RecycleMania, the competition that pits colleges and universities against each other for high recycling rates and waste minimization glory, is back. Though this the fourth year the University has participated, the contest is now being publicized more than ever before.
“I don’t know if it’s as exciting as a basketball game,” said Associate Director for Facilities Management Jeff Miller said. “But it does help raise awareness. Instead of throwing this paper in a trash can, I’ll throw in it a recycling bin. It gives us a way to measure ourselves against other universities. It’s a motivational tool to give students a way get excited about and promote recycling.”
Miller, who also serves as chair of the Recycling and Waste Committee—a subcommittee of the Sustainable Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship—submits waste data for RecycleMania as the University’s contest representative.
Miller isn’t in it alone, however. Grace Peterson ’09, Ali San Roman ’11 and Nora Christiani ’11 are all interns on the Sustainability Committee. In addition to collecting numbers, they have been publicizing RecycleMania on campus. Peterson said that although competition is a motivating factor, helping the environment is the primary goal.
“Not only can you do well for the environment and for yourself, but you can do better than Middlebury,” Peterson said.
Christiani said she is more interested in the educational potential of the contest rather than the competitive aspect, which she said can send mixed messages.
“The whole concept of competing for recyclables is a little weird,” Christiani said. “The more recyclables you produce—you win. But that means you produce more waste, which is antithetical to the main goal. Ali and I sort of made a conscious choice to downplay the competition aspect of it.”
RecycleMania began on January 18 and lasts for ten weeks. The first two weeks of the contest were “trials” weeks, in which the data collected does not reflect in the final results. Based on the trial numbers, Miller said the University is doing well in every category except for one.
“We’re in the top 20 percent in a couple of categories,” Miller said. “We’re not doing very well in waste minimization. We’re doing very well with the recyclables but we have a lot of trash going off campus.”
In the waste minimization category, schools are judged by the amount of trash, which includes both the recyclables and non-recyclables, produced per person. According to San Roman, the average amount of waste produced on campus during the trials was 13.5 pounds of waste per person per week. According to Christiani, many of our peer schools are in the 6 pounds range.
The University is part of the Benchmark Division of RecycleMania, which means that it will not be ranked. Schools that are in the Competition Division must be able to track and report data for all facilities on campus. Because waste from wood-framed houses and High Rise and Low Rise—which makes up about 25 percent of the total waste—is picked up by the City of Middletown, there is no way for the University to keep track.
Although this is the University’s fourth year participating in RecycleMania, San Roman said some students and many faculty members are still unaware of the contest.
“This year we’re doing a lot to get people to really be aware,” San Roman said. “In addition to targeting the student body, we are also targeting staff. I think almost every faculty member I’ve talked to about RecycleMania has been very excited about learning how to recycle.”
Taking advantage of Valentine’s Day, the Sustainability Committee is selling valentine cards that are made from 100 percent recycled paper. Each card is $1 and all proceeds go to an account to be used for future sustainability initiatives. The interns hope the cards will serve as a reminder to students not only to recycle, but also to buy recycled items.
“The primary theme we’re trying to communicate is that you shouldn’t just recycle paper but that you should also buy post-consumer paper,” San Roman said. “Recycling doesn’t really work if you just recycle, but don’t buy recycled material.”
They are also planning to put together an electronic presentation that shows the path that recyclables, such as soda bottles, take after students dispose of them. The presentation will likely appear on screensavers on computers across campus. Keeping with the post-consumer product theme, the committee has labeled items at WEShop with stickers that provide information about the packaging of the items and whether or not they were made from recycled materials.
Besides saving the environment, recycling on campus actually saves University money.
“The company that takes our recyclables actually credits back our accounts based on our current values for the items,” Miller said.
Miller, who has been employed by the University for nine years, said that environmentalism on campus has gained momentum in recent years.
“In the past three years, it seems to have picked up quite a bit of speed,” Miller said. “RecycleMania is part of the reason, but the Sustainability Advisory Group plays a big role in it, as well as the Presidents Climate Commitment.”
President Michael S. Roth signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007, pledging to eliminate the University’s greenhouse emissions over a period of time. The University must adhere to concrete guidelines and deadlines set forth by the ACUPCC, including participation in RecycleMania.
Every week of the contest, interns will post the University’s numbers up on a board in Usdan. Data from rival schools like Williams and Amherst will also be posted soon. San Roman hopes that RecycleMania can leave a long term impact on students and faculty members.
“So many people on campus are recycling, but not necessarily the right way,” San Roman said. “It is something that is important for life—to know how to recycle and what the numbers under plastic bottles mean.”