Chris Dickerson says when he and his other Louisville Bats teammates returned to the clubhouse after batting practice each day, players would dump their plastic water bottles in the trash can near the main entry-exit door.
Dickerson’s locker stall was nearby, and early into his first stint with the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A affiliate in 2007, the outfielder says he would often go over in his mind the amount of plastic waste that was accumulating on a daily basis.
“I started doing napkin math and was like, ‘This isn’t right. We’re going through this much plastic?’” Dickerson says now. “Forty-plus guys in there, and each is going through a minimum of five bottles in a day when you’re there for eight hours. The numbers are staggering.”
Dickerson decided that he would start to do his part to try and effect some change for the better. By the spring of 2008, a few months before he made his major league debut, Dickerson reached out to the Sigg water bottle company to explore ways to cut down on the team’s plastic use. But the bigger spark was Players for the Planet, a non-profit that he began that same spring, and which would be dedicated to professional athletes protecting the environment through various initiatives.
Thirteen years later, Dickerson, 39, is still leading the charge to save the planet, and although he says there have been great strides in sports circles with regard to environmental awareness and green efforts, the urgency factor has hit warp speed.
“Back in the minors, that was the first time I understood that there was a discrepancy of where we are as far as understanding the danger the planet is under,” says Dickerson, who played seven years in the majors, including two seasons with the New York Yankees (2011-12). “Most guys blew it off and were like, ‘What difference am I going to make?’ Sadly enough, 10 years later, the guys that are championing this effort often get the same response.
“We’ve got to get to a point where teams make some kind of statement, ‘We’re not going to use plastic products in the clubhouse or the stadium.’”
One of baseball’s richest pipelines of talent — the Dominican Republic — is plagued by plastic waste. Any visitor staying in Santo Domingo hotels near the southern coast of the island can see the assault on the environment up close: hundreds of bottles and detritus washed ashore.
Dickerson has already spearheaded several trips to the Dominican for cleanup efforts, and he’s corralled some big baseball names — Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Willy Adames, Amed Rosario — from there to help with the efforts. In December, Dickerson will head to Santo Domingo again for another round of trash pickup. He says the challenge each time is daunting.
“The amount of waste that washes up is staggering,” says Dickerson, who partnered with another environmental organization, Parley for the Oceans. “In this beach in Puerto Haina, we learned there are three native species of sea turtles that lay eggs on the beach, but because of amount of trash and debris, it’s affecting breeding patterns and is detrimental to that whole process. We had three teams of (volunteers), including about 90 players, and we barely made a dent.”
But Dickerson says there is progress being made on other fronts — whether it’s awareness being raised among major leaguers when Dickerson has spoken to clubs during spring training or current players like Brewers pitchers Brent Suter and Daniel Norris being vocal advocates for the planet’s health.
And there are teams like the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners, who Dickerson says have made progress on green initiatives through their waste divergent programs “which give fans the choice to learn about the importance of where compost is as opposed to where plastic utensils go.
“They’ve seen significant boost to waste sorting initiatives,” he says.
For major league and other professional sports teams, however, eliminating plastic waste is easier said than done. Huge beverage companies that are stadium sponsors are largely dependent upon plastic containers for their products.
“Start that conversation, that’s all I ask,” says Dickerson. “Spur participation of your teammates to make changes. Keep the discussion going on sustainable energy, ocean health, reusable containers, multiple refillable water stations at stadium clubhouses.
“It’s complex and kind of goes on forever,” he adds. “But the consequences are dire on multiple levels if we sit back and do nothing.”