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USU falls short in RecycleMania contest

By Manda Perkins
On April 8, 2014

USU did not do as well in the 2014 RecycleMania tournament against colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada as it did last year.

USU students and faculty recycled 41,372 pounds of paper, 40,146 pounds of cardboard and 19,471 pounds of containers during the tournament.

This year, 461 institutions of higher education participated in the eight-week tournament, beginning in February. In the per capita classic category, USU ranked 245, recycling 4.311 pounds per capita. Brigham Young University came in 221st place with 5.591 pounds per capita and the University of Utah took 317th place with 1.21 pounds per capita.

According to Alexi Lamm, the university’s Sustainability Coordinator, USU ranked 290 out of 360 universities in 2013, with 4.778 pounds recycled per person. It also recorded a 27 percent diversion rate, meaning 27 percent of total waste generated on campus was kept out of a landfill by recycling. After look at the totals for this year, Lamm said USU did not reach that mark.

“The USU community has the potential to waste less and recycle more,” said Lamm in an email to The Utah Statesman. “Up to 50 percent of the contents of trash bins is recyclable based on our waste audits, so recycling is a small thing with a significant impact. If people will think about it throughout the year, we’ll be moving up (the) RecycleMania leaderboard next year.”

Although USU didn’t rank as highly this year, Sara Simmons, a junior majoring in environmental studies who interns for the Sustainability Council, said the success was in the increased student awareness. The competition’s finale event, a showcase of thrifted and hand-me-down clothing on the TSC Patio, drew more of a crowd than she had anticipated.

“We were promoting secondhand clothes because it adverts waste in the landfills,” Simmons said. “There were a lot of people on campus who were excited to have secondhand clothes and were letting us take pictures of them.”

Lamm said students were more in-the-know this time around.

“I feel like we had a lot more student awareness than we have had in the past, and that’s mostly through the bin painting event and through the thrifted and vintage clothes event,” she said. “I think more people were aware that it was going on, even though our numbers haven’t particularly changed.”

Students for Sustainability hosted an Instagram contest. Participants had the weekly chance to win prizes by snapping a photo of themselves or their friends in the act of recycling, using the hashtag #USUdontbetrashy. There were seven entries using the correct hashtag.

Robert Davies, an associate of the Utah Climate Center and adjunct professor at USU, said even with the amount of time he spends on campus and the particular attention he pays to his recycling habits, he wasn’t aware the competition was taking place. He said this is a reflection of not only a lack of education about recycling, but a culture of recycling on campus.

“We’re just not putting much effort into doing it well,” Davies said. “My impression, just by existing on this campus, working on this campus and spending a great deal of time here, is that we’ve gone about it halfheartedly. I think if you really want to do it, you have to create a culture of recycling. And to do that, there’s got to be a lot of education. It’s got to be pushed in all kinds of venues.”

For a system to work, Davies said, it needs to be uniform throughout the campus. He cited the different bin styles and unclear signage in various locations of the university that make the current system potentially confusing and unnoticeable.

“If you want a successful program, you don’t want people to have to work to understand how to do it,” he said. “And right now, you really got to work to understand … It looks to me like we’ve kind of half-heartedly put the infrastructure in place and put no effort into helping people do it in a way that’s convenient.”

Simmons said more steps need to be taken to educate students on how and what to recycle.

“The biggest problem that I’ve seen so far with USU’s recycling is probably on the education side, as in not knowing exactly what to put in the bins and what not to, and contamination problems,” she said. “I think the education outreach part is really important for recycling in particular because people just don’t know … It’s not difficult. It’s easy, and it’s a good way to make a difference.”

Nathan Schwartz, USU’s recycling coordinator, said RecycleMania works as a way to raise awareness of the campus recycling center and of the materials accepted, which include metal cans, glass, cardboard, white and mixed paper and some plastics.

“Considering other universities of our size, from looking around and what I’ve seen out there, we do really well as a university,” Schwartz said. “We’re pretty proactive, and we recycle quite a bit. There’s still room for improvement, and that’s what we’re working on.”

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