Stanford kicked off RecycleMania on Sunday, marking its fifth year as a participant in the nationwide competition measuring recycling on college campuses.
The contest runs until April 4 and requires Stanford to regularly report its recycling and trash tonnage, with RecycleMania compiling weekly rankings of participating universities in eight categories.
630 colleges are participating in this year’s event, according to the tournament’s website. The contest is a project of the College and University Recycling Council, an arm of the nonprofit organization National Recycling Coalition.
At Stanford, the program represents a joint undertaking of Peninsula Sanitary Services, Inc. (PSSI), Buildings & Grounds Maintenance (BGM) and the Sustainability and Energy Management Department (SEM).
According to Fahmida Ahmed, associate director of the Office of Sustainability, which is a branch of SEM, the University plans to achieve a 10 percent increase in overall recycling by focusing on education and outreach.
“The most common problem we hear from students is not knowing what to recycle and what not to,” Ahmed said, adding that new labels have been placed on recycling and compost bins this year to address this issue.
Additionally, Stanford RecycleMania will feature a new individual recognition component. To enter a weekly raffle, students, faculty and staff must submit a pledge agreeing not to throw any recyclable items into the trash. Winners will receive a small prize.
“It’s really important for conservation programs aiming for behavior change to include incentives,” Ahmed said.
Stanford has generated varied rankings during its four years of participation in RecycleMania. The University has consistently placed among the top five contenders in the “Gorilla” category, which refers to total tons recycled. It won first place in the category in 2008.
However, in the category of waste minimization, which measures the tons of waste generated per person, Stanford has performed poorly. The University placed 147 of 148 schools in 2009 and 191 of 199 schools in 2010.
Julie Muir, PSSI community relations manager, said the mixed performance reflected the unique challenges of recycling at a large university.
“The Gorilla prize gives credit to larger universities, which have to handle a lot more material,” Muir said.
The large volume of material, however, poses difficulties when sorting the waste.
“We recycle a lot, but we do a really good job of wasting,” Muir said. “Through recycling audits, we can study what goes to the landfill. We found that about 25 percent of what goes to the landfill is actually recyclable, and about 30 percent is compostable.”
Angela Kwok ’13, co-president of the student-run Green Living Council (GLC), pointed out that composting is not always a readily available option for students.
“Composting is lacking in residences,” Kwok said. “In dining halls, it’s convenient [to compost], but when people bring food back to their room, a lot of them don’t take the time to bring what can be composted back to the dining hall.”
Muir acknowledged that the composting program, which began in 2003, has been an integral component of sustainability on campus. She nevertheless stressed the need for strategic and cautious expansion.
“With composting, you have to pay [sanitation services], and it’s only slightly cheaper than a landfill,” Muir said. “You also have to consider factors like odor and pest control. If you move too fast, you could have problems that set you back.”
According to Muir, all the dining halls and half the cafes on campus currently have compost options.
Ahmed hopes the RecycleMania competition will prompt individuals to reconsider not only their recycling and composting habits, but also the entirety of their consumer behaviors.
“One question we should ask is: ‘how can we create less waste to begin with,’” she said.