A guide to turning your tailgating green

family at football game recycling

By Jodi Wilkof and Lerena Fleck, Special to the Democrat (Jodi Wilkof and Lerena Fleck are with Green Party Events)

With the arrival of college football season comes planning your game day parties. Whether you are tailgating at the stadium or watching the game at home with friends, the idea of making your gathering eco-friendly may seem daunting.

Even for those who regularly practice a green lifestyle at home and at work, following this same approach when juggling all the details of a game day celebration can test even the most environmentally-conscious among us.

But there are many shades of being green, and even small tweaks to your party can have a big eco-impact. Incorporating these eco-friendly changes may be easier (and less expensive!) than you think.

Here are a few low-cost, low-effort practical ways to greenify your football-watching festivities, along with some guidance as to what game day party items are and are not recyclable in Leon County.

Drinks and drinkware

From beer and soda cans to single use water bottles, football fans drink a lot on game days and these drinks have the potential to produce a whole lot of waste.

For beverages, the general rule is the bigger the container, the less packaging and therefore, the less waste produced.  So, for example – a 2-liter bottle of soda, or a beer growler or keg, is better than individual cans and bottles.  A big cooler of water is better than single-use water bottles.

Avoiding single servings of beverages, however, will require some sort of drinkware.  
The best option here is for your guests to bring their own cup or bottle, which will save you the cost and waste of disposables.  And if your guests are headed to the game after your party, they can take their cup or bottle into the game with them (empty cups and bottles are permitted in the stadium). This will allow them to refill their bottles from a water fountain and avoid having to buy pricey and wasteful single-use water bottles inside the stadium.

If asking your friends to bring their own bottles is not your style - or if you want to prepare for those who may forget - the most sustainable drinkware is real cups and glasses. The result is zero waste and your guests will appreciate drinking out of real glassware. 

If real cups and glasses are not practical or cost-prohibitive, then the best option for disposable drinkware depends on whether or not you will be collecting recyclables.

Collecting recyclable materials at a party is far easier than you might think. Simply put a bag or box next to your trash can – it need not be fancy, nor does it have to be a container specifically made for recycling.

The keys to recycling success will be placement of the bin (put it directly next to the trash) and signage (clearly label it as “recycling”). For signage, consider listing (with pictures, if possible) all of the items at your party that can be recycled, so guests can easily identify which of their items are recyclable. You will be pleasantly surprised at how easily your guests sort their recyclable items and at all the compliments you get for your efforts.

In Leon County, all glass, cans, and plastic bottles are recyclable, as are any plastic cups with a recycle symbol on the bottom. Paper cups and the new clear plant-based cups and bottles (which look like clear plastic) are not recyclable.

After your party, either deposit the collected recycling in your residential recycling bin or – if you are at the stadium – in one of the recycling bins found just outside the stadium entrances. In Tallahassee, we are fortunate that both FAMU and FSU make concerted efforts at collecting recycling in and around the stadiums.

At FSU, for example, student volunteers promote eco-conscious behavior at Doak Campbell Stadium through an effort called “Garnet & Gold Goes Green (G4)”.  This program was started in 2005, and since that time, these student volunteers have collected an impressive 200 tons of recyclable material!

Although collecting recyclable materials at your party should be relatively easy, sometimes it is not practical; so if you know that all of your party waste is going to go into the trash, consider biodegradable cups instead of plastic. Paper cups are the most economical biodegradable option; just remember – paper cups cannot be recycled. 

Note that Styrofoam, whether for cups, plates, or bowls, should always be the option of last resort.  

Finally, when thinking about drinks, try to avoid plastic straws, which are not recyclable and all too often end up in our water streams. If you must have straws at your party, consider paper straws (which are very trendy at the moment) or bamboo.


When looking at greening your game day festivities, consider local foods and local ingredients (along with beer from a local craft brewery!).  As with drinks, a bigger container is better than single-serving; so, try to go with big bags of chips instead of individual servings and full bottles of condiments instead of little packets. Importantly, try to get a good handle on your guest list because you will generate less waste if you can accurately estimate the amount of food required. If you are a composter, be sure to collect all of the food waste. And If you are bringing a cooler, stick in a few reusable containers so you can save the leftovers. Aluminum foil and disposable tins are recyclable if cleaned well.


If you are watching the game at home or can otherwise manage it, real plates are the way to go. If real plates are not practical for your party, choose biodegradable plates, such as paper plates. Chinet, for example, features a line of “Classic White” paper plates (look for the green “eco-friendly” leaf on the package) that are not only biodegradable (and break down super quickly if you put them in your home composter), but are also incredibly sturdy (withstanding even the sausiest of barbecues), microwave-safe, made in the United States, and very easy on the budget. This eco-friendly line can be found at almost any local grocery or discount store and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. 

If you prefer something a little fancier than paper plates, then plates made of bamboo or banana leaf – albeit pricier than paper plates - are great biodegradable options that will give your party a classy look. Note that plastic plates are not recyclable in Leon County, even if they have a recycle symbol on the bottom of the plate.


The best option here is to refrain from using utensils altogether. Instead, go with finger foods or foods that can be eaten with toothpicks (wooden – not plastic). If your food is going to require utensils, then choose real utensils. Not only are they the most eco-friendly flatware option, but guests will really appreciate not having to use disposables. 

When disposable utensils are the only option, try cutlery that is biodegradable (made of wood, sugar cane or corn starch, for example). If all else fails, go with plastic, but note that plastic utensils are not recyclable in Leon County, even though they may have a recycle symbol on them.


As with the other items above, real napkins are best. If you are crafty, consider making your own cloth napkins out of old college T-shirts. Note that paper napkins (and paper towels) are compostable, but not recyclable.


If practical, real tablecloths are best. Neither plastic nor paper tablecloths can be recycled (though paper tablecloths can be composted). Other low-cost and biodegradable alternatives for tablecloths are kraft paper or rolls of white newsprint (end of the newsprint rolls are provided free at the Tallahassee Democrat’s loading dock).


You’ll likely invite guests to your game day celebration by mentioning it through casual conversation in person or over the phone. Or you may decide to send the invitation by text, private message, email, or private Facebook event. These electronic invitations not only will avoid the waste and expense of paper invitations and postage, but your friends will appreciate being able to easily add the details of the party directly to their electronic calendar. 

If you want to be a little more formal with your invitation, websites such as Evite.com offer a multitude of free invitation options; and for a fee, services such as Paperlesspost.com or Greenvelope.com, offer the full gamut of invitation services.

If you desire a more custom graphic look and you haven’t yet checked out Canva.com, it is definitely worth a look for free custom graphics. Or, if you would prefer to have a designer do the work for you, the amazingly talented designers on Etsy.com and Fiverr.com can create a truly custom invitation for you.


Some of the best and most eco-friendly décor is edible décor. Pinterest, for example, has literally thousands of photos of ways that party-givers have arranged fruit, nuts, vegetables and candies to make beautiful centerpieces that guests can eat, leaving no waste behind.

Other low-cost, low-waste décor can be found foraging for fall plants and leaves or looking around your house or at local yard sales for old stadium cups or other football or team-themed items. The Sharing Tree is a local treasure for inexpensive and creative reuse décor items.

Although “going green” may not be the first thought on your mind when thinking of your college football parties, there are many easy, practical, and inexpensive changes that will go a long way toward making your game day greener.

Jodi Wilkof and Lerena Fleck are with Green Party Events. For more information, visit