William & Mary is currently in the midst of an eight-week recycling competition. But Director of Sustainability Calandra Waters Lake said there is a bigger aim to RecycleMania.
“Our overall goal is to have a period where we’re drawing attention to diversion,” Lake said. “And we think that it’s a great opportunity to evaluate how we’re diverting things on campus and the message we are communicating to do that.”
Diversion means sending items anywhere other than landfills, such as recycling or composting. The RecycleMania competition between colleges and universities is based on the amount sent for alternative disposal compared to what is sent to landfills.
Though sustainability efforts cover a variety of activities and events throughout the year, spring brings a big push with RecycleMania and the upcoming Earth Week events in April. It’s a time to showcase diversion to the campus community through outlets like the monthly sustainability forums, Hark Upon the Green blog, listserv and special events, said Lake.
An on-campus collection event March 23 at Sadler Terrace from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will accept items for recycling from students, faculty and staff, and offer information on how to recycle common and uncommon items throughout the year. This ranges from items that can be tossed into blue recycling bins to others that can be dropped off at collection points or in some cases picked up.
“We’ll be collecting the regular recyclables that go into a blue bin, but we’ll also be collecting light bulbs, batteries, electronics, ink jet cartridges, plastic bags, prescription glasses and more,” Lake said. “We’re coordinating with campus groups like Environment, Health and Safety; Surplus; Dining Services; the Student Environmental Action Coalition and the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. Many of these offices and organizations play a daily hand in recycling on campus throughout the year.
“This event and our annual participation in RecycleMania demonstrate the breadth of what can be diverted on campus but also give us the opportunity to help remind the campus community where these unique items can normally be dropped off, as well as what can be put in a standard recycling container.”
W&M is a single-stream campus, which means everyday recyclables can be mixed in the blue bins and are sorted at the recycling center. This includes paper, plastic Nos. 1 and 2, bottles, cans and glass.
“Any standard recycling container on campus will take paper, plastic, glass and cans,” Lake said.
The most common problems with recycling are items with food waste on them, which can’t be recycled, or plastic bags being put into the bins.
Items such as batteries, light bulbs, plastic bags, shoes and electronics can be recycled elsewhere. There are designated collection points for them throughout campus, or any of several campus departments will take them. Year-round the Environment, Health and Safety office will accept items such as batteries, light bulbs and hazardous materials and chemicals from offices and departments.
Food waste is collected for composting from campus dining halls, and a pilot program is underway to look at expanding collection.
Dining hall staff members compost all scraps from food prep and food left on returned trays. The food waste is sent to an industrial facility, and so can include meat and dairy and compostable napkins and cutlery as well as vegetables, according to Lake.
A pilot program added a self-service composting container this semester in the Marketplace dining area at the Campus Center. Sodexo’s dining sustainability interns orchestrated details, created signage and tabled the first few weeks in front of the new bin to help students figure out what to place in the trash, recycling and composting containers.
“One of the biggest challenges is contamination, basically putting things in the compost that can’t be composted,” Lake said. “And that’s why the key to this pilot project is education.”
Strong composting efforts are why W&M has done so well in the organic collection category of RecycleMania, finishing first in Virginia last year along with second place in numerous other areas.
This year’s competition, which is run across the U.S. and Canada by the nonprofit RecycleMania, Inc. made up of a board of directors of recycling and sustainability managers from a variety of participating universities, runs Feb. 5 through April 1.
Sustainability is hosting monthly forums on the first Thursday of each month so various student, faculty and staff groups and interested individuals can coordinate, learn about what’s going on in multiple areas of sustainability and help each other. A summit each fall on a specific topic is also part of the office’s yearly event schedule.
This past fall, the summit’s topic was food and included speaker Michael Twitty, a historian and Africana culinary food expert, a panel of environmental and social food professionals, as well as sessions on composting and ways to use prepared food that isn’t needed. Campus Kitchen and the Food Security Network are campus organizations that transport unused food to people who need it.
W&M just received a silver rating in its first time using the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The information collected for this rating will be used to inform future decisions and goals, as well as to update W&M’s sustainability plan, said Lake.
Sustainability is taking proposals until March 22 for future sustainability projects to be funded via Green Fee grant. The Green to Gold Fund, a green revolving fund that essentially provides a loan, is accepting proposals until March 29 for sustainability projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or resource use.
Several Earth Week activities are planned for April 16-22. The theme — sustainability for all — demonstrates the breadth of what it takes to strive for a sustainable world, with weekday themes focused on community, businesses, well-being, activism and the environment, said Lake.
The week will kick off with an introduction workshop including a tour of the composting program in Commons Dining Hall and ending with a hands-on trip to KelRae Farm in Toano. There will also be intergenerational painting and planting, Leave No Trace workshop, yoga, career panel and networking, environmental justice dialogue and more activities, some of which require free registration.
The week features several events open to the public, including the family friendly Earth Day Festival — Monarchs & Music on April 22 in partnership with the W&M Monarch and Milkweed Research Program. The on-campus festival will feature the annual The Lorax reading by W&M President Taylor Reveley, a butterfly tent, monarch butterfly expert and Research Professor at Sweet Briar College Lincoln Brower as guest speaker, live music by Alma Mater Productions, face-painting, information fair, food and more.
“When people are looking for resources, the sustainability office is a place to go,” Lake said. “We can provide guidance, information and support to help the campus community make their own sustainability ideas a reality and combine efforts for greater change.”