Healthy competition brings out the best in all of us. It pushes us to work harder, practice longer, and study smarter. But can competition make East Carolina University greener?
That is the goal of RecycleMania, a nationwide competition of colleges and universities intended to see who can recycle more, consume less, and promote sustainability and environmental awareness on campus.
For 10 weeks, beginning January 18, ECU will take part in RecycleMania. As one of 496 participating schools, ECU is doing its part to educate its students, faculty, and staff about recycling while seeing where it stands among other institutions, including traditional rivals North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
ECU's Facilities Services will collect more than one million pounds of recyclables this year.
“We have chosen to be involved with RecycleMania because it is a fair and friendly recycling competition between other universities and colleges throughout the country,” said campus RecycleMania organizer and ECU Food Service Director Joyce Sealey. “It gives us a chance to compare ourselves to other schools and see where we are measuring up when it comes to sustainability.”
In the coming weeks, ECU will collect and report recycling and trash collection data that will be used to rank the university against competing schools in the program. Data is kept on the largest amount of recyclables per capita, the largest amount of total recyclables, the least amount of trash per capita, and the highest recycling rate.
This year marks ECU’s second year participating in RecycleMania. Last year it placed a disappointing 164 out of 180 schools in the competition division. This year ECU is competing in a different division, one geared towards institutions that are currently developing institutional recycling programs. Sealey hopes that with a greater focus on education and awareness this year, ECU will have better numbers.
“We are putting programs in place to encourage recycling. We have made great strides as a university to move toward a more sustainable campus by introducing recycling bins in the residence halls and dining areas, reusable campus dining mugs, and encouraging the use of recycled paper products,” she said.
Also this year, ECU is getting help from ECO-Pirates, a student environmental organization on campus. ECO-Pirates will be visible on campus during RecycleMania at information kiosks outside of campus dining halls, and in high traffic areas like Wright Plaza, where they will help educate students about recycling by using actual examples of what can be recycled and where.
“Having a visual of what can be recycled will help, because we’ve had a lot of contamination in recycle bins from people not knowing what can and cannot be recycled,” said Ali Conerly, president of ECO-Pirates.
Conerly also hopes to provide education about the general need for recycling on campus, something she doesn’t always see from her fellow students.
“Some people don’t believe in recycling. They think it is more of an inconvenience than anything else and don’t see how it helps,” she said. “People have to feel good about themselves in most of what they do. So if we can convey the message of why we recycle, and make them feel good about themselves for doing it, then we will definitely have a lot more people participating.”
ECU has made progress in sustainability and recycling efforts on campus. One need look no further than ECU’s Facilities Services and its rows of enormous steel containers full of plastic bottles and bags of shredded paper for evidence of the sea change the university is experiencing in the way we deal with waste.
“Each year we recycle more than one million pounds of paper, cardboard, scrap metal, wood pallets, and drinking containers. And that’s just in our department,” said Terry Little, recycling coordinator for ECU’s Grounds Department. “There are other departments that do recycling also. Dining Services recycles cooking grease. You’ve got automotive fluids at the garage, batteries and things like that at Environmental Health and Sciences, toner cartridges at Central Stores and Receiving. So it’s a campus wide effort. It’s not just us.”
Little and his four-man crew are responsible for the collection and weighing of all solid waste on campus, including recyclables, and he will provide RecycleMania with ECU’s weekly tallies. This year, he is pleased that he will be able to submit our overall waste numbers to RecycleMania as it will give the university a clearer understanding about the effectiveness of this year’s efforts.
“If our recycling goes up but we don’t know if our overall waste has gone up as well, we won’t know if we’ve really done a good job or not. We are going to really tune into that percentage,” he said.
RecycleMania is ultimately a competition, and Pirates certainly revel in a challenge. However, finishing ahead of university rivals is not the ultimate goal of the event. According to Sealy, the goal of the competition is to challenge East Carolina to not only recycle during the 10 weeks of RecycleMania, but to make recycling a permanent part of university life.