By Marian Brown
Director, Wells College Center for Sustainability and the Environment
The RecycleMania 2020 results are in and Wells College did quite well again this year in several categories!
RecycleMania (recyclemania.org) is a friendly competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their campus communities. Over an eight-week period each spring, colleges across the United States and Canada report the amount of recyclable materials and landfill trash collected each week. Participating schools are, in turn, then ranked in various categories based upon which schools recycle the most on a per-capita basis, which schools have the best recycling rate as a percentage of total waste, and which institutions generate the least amount of combined trash and recycling.
The 2020 competition period began Feb. 2 and had been slated to end March 28; due to the COVID-19 pandemic that closed most campuses starting in mid-March, however, the RecycleManiacompetition period was shortened to only five weeks, ending March 7.
Below is how Wells stacked up in individual RecycleManiacategories this year.
- The Diversion category combines trash and each of the core recyclable materials, plus food organics to determine a school’s recycling rate as a percentage of its overall waste generation. Posting a 45.7% recycling rate, Wells ranked #46 nationally out of 145 participating schools, and came in at #3 among 17 New York State schools (NYS) reporting in this category. This rate represented an 11% reduction from our all-time high 2019 recycling rate of 51.4%, but we were not very surprised to see a marked reduction in our recycling rate, given the substantial changes in global recycling markets this past year.
- In the Per Capita category, schools compete to see which can collect the largest combined amount of paper, cardboard, and bottles & cans on a per-person basis. Wells ranked #11 out of 190 participating schools, and ranked #1 out of 18 participating NYS schools. At 22.68 pounds of recyclables per person, our per-capita rate was significantly down from our 2019 high of 39.55 pounds of recyclables per person. We also attribute this decrease to the collapse of the global recycling market which necessitated us to try to re-educate our campus community to stop recycling single-use plastic items starting in fall 2019. The College’s national and statewide rankings, however, were unchanged from 2019, signaling that participating institutions were facing similar recycling challenges this year.
- In the Waste Minimization category, schools compete to see which can produce the leastamount of recyclables, food organics, and trash on a per-person basis. Where other categories recognize schools’ efforts to divert the most recyclables, this competition focuses on efforts to reduce the total amount of waste generated overall, including recyclables. In this category, more is decidedly not better. Wells ranked #168 out of 173 participating schools, posting a whopping total of 134.9 pounds per person; we ranked #18 among 19 NYS schools reporting in this category. We are diverting a lot of material to recycling or compost processing — which is good! — but as a community, we still generate far too much total waste.
- In the Total Recycling category, schools collecting the most total pounds of recyclables score the best, so tiny Wells can never be in the top tier. For reference: #10 ranked SUNY Buffalo collected over one million pounds of recyclables in this five-week period. In sharp contrast, Wells came in at #146 out of 221 participating schools, collecting 41,146 pounds of recyclables during the abbreviated RecycleManiaperiod. We placed #17 among 21 NYS schools, holding our own considering we are by far the smallest New York school to compete. Surprisingly, even with a three-week shorter competition period than in 2019, we collected significantly more recyclables this year (2019: 32,775 pounds, which last year found us ranked at #181 nationally and #17 statewide).
- We competed in the “targeted materials”category of Food Service Organics again this year. Results are calculated based upon points allotted for quantities of organic material donated to people, fed to animals, used as biofuels, or composted. Out of 140 schools reporting in this category, we scored #11 nationally and #3 among the 16 NYS schools that reported this material. We earned 20.53 points from our efforts to divert food waste to compost collection and to recycle used fryer oil for biofuel; this is an increase from our score of 19.27 points in 2019, even with a three-week shorter competition period. But as good as these numbers are in comparison to other schools, it still means we are wasting too much edible food, something we need to work on next year.
- Wells participated again this year in the E-waste Electronics Recycling competition, a special category that tracks the amount of computers, printers, TVs, and other consumer electronica and peripherals collected across campus. Instead of weekly updates, this category is based on a one-time tally of materials collected over a month during the RecycleMania competition window; in our case, we had just one e-waste collection pickup by our contractor. Only 24 schools competed in this category this year, which is likely due to the shortened competition period (last year, 148 schools participated). Wells came in #7 nationally, reporting 525 pounds of total e-waste (0.78 pounds per person) and we ranked #3 among the four participating NYS schools.
- This year, Wells participated in the Game Day Basketball Challenge for the first time. Recycling intern Brittany Anderson ’21 collected and weighed trash, recyclables and food waste at the end of the final women’s team home game against Penn College on February 22. Only 29 schools participated in this competition; Wells ranked #13 nationally by posting a 71.9% diversion of recyclables, and we came in first among the two participating NYS schools.
While we welcome public recognition of our recycling efforts, RecycleMania is more useful to us in that it brings added focus to the importance and value of recycling and waste reduction efforts. We pay $45 per ton for trash to be landfilled, but pay only $15 per ton for recyclables to be processed, so diverting material to recycling streams saves us money. RecycleManiaprovides a useful snapshot of our progress year over year and points out areas needing attention, like minimizing our waste generation and addressing unnecessary food waste.
Wells College’s successful showing again this year is a real tribute to several campus departments – Facilities, Dining Services, and Information Technology, among others – that have established and maintained great recycling infrastructure systems which our whole campus community has rallied to support. We expect our Wells community to keep pitchin’ in – into the right bins, that is!
For More Information
Check out the Wells College Center for Sustainability and the Environment at wells.edu/sustainability.