Whoever has ever attended a football match in Spain knows that watching the king of sports and eating sunflower seeds go together.

But that often ends up with stadium floors covered in waste shells.

That was the case in Anoeta, the stadium where Real Sociedad, a top tier football club, play their home matches. The club, located in San Sebastian (Basque Country), decided to put an end to this.

Together with a landscape design company and Kutxa Ekogunea – a foundation supporting sustainable development – the club launched ‘Anoetatik Gipuzkoako Baratzetar’ (From Anoeta to Gipuzkoa patches).

The project aims at managing waste in the stadium and, in particular, making use of the tons of sunflower seed shells that are produced every year.

“In sports events, there is some sort of active ignorance of the production of own waste. There was a lot of work to do. Especially with sunflowers seeds…” Amaia Otazo, in charge of responsible consumption at Kutxa Ekogunea, told EURACTIV.

The project

The idea is simple. Before every match and for a few weeks, a group of volunteers provides supporters with recyclable biodegradable boxes to deposit their shells during the match and explain the initiative to them.

The supporters are then invited to throw the boxes into the dozens of bins exclusively intended for the collection of the shells. The objective is to carry out a selective collection of waste.

“The hardest part was to get the supporters to pick up the shells,” Otazo said. But in the end, appealing to responsibility worked fine, she added.

Once the shells are collected, they are driven to the farms Ekogunea has in town. There, they are mixed with fresh piles of compost. After up to a year, they turn into organic fertiliser to be used in the network of local vegetable patches owned by Ekogunea.

“We are looking forward not just to present the project but to show the tomato or the lettuce that was grown thanks to the sunflower seed collected in Anoeta,” Adoni Iraola, president of the Real Sociedad Foundation told EURACTIV.

The installation of bins has had a positive impact beyond their initial function, leading to the classification of other forms of waste in the stadium. That, in turn, has made other types of waste easier to recycle.

“We had a double objective,” Iraola explained. On the one hand, “if we do a selective collection, we give value to something that it doesn’t have.” And on the other hand, the club aimed at “starting to build a new culture among the supporters who come to the matches.”

“We, in the football stadium, were lagging behind in this area compared to society by supporting a recycling culture and caring for the environment,” Iraola explained. “We ask them – the supporters – to assume their responsibility towards the environment.”

A community project

The project is the result of cooperative work between several organisations in Gipuzkoa. “We have tried to involve the community,” Iraola stressed.

Espacios Intermedios, a landscape design company led by two women, came up with the idea of the project and is helping with the implementation. Ekogunea is in charge of the management of the waste and owns the network of local vegetable gardens.

Furthermore, relations with the fans is undertaken by volunteers who are members of Aztegi, an organisation working with people with intellectual disabilities in Gipuzkoa. “To make it a success, the project goes hand in hand with a communication campaign,” Iraola said.

Volunteers not only provide the boxes and raise awareness about the need to recycle.

“It would have been impossible for us to do this alone,” Andoni Iraola said.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]