The Center for Sustainability at Georgia Southern University is competing in Recyclemania, an international recycling competition in which universities compete to recycle the most trash during an eight-week period.
More than 200 universities compete every year to see who can recycle the most materials in a variety of categories, including cans, bottles, overall recycling, landfill waste diversion and composting.
The goal of Recyclemania is to bring awareness to the benefits of recycling and to encourage people to reduce the amount of materials they send to landfills.
Lissa Leege, Ph.D., the director of the center, said the event aims to show people how much of an impact their actions can have on their community.
“We can really make a difference in terms of our waste production,” Leege said. “The vast majority of what ends up in the waste stream is actually recyclable. So, if we just divert that and put it in the right place where it can be used again, then we’re really doing the planet a favor.”
One of the big events of this year’s Recyclemania is an art exhibit and lecture by environmental artist Marie Lorenz.
Lorenz installed an art piece titled “Ash Heap/Landfill” on the GS campus Feb. 18. The piece incorporates ceramic casts of trash and refuse that Lorenz collected and buried into a base made of mud and clay.
The art piece is on display for the public in the Center for Art and Theatre Gallery until March 14.
Lorenz will return to GS on March 12 to give an artist talk and lecture in Room 2071 of the university’s Art Building.
The Center for Sustainability is using this Recyclemania to test a few sustainable strategies.
The first project underway is using this year as a benchmark for the Armstrong Campus, which is unofficially participating in Recyclemania this year. The Savannah campus is recycling like it is participating in the event, but the data is not reported in the competition.
The center hopes to use the collected data to improve recycling on the Armstrong Campus, Leege said.
Also, the center is experimenting with trash can locations in the Carroll Building on the GS campus. The center removed all the trash cans from the classrooms in the Carroll Building and replaced them with signs directing students to use the trash cans in the hallway. Located right next to these trash cans are recycling bins, Leege said. The group hopes that if students are given the choice to recycle, they will choose to do so.
“We’re directing people to trash receptacles and recycling receptacles elsewhere in the building so people have the opportunity to choose whether they’re going to recycle or not,” she said. “Whereas in the classroom, if there’s a trash can there, people just dump their stuff. It doesn't matter if it’s recyclable or not.”
After one week, the center already has seen an increase of seven pounds of paper recycling from the Carroll Building.
One of the other activities the center is doing during Recyclemania is “caught greenhanded.”
On random days during Recyclemania, students will go around campus spotting students who are performing a green activity, such as recycling, using a reusable water bottle or riding a bike.
Anyone caught greenhanded will be featured on the center’s social media and will be entered into a drawing to win a prize from Tech Corner at the end of Recyclemania.
Room for improvement
“We have room for improvement, we definitely could do better,” Leege said in regard to the university’s past performances in Recyclemania.
One of the biggest problems in past competitions was contamination, Leege said. Contamination is caused when different recyclable materials are put into the same bin. Once a bin is contaminated it can no longer be recycled, and all the materials have to be trashed.
For example, if a piece of paper is put into a recycling bin designated for plastic bottles, then the entire bin has been contaminated and has to be thrown out.
One way the center is working to stop contamination is by placing cards next to all the recycling bins on campus with “do’s and don'ts” of recycling.
“If we can recycle it, capture those materials and put them in the correct bins, then we have saved those materials from perpetuity in the landfill,” Leege said. “So, they can have a life as something in the future.”
After the first week of the 2019 Recyclemania, Georgia Southern is second in the state behind the University of Georgia in the per capita classic competition, having recycled 0.275 pounds of trash per student.
Recyclemania lasts through March 31, and the Center for Sustainability has a variety of events going on during the competition and throughout the spring semester. The full list of events can be found at https://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/sustainability/events/spring-2019/.