Crews clean up thousands of pounds of trash after UK home football games

kward1@herald-leader.comSeptember 7, 2013 

While fans munched on snacks and cheered the Cats to their first victory of the season inside Commonwealth Stadium Saturday, the cleanup from the mess they left outside the stadium had already begun.

Tidying up during and after a University of Kentucky football game is no small task, and workers were sweating in the sun to get it done.

"It's a consolidated effort between the UK physical plant division and a contracted company," said Rodney Stiles, UK's assistant athletics director for event management.

Recycling is a big part of that cleanup. Stiles said UK collects about 275,000 pounds of trash from the stadium each season; about 65,000 pounds of that is recyclable.

UK has been handing out plastic recycling bags to tailgaters for the past several years. Nearly 5,000 were given out Saturday. Crews from the contractor, Tennessee-based Can Do Enterprises, collect the recyclables, along with the rest of fans' trash, during and after the game. Stiles said UK sends the recyclables to the city and doesn't get the proceeds from their sale.

"We just want to get it off our property," he said.

Just after kickoff Saturday, Can Do crew leader James Burton drove a Bobcat and trailer up and down the rows of the parking lot at Commonwealth as five men picked up recyclables that tailgaters had left behind. The crews also emptied 150 recycling barrels posted around the stadium.

At the same time, Kenneth Raglin, who works for UK, said he would make four or five trips to each of the stadium's concession stands to collect cardboard for recycling. By halftime, a box truck was already half full of broken-down boxes that Raglin said he'd take to the city's recycling center on Monday.

"It should be full" by the end of the game, Raglin said.

At next Saturday's game against Louisville, UK will make an even bigger recycling push as part of the Game Day Recycling Challenge, in which schools compete to see who can collect the most recyclable materials at their stadiums.

"Kentucky's very progressive with what they're trying to do as far as their recycling," said William Barrett, who described himself as chief manager of Can Do Enterprises.

Barrett said his company provides cleanup for "anything that brings a large crowd of people in for a short period of time."

Can Do picks up after music concerts and events at Bristol Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway. In addition to Commonwealth Stadium, the company provides cleanup after football games at the University of Louisville, Virginia Tech, Auburn, University of Missouri and Louisiana State University.

Stiles said UK pays Can Do $9,000 per game.

"They understand what it takes to clean a 60,000-plus stadium," he said, "and get it ready for the next day."

What it takes is a lot of people who don't mind picking up trash.

Barrett said Can Do derives its workforce from faith-based organizations and civic groups, which provide laborers in exchange for donations to the organizations.

On Saturday, groups helping Can Do get UK's job done included Isaiah House drug and alcohol recovery center in Willisburg and the Chad's Hope Teen Challenge addiction recovery program in Manchester.

While tailgaters relaxed under tents and played cornhole outside the stadium after the game, 70 people inside the stadium donned plastic gloves and picked up ticket stubs, Snickers wrappers, plastic bottles and Cracker Jack bags.

Starting at the top row, the crews picked up recyclables such as plastic bottles, pizza boxes and aluminum cans. Then they passed back through with black trash bags to gather everything else.

"I'm shooting for about four hours" to get the stadium cleaned, said Mitchell Bell, who oversees Can Do's operations at UK.

Once the stands were cleaned, the workers planned to move on to the areas outside the stadium.

"Anywhere you can possibly park a vehicle ... is where we go, and what we clean," Bell said.

Bell said his goal is to have the stadium and all the parking lots and grassy areas cleared of debris within six hours. He expected to finish late Saturday night. After night games, Bell said workers are there until 5 or 6 a.m. picking up trash.

Employees from UK's physical plant division are also an important part of the cleanup. During the game, they were busy emptying about 250 trash boxes. And UK employees were planning to be back early Sunday morning to begin the rest of the cleanup.

They were to gather the black bags of trash picked up by Can Do and use blowers to blow all the tiny bits of trash down to the bottom of the bleachers inside.

"Peanut shells are the worst," Stiles said.

After that, they'll give the stadium a top-to-bottom wash-down with hoses. It happens after every home game.

"We have to give this place a bath seven times a year," Stiles said. "They're a dedicated bunch."

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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