, 2021