AU has entered the national contest, “Recyclemania” for the third time, signaling its commitment to securing carbon neutral status by 2020, said Hannah Debelius, AU’s sustainability manager in the Office of Sustainability. The eight week contest began on Feb. 4. The university with the highest “diversion” rate —the percentage of trash that is recycled—wins.
After failing to compost for three years, AU resumed composting waste in Jan. 2017 in the TDR and the Davenport cafe with Veteran’s Compost. AU sent its compost to Delaware until the facility closed at the end of 2014. The only available facility in Prince George’s County deemed AU’s compost too contaminated to accept, and so AU did not compost until finding the new facility.
“We are now doing our best to ensure we get this process right in the back end, and we need students’ help,” said AU Student Sustainability Educator J.I. Cruz.
Recyclemania began in 2001 as a competition between Ohio University and Miami University. It quickly accrued other university participants, now averaging 500 per year. AU has participated twice, winning the Grand Champion prize in 2012 with an 85.16% diversion rate. The same year, the United States recycled only 34.5% of its waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Cruz said he does not think AU has the potential to win the competition this year.
“We will probably perform very badly,” Cruz said.
The failure to replace former Zero Waste Coordinator Helen Lee after she resigned last year is partially to blame, he speculated. Cruz also blamed students misplacing waste in the incorrect bins.
AU is yet to receive a ranking as it has had difficulty collecting data, Cruz said.
“Recyclemania has been the moment where the Office of Sustainability has dedicated itself to fix the process,” Cruz said. “More often than we’re happy with, an entire day’s worth of recycling ends up going to landfill.”
Debelius is one of three full-time faculty members in the Office of Sustainability, founded in 2009. Debelius admits achieving zero waste by 2020 is “an aggressive goal.”
“We have our work cut out for us,” Debelius said.
The Office of Sustainability has been and will continue hosting weekly events for the duration of “Recyclemania” to raise awareness and urge students to use the correct trash can.
AU’s first event of Recyclemania was a Zero Waste Basketball Competition between Boston University and AU on Feb. 8. Boston narrowly defeated AU, 67 - 64. University President Neil Kerwin and Student Government President Devontae Torriente comically competed in a shootout, where Kerwin easily won, 5-0.
On March 1, popular clothing brand Patagonia and AU partnered to host a “Worn Wear Tour” on the quad. From 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., Patagonia offered free clothing repairs, and the Student Zero Waste Club, Nourish AU and the AU Fashion Club sold secondhand clothes. Despite rain forcing festivities into the Mary Graydon Center, there were a “steady stream of people at all times,” Cruz said, adding that some students were turned away at 11:30 a.m. due to large crowds.
“Before the Flood,” a movie about climate change, screened at the Tavern in the Mary Graydon Center at 7:30 p.m.
A “Mug Club” subscription will be given away on Friday, March 10 in MGC between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m by the Office of Sustainability. The Davenport Cafe’s “club,” which began last fall, offers students unlimited coffee for $100 a year.
“We’re trying to create a culture of repair rather than replace,” Cruz said.
Currently, the Office and the Student Zero Waste Club are concepting an on-campus thrift store, Debelius said.
AU’s potential to reach carbon neutrality depends on student participation, she said.
“We aim to teach students to try and make a good choice when they’re standing in front of the trash can,” Debelius said.