Stepping up our recycling game

| Author: ​Jeff Johnston

Do you separate paper and plastic from food waste? Do you refill water bottles instead of buying bottled water, choose reusable products and think often about how your personal actions affect the planet?

If so, you've already caught the recycle mania sweeping across Central Michigan University's campus.

And on top of that, it's RecycleMania time.

RecycleMania is an international effort among colleges and universities each February and March to reduce and recycle waste. Institutions compete against each other and their own past performance.

“Everybody try to recycle 10 pounds during the month of March.” — Jay Kahn, director of facilities operations

Jay Kahn, CMU's director of facilities operations, said numbers for the first week of competition show a diversion rate — the amount of campus waste kept from landfills — of 35.6 percent.

"That's exciting, because the statewide diversion rate is only 15 percent," he said.

Students lead the way

At the heart of CMU's efforts — during RecycleMania and year-round — is the Sustainability Coalition, a volunteer group that meets monthly and is open to students, staff and faculty.

"We wanted to have more than students involved," said co-founder Samantha Fogle, a senior from Mason, Michigan, double-majoring in communication sciences and disorders and psychology.

Every year, the coalition takes the lead on one of RecycleMania's signature CMU events: setting up an informational table and recycling drive at a campus basketball game.

At the Feb. 2 men's and women's doubleheader, Sustainability Coalition volunteers gave away refillable water bottles and stickers and encouraged fans to sort their trash.

Don Long, CMU's recycling coordinator, said the efforts kept 76 percent of game-day waste from ending up in landfill-bound trash.

Competitive inside and out

RecycleMania features internal competition, too.

Assistant Director of Residence Life Grant Skomski said residence hall complexes compete for bragging rights and trophies for recycling the most material.

"It's kind of a motivational thing," Skomski said.

Efforts go beyond RecycleMania. Green teams in a growing number of halls even go door-to-door weekly to collect recyclables.

Skomski said all residence halls now compost pizza boxes, building on a recent pilot program, and a new initiative delivers scrap plastic grocery bags to collection points at local Meijer and Menard's stores.

Conserving energy and water, and recycling and reusing materials, has saved CMU millions of dollars since the university established a Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee in 2008.

Today the university produces less waste overall, and sends a lower percentage of it to a landfill, than even two years ago.

Recycling of glass, plastic, metal and paper; composting of organic waste; and sales of unneeded materials kept 40 percent of CMU's total waste out of the landfill in 2018, compared with 38 percent in November 2016.

Mobilizing the campus community

Kahn's happy, but he believes CMU do better. He sees RecycleMania as a call to action for students and nonstudents alike.

Observing that spring break happens during the competition, he encourages faculty and staff to seize the chance to clear out office clutter. With a call to 989-774-6547, he notes, facilities management will deliver 65-gallon recycling containers to campus locations.

CMU recycled 8.99 pounds of waste per person during RecycleMania 2018, and Kahn issued a new challenge: "Everybody try to recycle 10 pounds during the month of March."

There's also room for improvement in trash sorting — keeping glass and plastic out of landfill trash and keeping food scrap from contaminating recycling bins.

Recyclables don't have to be washed 100 percent clean, he said, but rinse out that half-full container of yogurt. "Best effort is what they're looking for," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, what's inside CMU's brown trash containers should inspire improvement: "All you have to do is lift that lid to see all of the missed recycling opportunities."

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