January 14, 2010

Campus Community Can Play Pivotal Role in Reducing Waste, Recycling More

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The Case Western Reserve University community is being encouraged to "use less and recycle the rest."

That's the theme for RecycleMania, an annual nationwide competition among colleges and universities. The 10-week event pits schools against each other to see which ones can motivate their campus communities to adopt and increase sustainable practices.

Case Western Reserve will kick off the competition with an event from noon to 1:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 15, in the Thwing Center atrium. The overall competition is from January 17 through March 27. The event will feature sustainability information, as well as free giveaways and food.

"Our goal is to beat last year's numbers," said Gene Matthews, director of facilities services. In 2009, Case Western Reserve finished near the top in the Waste Minimization category. This year "we want to win in all categories," Matthews explained.

The university aims to be "climate neutral," and RecycleMania is just one aspect of that commitment.

In related sustainability efforts, the Department of Facilities Services is introducing new recycling/waste stations. Graduate students Anand Natarajan, Amie Scarpitti and David Madcharo from Matthew Sobel's Sustainable Operations class spent fall semester studying ways to increase campus sustainability efforts. The students discovered that the recycling bins and trash cans in most buildings were not near each other, which led to trash and food items ending up in the recycled paper bins.

Most campus community members do not realize that tossing that half cup of coffee or food items into a recycling bin earmarked for paper results in contamination. Recycling companies will not accept the contaminated items, meaning paper initially set for recycling ends up as trash.

"People are going to go to the most convenient locations," Matthews acknowledged. That's why he and his team are in the process of rolling out the new recycling/waste stations, which consist of flip top bins for paper located right next to bins for plastic/aluminum and trash. There also is a slot for cardboard.

The hope is that the convenience factor of having the containers side by side will result in a higher percentage of items being placed into the correct bins. Matthews and his team are asking campus community members to become more aware of placing items in the correct bins. Another new aspect is that white paper and color /mixed fiber paper can now be placed in the same bin. Campus members no longer need to separate different types of paper.

The university currently recycles 30 tons per month. The goal is to reach 50 tons per month. Matthews said the new recycling stations and more awareness about where to dispose of items could help the university reach that goal.

"Everyone can do a little bit, which could make a major overall difference," Matthews said.

Natarajan, one of the graduate students who conducted the study, said of the national competition: "I would hope that RecycleMania at Case generates enough awareness and commitment to campus sustainable practices—and recycling in particular—that endure beyond the competition's 10 week time-frame."

The RecycleMania competition began in 2001. According to the College and University Recycling Council (CURC), which oversees RecycleMania, surveys have indicated that 80 percent of participating schools experienced a noticeable increase in recycling collection during the competition. Case Western Reserve's recycling rate during last year's RecycleMania was around 15 percent (as measured by dividing the total recyclables by weight over the total waste stream including recyclables by weight), a figure Matthews said the university hopes to increase this year by a significant amount.

RecycleMania rankings and results will be posted weekly on the competition Web site and in Case Daily. The university that collects the most recyclable trash and reduces overall campus waste will win the grand prize: A trophy made out recycled materials.

For more information contact Kimyette Finley, 216.368.0521.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, January 14, 2010 12:55 PM | News Topics: Campus Life, Faculty, Staff, Students, news, sustainability

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