RecycleMania pits universities against each other to see who can recycle the most waste.

Campus recycling cans overflow with paper and cardboard. (Flickr/orphanjones)
Campus recycling cans overflow with paper and cardboard. (Flickr/orphanjones)

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Forget about March Madness and the flu. A new epidemic is sweeping across college campuses every late winter and early spring: RecycleMania.

RecycleMania, a project of the College and University Recycling Council, is a competition that pits college campuses against each other to see which institution can collect the most recyclables, both total and per capita, produce the least amount of waste, and have the highest recycling rate. Students, staff, and faculty from 630 schools in the United States (all 50 of them, and D.C.) and Canada participated in RecycleMania in 2011, all vying for the top spot in numerous categories over a 10-week period.

Those categories include:

  • Grand Champion, awarded to the school that has the best combination of waste prevention and recyclables collected
  • Per Capita, awarded to the school that recycles the most paper, cardboard, bottles, and cans per person
  • Waste Minimization, awarded to the school that collects the least amount of solid waste per person
  • Gorilla Prize, awarded to the school that collects the highest gross tonnage of combined paper, cardboard, bottles, and cans

The program’s results have been astounding, with immense growth in both participants and recycled materials every year since its inception in 2001. In 2009 alone, over 70 million pounds of materials were recycled. In 2011, Rutgers University won the Gorilla Prize with over 3 million pounds of gross tonnage, while Union College won the Per Capita Classic, collecting nearly nearly 56 pounds of recyclables per person.

College campuses across the country consume a significant amount of resources and produce an equally significant portion of solid waste. Even though most schools have established recycling programs, there is always room for the programs to become more prominent and efficient. In fact, an effort to foster recycling programs at Ohio University and Miami University led to the inaugural RecycleMania in 2001, pitting the two schools against each other in a a head-to-head recycling contest. The universities used their traditional sports rivalry as a means of encouraging student involvement.

This principle, using competition as a catalyst for promoting environmentalism, continues to drive the program into its second decade. As the contest’s website states, “RecycleMania anticipates that environmental messages cannot always motivate action by themselves and seeks to present waste reduction in terms any college student can appreciate: beating the cross town rival!”

Besides tapping into a school’s collective spirit, RecycleMania provides an excellent resource for promoting environmentalism on campus in general. The competition’s website argues that higher recycling tendencies last well beyond the end date of the contest: “The competition familiarizes students with a campus’s environmental programs and hopefully instills in them a life long habit. Past surveys have indicated 80 percent of participating schools experienced a noticeable increase in recycling collection during the competition.”

The official dates for the 2012 tournament are January 22 to March 31, and the whole event is sponsored by a number of nonprofits and corporations including Keep America Beautiful, The Coca-Cola Company, and Alcoa.

So make sure your school is signed up, rally your friends, paint your faces, and catch RecycleMania.

Read more from the “It’s Easy Being Green” series

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