Bloomington’s IU campus will be participating in the national RecycleMania contest for the eighth year in a row.
The contest began Feb. 4, and will run through Mar. 31.
RecycleMania is intended to motivate students to practice a more sustainable lifestyle through recycling more and limiting food waste, said Steve Akers, who coordinates the contest at IU. The nonprofit organization Keep America Beautiful facilitates the contest, which involves both Canadian and American schools.
“It positively reinforces the importance of that three-second decision on where to put that paper cup versus that lid,” Akers said. “It’s a way to educate students, staff and faculty on the recycling systems that are on campus and how to use those systems.”
Akers oversees custodial services for Residential Programs and Services at IU. His job enables him to collect and analyze the campus' recycling, landfill and compost waste that RecycleMania uses to calculate the winners of the competition.
The RecycleMania website publishes weekly rankings throughout the duration of the contest so students can track the performance of their school. Upon winning, schools receive a trophy made of recyclable materials.
Winning categories include total diversion of waste from trash to recycling, food organics and the per capita classic, which is the largest amount of recyclable materials per individual on a campus.
IU is competing against other Big Ten universities, as well as local Indiana schools such as Purdue University. In 2017, 320 schools participated in the contest with IU attaining an overall rank of 161. In 2016, IU won the award for most improved school nationally.
Akers said that the contest may help IU reach its goal of a 40 percent diversion rate by 2020. In 2017, IU composted a total of 140,330 pounds of waste, and the Goodbody Eatery at Wells Quadrangle is now a zero-waste facility. Akers said that The Restaurants at Woodlands at Forest Residence Center is also reaching for a no-waste goal.
In order to succeed in the contest, Akers said that students can reduce their use of plastic bags, extra packaging and water bottles. He said that the campus sells about 13,000 plastic water bottles per week.
“It’s not just about recycling and composting, it’s also about healthy eating,” said Kelly Eskew, a Kelley School of Business professor who, during the spring semester, teaches a class called Sustainability Law & Policy, which studies the IU waste system and its sustainability.
She said that in the single stream system of the IU campus, she estimated that about 75 percent of what goes in the trash could be recycled.
Eskew's class audits aspects of IU’s recycling such as food sourcing and compost costs as well as assists RPS Dining Director Rahul Shrivistav formulate his vision of a zero-waste campus.
“We have to educate people to take the time to think, to be more mindful, and to see how it positively impacts lives,” Eskew said.
Akers said that he is eager to initiate a friendly competition with Purdue University in the RecycleMania contest. Both he and Eskew have high hopes for IU’s performance in the competition.
“There’s no reason why we can’t be #1 in the Big Ten,” Eskew said.