Starting Monday, Jan. 19, staff, students, faculty and visitors will be participating in Recyclemania, a multi-school recycling contest. Organized and brought to campus by the Department of Environmental Studies and the Physical Plant, Recyclemania will pit Gustavus against hundreds of other participating colleges across America to see who can recycle the most.
The purpose of Recyclemania, however, is not just to compete among schools. According to James Dontje, Director of the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation, it will inspire some self-investigation. He hopes Recyclemania will allow the Gustavus community to “examine the [recycling] system from start to finish.”
“The contest is a vehicle for helping us work on our recycling, and it’s more of a fun way to do it. It builds the measurement culture, so we think about what we are doing and focuses attention on how we do it: What aren’t we recycling? Why aren’t we recycling? Is it individual choice, or do we not have a place to put stuff? Do you not have a way to handle some of it?” said Dontje.
The contest focuses on deeper things like waste reduction, looking at what is purchased and what products are packaged in.
Recyclemania came to Gustavus as a result of a team effort among various departments on campus. “I became aware of Recyclemania when then-president Peterson signed an environmental pact. I told [Director of Physical Plant] Warren [Wunderlich] and [Custodial Supervisor] Christine Sutton, who had a couple of students working with her, to take a look at recycling,“said Dontje.
Dontje continued, “At the same time [Administrative Secretary for the Melva Lind Interpretative Center] Shirley [Mellema] had two students working with her, learning about the recycling system and trying to make it better. When I heard what Shirley was doing, I asked, ‘Would these students be interested in Recyclemania?’ We had a team. That’s how it happened.”
Physical Plant student employee Matt Leeb is one of the students involved in the project. He described his responsibilities as “driving around campus and picking up recycling at various buildings.” Different wastes are sorted into different bins. Leeb noticed that often times recyclable items are mixed, which can cause problems. “I guess when I’m doing it you can see a lot of things mixed together. If I see bottles in the paper I try to take those out. Then I dump them into the containing units at Physical Plant. “
Students have an important role in the contest. “They have been working in the recycling team, taking notes and asking question about why things are they way they are,” said Dontje.
Mellema also emphasized the role of the Physical Plant student employees. “The two students are getting the Physical Plant people on board. Besides that, the students give us a different perspective on things—what they can see, what’s happening, how we can deal with waste management.”
Recyclemania may help improve problem areas such as recycling in Lund Center. “Event recycling can be a problem. We break down there sometimes—the large numbers of people and the containers we choose don’t make it easy. There’s so much of it, and just trashcans are put out.
The custodians don’t have time to sort trash out of recyclables or recyclables out of trash. Sometimes we don’t have containers out because people were throwing trash in them. We have to rely on the good sense and good will of people to get the job done,” said Dontje.
Dontje stressed that Gustavus already has many perks in its recycling policies that will enable many improvements. “We are, in industry terms, a ‘self hauler’. This makes it easier to “keep track of stuff,” said Dontje.
Recyclemania kicks off a season of environmental projects on campus. Junior Environmental Studies and English Major Haven Davis, Co-President of the Gustavus Greens, groups Recyclemania in with other awareness campaigns. “This spring is an exciting time for environmental awareness on campus because both the Campus Energy Challenge and Recyclemania will offer us fun and exciting ways to be aware of our environmental impact as a college community.”
“The biggest thing is to create a culture where recycling is OK, an expectation and peers will move people more than we can. If you start seeding your campus with people who care and they pass that on to their friends, that will be the biggest change,” said Dontje.
Recyclemania starts on Monday, Jan. 18, and will continue through March 28, 2009. Do your part by knowing what is recyclable and what containers to put recyclables in.