University of Wisconsin-Stout student Kelsea Goettl wants people to think before they buy.
Goettl, a senior environmental science major from Menomonie, believes consumers need to think about the single-use bottles they buy or the throwaway containers. The university is taking part in the RecycleMania nationwide collegiate competition, one way to help raise awareness about that. The competition starts Sunday, Feb. 2, and continues through Saturday, March 28.
“We are a consume and throw-away society,” Goettl said. “Less than 9% of the plastics being made are being recycled. We need to demand more from corporations who provide the things we consume and tell them we want sustainable products. Consumers need to think before they buy at the beginning and support recycling at the end.”
UW-Stout has been part of RecycleMania since 2007, said Sarah Rykal, sustainability manager for UW-Stout. From 2014 to 2018 UW-Stout was the RecycleMania leader in the UW System. Last year, UW-Stout came in second to UW-Oshkosh, ranking 24th out of 161 universities that participated.
Last year during the competition, the UW-Stout community recycled 60,110 pounds of materials, composted 65,340 pounds of food waste and sent 106,980 pounds of garbage to the landfill.
“About 26% was recyclables, 28% compost materials and 46% trash,” said Rykal.
To help recapture its first place in the system, UW-Stout reestablished a 10-person Waste Reduction Work Group made up of staff and students to reinvigorate recycling and composting. The group has completed some audits of recycling dumpsters to learn more about improving recycling efforts.
Two training videos have been created on recycling and composting. One of the videos is geared toward students and shown to first-year students at orientation. The other video is for new employees. Student trainers are also working on holding dormitory floor meetings to give students a refresher in recycling and composting.
Rykal credited UW-Stout’s past success in the contest to the campuswide composting and recycling initiative.
“Right now, we are the only University of Wisconsin campus to offer compost bins throughout buildings campuswide,” Rykal said. “We started that in 2012. There is a compost bin within eye view in all buildings.”
Most recently, compost bins were added to the Sports and Fitness Center.
Being part of RecycleMania is important for UW-Stout, Rykal said. “It shines a light on what we are trying to do in reducing our landfilled waste,” she said. “People love to compete.”
UW-Stout is also in the process of buying new event compost bins for Johnson Fieldhouse, Williams Stadium and other areas. This will allow for excess food and compostable food containers to be composted.
The campus also has filtered water hydration stations to reduce disposable plastic water bottle usage. Students and staff can purchase reusable to-go containers at dining facilities, which offer the Green to Go program.
Education is the key to increasing recycling and cutting waste, Rykal said. However, if campus community members are in doubt whether an item is recyclable, they are encouraged to throw it in the waste basket rather than risk contaminating other recyclable and compost materials. They can also contact the Sustainability Office to learn more.
RecycleMania began in January 2001 as a challenge between Ohio University and Miami University. Looking for ways to motivate students to recycle more, their recycling coordinators tapped into the existing sports rivalry to see which one could recycle the most per student over a 10-week period.
Miami won that year and RecycleMania was born. Since 2001 more than 1,000 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada have participated. During the 2018 competition, 3.6 million students from 300 campuses recycled and composted 68.6 million pounds preventing the release of 94,152 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E) into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to preventing the annual emissions from 20,160 cars. Schools from 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Canada participated.
UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.
Members of the UW-Stout Waste Reduction Work Group conduct audits of recycling bins.