Courtesy of Cornell University

The University will participate for an eighth year in the collegiate competition that ranks universities on their recycling efforts.

February 20, 2018

Cornell Continues Waste Reduction Efforts in Inter-University National Recycling Competition

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Cornell will “go green” for an eighth year in RecycleMania, a national waste-reduction competition held between universities and colleges across the nation. The winner of the competition gets a trophy composed of recycled materials and holds it for the year.

In the competition, campus waste is collected, weighed and compared to other universities in the categories of waste diversion, food organics and overall waste production from mid-February to the end of March.

Waste diversion, which involves directing waste into their correct destination whether that be landfill, recycling or compost, is emphasized in this year’s RecycleMania.

One of the keystone RecycleMania events is the GameDay Basketball challenge, which compares waste diverted and recycling per capita at a home basketball game. This year’s challenge will be held during the men’s game against Yale on Feb. 23.

“We have continued to show improvements year after year,” said Kimberly Anderson, sustainable engagement manager and head of this year’s RecycleMania. Cornell won the GameDay Basketball game challenge in 2016, she added.

Cornell currently stands in 13th place in total recycling and in 39th place in the category of waste diversion, with a recycling rate of 44.149 percent, trailing Harvard University by less than one percent.

“For composting, look forward to week three,” Anderson said. The week three newsletter will include more information on how students can divert waste properly by composting, part of food organics, a category in which Cornell is currently ranked 25th.

The second goal of RecycleMania — waste minimization — focuses on systemic change that will reduce waste over time.

One of the ongoing campus-wide initiatives — the ‘Mug Club’ — focuses on decreasing the amount of waste that students produce. The effort discounts up to 80 cents per hot drink if customers bring their own mug or reusable to-go cup.

According to the RecycleMania weekly newsletter, over one million hot coffee cups end up in the landfill each year from Cornell alone, and tossing those cups into the recycle bin isn’t a solution.

“All of the coffee cups and hot cups on campus have a wax liner that make them un-recyclable in Tompkins County,” Anderson said. “So if you go into a coffee shop and get one of these cups, [they] are destined for a landfill.”

Anderson also emphasized the importance of “not wasting food in the first place” in minimizing waste. On the individual level, Anderson advocated taking food only with the intention of eating it.

Anderson attributes recent RecycleMania success to the RecycleMania Steering Committee, which she described as “a collaborative team of students and staff that create and drive what the tournament looks like on our campus.”

Other initiatives supported by the committee include “sustainable sporks” promoting individuals to use their own utensils, a BuzzFeed quiz on waste diversion and an effort to make the University Google Maps include information on waste-related data points, such as recycling centers.

The University began composting non-food items in 1992, and incorporated dining-related composting by 1997, according to the Sustainable Campus website. In 2001, Cornell Greens, a student group, held a seven-day protest pushing for the University to adopt the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 United Nations initiative that aims to reduce participating nations’ greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2007, a vote showed that 75 percent of undergraduates supported a $5 semester fee to promote sustainability projects. Ultimately, however, this fee was never implemented by the Student Assembly.

RecycleMania competition will run until March 31, with final results posted at the conclusion of the competition. Sustainability tips for individuals can be found in the RecycleMania weekly newsletter and on the campus sustainability website or Facebook page.