Dave Wilke, senior director of facilities, engineering and maintenance for the Seattle Mariners.
The Seattle Mariners can still find their way into the MLB playoffs if a few things go their way and they take care of business on the field, but their odds of winning a third Green Glove from the League are even more promising.
During a recent home game at T-Mobile Park, the sorting bases were loaded at the start of a sold-out game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Camren L. Davis was emptying trash bags into a large blue bin the size of a twin bed. Davis was sifting through a mound of waste.
“It makes a difference,” he said as he kept sorting.
“Every single bag is torn open and every piece of material that’s brought into the recycling center gets touched by human hands to make sure what we are doing is pushing that material into the stream where it belongs – so it ultimately lands where it needs to,” said Dave Wilke, senior director of facilities, engineering and maintenance for the Seattle Mariners.
It’s a heavy commitment.
Throughout the game a constant parade of color-coded gondolas — blue for recycling, green for compostables — delivers an average of 3.5 to 4 tons of trash generated by 45,000 fans to the recycling center. Sorting takes at least 12 hours and diverts more than 80 percent of waste from the landfill. T-Mobile Park, which opened in 1999, has 500,000 square feet of occupied space.
“When I showed up at the ballpark four years ago, the Mariners were already six or seven years into having then the first LED lights,” said Wilke. “It was certainly an encouraging and exciting thing for me to see that level of foresight and leadership demonstrable within the organization.”
The Mariners, who were early initiators of comprehensive composting and recycling programs, are routinely the top recycler for the American League and in 2017 and 2020 were recognized as the best in baseball. The recognition wouldn’t be possible without an extensive support team including housekeeping partner ABM and hospitality partner Sodexo Live!
“There is a human factor all the time that we are dealing with huge volumes of waste that are coming out of the ballpark after a game or any large event,” said Wilke. “So, we engage a lot with our internal partners.”
Heath Seaton, ABM project manager for T-Mobile Park, said the recycling team works in 8-to-9-hour shifts with one person in the morning, two during the game, five to seven people delivering the waste during the game and another 15 to 18 people working throughout the night.
“We are sorting throughout the night, throughout the game,” said Seaton. “When we came in, the Mariners’ big focus was the Green Glove. They want a Green Glove and they want it every year. And we are trying really hard to help them get it.”
Sodexo Live! does extensive training with industry leader Cedar Grove for composting and collaborates with ABM to strengthen efforts to sort waste and compost and recycle the majority of all consumable products. Sodexo Live! contributes fresh prepared but unused food and goods to local non-profit organizations and food banks including Canning Hunger and NW Harvest. The company also uses locally sourced food, which helps trim their carbon footprint by reducing product travel time.
“We make conscientious efforts to source compostable packaging and cutlery for all menu items at T-Mobile Park. We also offer infinitely recyclable Ball Aluminum Cups,” said Meagan Murray, Sodexo Live! district manager at T-Mobile Park. “It’s a great accomplishment and fuels us to continue to push forward in new ways of sustainability.”
The current diversion rate is roughly 10 percent lower than the Mariners’ past season highs, which were over 90 percent. Wilke said the dip is the occasional “toe stub” but added even a downturn can supply an upside.
“We are still doing well, but we are also forever looking to continuously improve,” explained Wilke, whose passion for environmental and social justice intersects with the Mariners’ sustainability mission. “The positive component is that even when numbers dip there is an opportunity to reengage and reaffirm.”
The MLB introduced the Green Glove Award in 2008. The prize is presented annually to the club with the highest waste-diversion rate, which is carried out through practices such as recycling, composting, food donations and energy recovery. In 2023, the San Francisco Giants won a record 13th time.
The Washington Administrative Code (WAC) and Revised Code of Washington (RCW) outline the rules and laws regarding recycling and sustainability practices in the state, but diverting waste and protecting the environment has been a priority for the Mariners and T-Mobile Park since 2010, when the six major sports franchises in the Pacific Northwest joined forces to help launch the Green Sports Alliance.
Today, the environmentally focused trade organization convenes stakeholders from around the sporting world to promote healthy, sustainable communities by sharing resources, experience and expertise to raise awareness of what’s environmentally possible in sports, business and society. In June, more than 500 professionals attended the Green Sport Alliance Summit hosted by Climate Pledge Arena in partnership with VenuesNow’s parent company, Oak View Group.
On the horizon in facility management is a push to decarbonize and identify alternative fuels. Wilke and the team routinely share best practices with venues who are making a commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness.
Sustainability requires vigilance and commitment. “From a business standpoint and ethical standpoint, it’s a commitment we’ve been happy to make and stand behind,” Wilke offered.