By Devon Merriman
How well do Greeners live up to their green reputation? Find out in this year’s Recyclemania, an annual 10-week recycling competition between colleges around the U.S. and Canada, beginning the first week of February. Washington State University and Eastern Washington University are also participating.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to become aware of something they don’t think about for most of their day-to-day life, but in the big picture has a huge ecological impact,” said Joe Anderson, community outreach coordinator for RAD sustainability.
In a weekly audit, the waste of each school will be weighed and sorted to determine their commitment to recycling. The school with either the highest ratio of recycling to garbage, the most amount of recycling per student, or the least amount of waste overall could win a variety of titles and the bragging rights that come with them. There are also more qualitative competitions, like the most creative outreach program.
“It’s not super competitive, but is mostly a way to bring awareness to the idea,” said Anderson. “It’s designed to play out the college sports season and is supposed to have that kind of competitive edge to keep people involved, but it’s not really about winning as much as the connections made with the students.”
Leading up to the contest in February, this week starting Monday, Jan. 26 (the “pre-season”), RAD employees will give raffle tickets to students they see recycling, or in any way catches “green-handed.” Prizes include Recyclemania and Evergreen merchandise and tools to live a more sustainable lifestyle. The drawing and will be at a sculpture contest, starting Week 7 of winter quarter. Located in the Pavilion by the athletic fields, students can stop by and work on their sculptures, made either from recycled materials RAD provides or recycling brought by the students themselves. There will be a free-form, group art project of a cardboard castle that is not part of the contest. The event will be catered, and there will be live music and the showing of “Wasteland,” a documentary about recycling and social activism.
It’s clear that Evergreen students are motivated to keep the campus green. Recycling by itself is not enough—there are many ways Evergreen must work together to secure the environment and the resources taken from it. In 2005, students voted to approve the Clean Energy Fund, a $1-per-credit tax on all students used to offset 100 percent of Evergreen’s electrical carbon production through renewable energy credits. But how does Evergreen measure up in terms of consumption, compost, and recycling?
Recycling and compost make up around half of 52 tons of waste we produce each month. However, if 10 percent of a recycling dumpster is contaminated with other waste, the whole load goes in the garbage. “So it’s not only reducing waste, it’s appropriate sorting” into the correct bins, said Anderson. “You think if you throw one piece of garbage into the recycling it won’t do anything, but if everyone does that, then that entire recycling bin is contaminated, and it just goes into the dump.”
The numbers are not available for how much of Evergreen’s recycling gets thrown out instead of repurposed, but last year, an intern from Aramark (the company that provides the college with food and cutlery) conducted a small waste audit of garbage cans around the Campus Activities Building and found that the vast majority of college waste problems were with sorting. “A lot more is sent to the dump than we perceive,” said Anderson. “It’s kind of invisible.”
One way that bins are contaminated is that bottles that are not rinsed out or still hold liquid, which can spill and ruin paper recyclables. Greasy pizza boxes and other soiled materials are also a problem, though plastic coated plates that do not absorb liquid can have a pass. A common mistake is throwing food waste into single stream recycling, instead of the organics stream.
Ultimately, it is up to the students on an individual level (it’s troublesome but doable to correctly throw away your cup when rushing to class), but also on a community level. That is what Recyclemania is trying to achieve and what Students for Sustainability (S4S) is making possible. S4S is a subgroup of the Clean Energy Committee and encourages students to voice their sustainability ideas to those who will listen. Every Monday, their doors are open to students who want to get out their thoughts and plans for policy changes, some of which may turn into future student projects through the Clean Energy Fund. The group meets from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the SEM 2, building E, room 2132. “Sustainability projects put the money back in the students’ hands,” said Paisley Gallagher, the outreach coordinator for Students for Sustainability.
Sometimes it can be difficult to see something like a scrap of paper as a valuable resource because it is something that is no longer needed. “It is natural for people who have a surfeit of resources not to value those resources,” said Scott Morgan, the director of sustainability at Evergreen. “When we step back, however, and look at the national and global resource pools there is more evidence of resource depletion than there is of any surfeit. Natural resources, renewable or not, are no different than a household budget. There’s always a limit. Avoiding that fact won’t protect us from running out.”
Recycling is one important piece of sustainability at Evergreen that students can be easily a part, either by attending meetings and sharing ideas, or by simply looking for the “recycling” symbol on products before throwing them out. “Recycling is a process of ensuring that what is no longer useful in one context will be useful in another,” said Morgan. “Then, it’s no longer waste inhibiting growth, it is a resource supporting growth.”