Courtesy of Cornell University

Cornell participates in the sustainability competition for the 10th time.

February 14, 2019

Cornell Goes for Green in Continent-Wide Sustainability Tournament

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Cornell dove into its 10th year of participating in the sustainability contest “RecycleMania” — a continent-wide, two-month-long tournament in which universities compete to generate the least waste and recycle the most.

Spanning from Mexico to Alaska, the event, which began Feb. 3 and will continue until March 30, features hundreds of schools aiming to spur “greener” living through friendly competition,  according to Recyclemania.

The competition encourages universities to track and measure their recycling activity of their campus, which is then submitted to the official RecycleMania website to be used for competition rankings.

Cornell specifically stresses a two-pronged approach, according to their web page, to foster a more sustainable campus: waste minimization and waste diversion.

While minimization focuses on reducing total product consumption and waste generation, “diversion” promotes the sustainable treatment of existing trash through the familiar mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” 

This year, Cornell is participating in four national competition categories: overall waste, recycling, food waste and electronics. Each category includes different initiatives and activities.

To reduce overall waste, for instance, the Sustainability Office recommends hosting “zero-waste” events by using reusable utensils and water bottles or by contributing leftover materials to one of Cornell’s reuse centers.

Students are also encouraged to familiarize themselves with new recycling rules that went into effect in Tompkins County last fall, which limited recyclable plastics to types 1, 2 and 5.   

Cornell currently ranks 14th in RecycleMania’s total recycling category, with a recycling rate of 46.6 percent, according to the competition’s weekly rankings. Berkshire Community College presently stands atop the rankings, boasting a recycling rate of 78.21 percent.

Among the competition’s classic per capita rankings, Cornell sits in 15th with 1.94 lbs of recycling per capita — well above the national average of 1.49.

Despite operating a sprawling residential composting initiative that covers North Campus and parts of West Campus, The Sun previously reported, Cornell fared poorly when it came to food waste, placing in a paltry 75th.     

Cornell’s participation in the annual sustainability event is organized by the Campus Sustainability Office and the “R5” Operations Department — short for “Respect, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” — in conjunction with the Recyclemania Steering Committee, a group of student, staff and faculty volunteers.

“Recycling is important, but even recyclable goods are waste. First, we need to respect the planet,” George Wood, who works for R5 Operations, told the Cornell Chronicle, a University-run publication. “Next, we need to rethink how we use materials and goods, including whether items we purchase are sustainable. Only then should we start to reduce, recycle or reuse goods properly.”

Other universities participating in Recyclemania include Ithaca College and just one other Ivy League school, Harvard University.

According to Recyclemania’s website, the tournament first began in 2001 as a rivalry between Ohio University and Miami University when the two competed to see which university could produce more recycling per student.

Since its inception, over 1,000 colleges and universities have participated in the event. In last year’s competition, campuses participating in Recyclemania collectively recycled and composted 68.6 million pounds of waste.