SU cleans up for RecycleMania

The national recycling competition reaches Syracuse as students and staff continue to work toward sustainability.

The discarded beer cans on a Friday night ended up in a 1,612-pound heap of garbage Saturday afternoon. Ten students from the Waste Watchers course last fall donned hard hats, leather gloves, boots and white Tyvek suits to dig through it in the hot, humid Syracuse Haulers building.

During this process, called a trash audit, they separated and measured the recyclable materials from the garbage. According to Melissa Cadwell, the marketing manager of the Sustainability Division and teacher of the Waste Watchers course, about 20 percent of the garbage— 335 pounds, the same weight of a defensive lineman—was recycled material.

Photo: Danielle Roth
Melissa Cadwell, featured above, is the marketing manager of the Sustainability Division and teacher of the Waste Watchers course.

Lizzy Kahn, an advertising junior and president of the Students of Sustainability club, participated in the trash audit last fall. “The little things add up and when you’re digging through the trash, you realize that,” she said.

Recycled material becomes ever more important as Syracuse University completes the sixth week of the eight-week RecycleMania competition on Friday. RecycleMania is a tournament among colleges in the United States and Canada to see which college can recycle the most on-campus waste. The competition runs through March 30.

This is SU’s first year in the competition division. As of March 24, SU is ranked 85 out of 114 colleges and has a recycling rate of 34 percent. This number is calculated by dividing the weight of recycled materials by the total weight of garbage and recycled materials.   

Syracuse University competed in the benchmark division last year, which is a practice round beneath the competition division. SU ranked 6th in the grand champion title with a recycling rate of 35.23 percent. SU recycled a total of 565,920 pounds—the equivalent to the weight of about 250 bulls. SU recycled the heaviest materials in the benchmark division, winning the Gorilla Prize.

SU’s Sustainability Division works to educate students and encourage them to recycle, especially during this time period. Two weeks ago, it began conducting weekly water taste tests. During the tests, students can approach the table to blindly judge the quality of bottled water, filtered tap water and unfiltered tap water. Students then receive a reusable water bottle. “If people don’t bring the single-service water bottles to campus, then we don’t have to worry about them being thrown away,” Cadwell said.

Students of Sustainability and the Sustainability Division showed the documentary Bag It on Feb. 20 to show students the effects of plastic bags on the environment.

ESF environmental studies senior ESF Meg Callaghan said RecycleMania at SU wasn’t advertised well. “I don’t think they’re doing a very good job of communicating,” she said. “I could tell you that at least all of my roommates would not know about [RecycleMania].” Callaghan is also the vice president of ESF’s Green Campus Initiative. “[Communication is] hard because there’s so many different things that only fall on a couple of people to run,” she said.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City won the grand champion title last year. As of March 24, UMKC is in second place with a recycling rate of 79.70 percent. UMKC has a Sustainability Team of students, staff and faculty. UMKC Sustainability Coordinator Kaye Johnston estimates that about 75 percent of the student body of 15,746 has participated in a RecycleMania event. About 80 to 85 percent of the professors are involved.

“What we do that I think is a standout is that we include everyone on campus from students in the classroom to professors,” Johnston said. One of the most successful programs, Johnston said, is “Get Caught Green Handed.” Ten to 15 students lead this event in high-traffic areas like the library, student center and the dining halls. The students start conversations with other students about how to properly recycle materials. They also give out prizes like reusable water bottles made out of recycled materials.

UMKC engages faculty for RecycleMania with the “Clean Your Files” events. Large recycling containers are placed in each department, and faculty and staff are encouraged to recycle the papers and files cluttering their offices.

UMKC also has free paper shredding events, where everyone in the campus community is encouraged to shred and recycle documents on the “shred truck,” according to Johnston. There is also a computer collection drive and other events put on by residence halls. 

“We’ve built momentum over the years since 2008. We continue to make it a fun opportunity,” Johnston said. “I can tell you if it was not for RecycleMania, our recycling program would not have that much awareness.”

President and creator of RecycleMania Stacy Wheeler said that the more colleges promote the competition and give incentives for students to recycle, the better the college generally does in the competition. “It’s the basic principles of the competitions: providing incentives,” said Wheeler.

Overall, Syracuse University’s campus is working toward sustainability. The composting in all dining halls has decreased compost in the garbage significantly since its introduction. SU has just signed a contract with the ride sharing company Zimride to encourage carpooling to campus. Former Chancellor Nancy Cantor signed the President’s Climate Commitment, promising to have SU’s campus carbon-neutral (having no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) by 2040.

“Do we have a long way to go? Yes. I think it has a lot to do,” Cadwell said. “We have diversified programs here on campus in our degree programs. It takes a lot longer. It’s hard to take that diverse group of people and get them unified.”

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