Don’t get wasted!

Every year, universities and colleges throughout the U.S. gear up to recycle more, waste less and promote sustainability on campus.

Every year, universities and colleges throughout the U.S. gear up to recycle more, waste less and promote sustainability on campus. It’s part of a national challenge called RecycleMania, a 10-week event that tracks the materials recycled and wasted by participating schools and ranks them to offer leading campuses bragging rights.

In 2001, Miami University and Ohio University held a competition to see which campus could generate more recycled materials, and thus RecycleMania was born. By the 2009 event, more than 500 schools across the country were competing to recycle as much as possible, and several other categories of competition were added.

Since 2006, Portland State has participated in various categories, most especially waste minimization—PSU finished fourth nationwide for that category in its first RecycleMania. The number of waste minimization entrants increased dramatically the next year, meaning that despite less waste generated per student during the 2007 event, PSU placed 13th out of 66 schools in that category.

The story was similar in 2008: More schools meant tougher competition and facing smaller campuses that had an easier time engaging students in the challenge. Waste minimization grew to 95 schools and PSU finished 20th in that category, again despite generating less trash than during the two previous challenges.

Last year, waste minimization by students again improved but the overall finish was lower because of another major increase in smaller campuses in the challenge. For example, the fifth week of competition in 2009 saw PSU students average 4.25 pounds of waste, down from 4.77 pounds per person during week five in 2008.

By week five of this year’s challenge, students averaged 4.49 pounds of waste apiece. The increase in waste generated is small, but it also marks the first year that PSU is generating more waste on average than the previous year.

According to the waste minimization results page on the Web site, 200 schools are participating in this year’s waste minimization category—meaning PSU is looking at a lower ranking than their 2009 finish.

Noelle Studer-Spevak, sustainability coordinator, said one cause for the increase in waste is a decrease in promotion of RecycleMania this year.

“There’s been very little going on to raise awareness—we didn’t have funding at the level that we did in previous years,” she said, referring to a Student Fee Committee cut of advertising funds for PSU Recycles!, the group facilitating campus participation in RecycleMania.

“They didn’t get any contract money yet either, and together that has meant less participation in RecycleMania.”

She also points to the small campuses and overall number of entrants as reasons for the slippage in rankings. She said the numbers from this year’s challenge aren’t discouraging, because despite less promotion of RecycleMania this year, the amount of waste generated is still low.

“Students are still participating, and now we’ll have to look at some other funding models for next year and try to increase participation,” she said.

Here’s for hoping that PSU Recycles! gets more funding for next year and that PSU is able to return to its waste minimizing ways next year and that the spirit of friendly competition prevails on campus. Huzzah!

Another green challenge on campus

In the competitive spirit of RecycleMania, and in an effort to promote sustainability among students residing on campus, the Broadway Housing Building is hosting a floor-by-floor challenge to see which one can use the least amount of energy as part of a friendly competition.

Kelly Larson, energy conservation outreach specialist, collaborated with Residence Life to turn the idea of an energy competition into a reality, and she said the event could become a regular event for more residence halls on campus in years to come.

“My office partnered with Res Life, and the RAs and LCAs [resident assistants and learning community assistants] have done a great job organizing outreach to student-residents,” Larson said. “We hope to organize this and similar challenges every year.”