Sustainability efforts in athletic training

Izzy Gravano

On Nov. 6, Paula Natvig, Macalester’s director of sports medicine and performance and head athletic trainer, sent out an email to all student athletes with three key changes to operations in the Athletic Department. The changes come as a result of a student coalition made up of athletes, members of Facilities and the Sustainability Office that spoke with Natvig over specific operations in the department to reduce waste.

The first and biggest step in the new sustainability effort is eliminating all Gatorade cups at games and practices. Most often used by the athletic training staff in their care for athletes, Natvig estimates that the fall sports teams have used over 23,100 cups since August. Natvig noted that “while the cups are biodegradable, the students asked us if we could do anything to do away with the waste altogether.” Most of the cups were only used once in the locker room or on the sidelines where the athlete could have used a water bottle instead. Now, athletes are expected to bring their own Gatorade water bottles —which are given out at the beginning of the season— to games and practices. Natvig expects that will be an easy transition, but its success depends on the commitment of coaches and athletic training staff to remind players of their new responsibility.

Concerns around health have been discussed within the Athletic Training staff as it’s easy to imagine athletes sharing water bottles and spreading germs. The athletic trainers have a diligent cleaning process that works to keep all items clean and free from mold for the twelve communal water bottles placed at practices and games. However, Natvig is working on a regime to give players easy access to cleaning products for the athletes’ personal bottles, as mold from Gatorade is a big fear. Dispensers of water and Gatorade will still be available at all games and practices, but the eight ounce cups that once littered compost bins all over the Leonard Center and football field will be eliminated.

Next, the Athletic Department will phase out Flexi-Wrap —a clear, plastic, Saran wrap like substance— is not a compostable or recyclable kind of plastic. Flexi-Wrap is used to wrap ice around joints or limbs. In order to decrease and hopefully eliminate the usage of Flexi-Wrap, athletic trainers will start using Ace bandages or encourage athletes to sit in the training room while icing. “We’re going to have to invest in more Ace bandages because right now we don’t have enough for the demand. But if it’s going to save [waste] for us in the future, it will be fine,” says Natvig. There isn’t a sustainable alternative to Flexi-Wrap that Natvig can distribute immediately, but she is looking into alternatives.

The third change coming to the training room is the new recycling bin for plastic bags. The plastic bags used by athletes for ice are recyclable, just not in the regular blue bins around campus. Due to the way that the machines breakdown the waste, plastic bags need to be separated from regular recyclable items. “Previously, the recycling bin was at the front of the Leonard Center or also in the hallway, but I was able to get [Facilities] to move it in here,” says Natvig. It was difficult to manage and keep track of the plastic bags before, but with the new recycling bin, Natvig feels confident that the staff can work to ensure athletes actually use it.

Generally, the nature and size of the fall sports teams amount to the most waste as they take place outdoors and have the most players. Once football, soccer and cross country finish, track, swimming and basketball are generally easier to manage. It is expected that with the new changes and the slowing down of usage, the Athletic Department will have a very sustainable spring semester.