Union’s environmental challenge: RecycleMania

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By Kyle Lanzit

For two months every year, over 600 colleges and universities across North America participate in a friendly, green competition called RecycleMania.

The tournament organizers allow participating institutions to select which categories to compete in. Historically, Union  has been very successful in certain categories, such as the Per Capita Classic and Cardboard. In both the 2011 and 2012 tournaments, Union finished in first place in both of these categories.

This year, the focus is changing. According to Sustainability Coordinator Meghan Haley-Quigley ‘10, the school is “placing more emphasis on waste reduction, rather than waste diversion.” In the past, the main goals of Union’s participation were to raise awareness, change recycling behavior and increase the diversion of recyclable materials.

Due to Union’s success at diverting valuable recyclables, administrators like Haley-Quigley and student leaders in U-Sustain are hoping to reduce the total amount of waste that the Union community produces during the tournament.

One of the students organizing this year’s RecycleMania at Union is James McNulty ‘15. “Recycling is important,” McNulty explained. “But if we can actually not throw away anything at all—that’s where we want to be.”

Union has already made great strides this academic year to reduce the total amount of non-recoverable waste that is produced by the campus. The food separation that is done at Upper Class Dining diverts an average of 4,800 pounds of recoverable compostable material every week. This new focus is reflected in Union’s participation—for the first time—in the Waste Minimization category, in which schools are ranked by the lowest amount of total per capita waste they produce. “We’re hoping to compete with some of the more competitive institutions in Waste Minimization,” said Haley-Quigley, “but ultimately we’d just like to see how we’re doing at reducing the amount of material we send to the landfill.”

Another first for Union this year is participation in an important new category—Electronic Waste. From Feb. 11 to March 10, the college will be recording the total weight of collected electronics. Union’s facilities building, located by the Reamer Circle, already has bins set up for the year-round collection of batteries, light bulbs, ink cartridges and small electronics (phones, chargers, wires, etc.). Larger items can be scheduled for pick-up by a facilities work order, which is available on their webpage.

What can Union students do? Schenectady has some of the highest quality tap water in the country—buy a reusable water bottle. Only take as much food as you can eat, educate yourself about what can and can’t be recycled and follow the order of the famous sustainability phrase: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

Not using one-use items is always the best policy, but when it happens, find the proper place for it. For instance, the plastic tops of Starbucks cups are recyclable, while the cups themselves are not recyclable. Take a look at the bins around campus. Many of them have easy-to-understand guides or pictures explaining what items can be recycled.

With a group effort, Union may be able to garner another trophy.

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