Are you ready to recycle?

Beginning in February, members of the NIU community will be encouraged to step up their efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle – not just for the good of the planet but to earn bragging rights for the university.

RecycleMania, a friendly competition among college and university recycling programs in North America and Canada, and Campus Conservation Nationals, the first nationwide electricity and water reduction competition on college and university campuses, are coming to NIU.

The goal? To achieve the greatest possible energy and water reductions in residence halls, boost recycling efforts, raise awareness of conservation issues across campus and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Organizing a recycling and conservation program on the campus scale is no easy task, and I know that the lead project managers (Ryan Read, graduate student; and Sarah Wawerski, environmental studies major) will rise to the challenge,” said Melissa Burlingame, program coordinator for Environmental Studies/Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy.

“They’ve already made good connections with the staff at Waste Management to ease the process of getting campus recycling rates reported properly for RecycleMania. And, they’ve been making contacts across campus to determine how to best increase recycling on campus,” Burlingame added.

“As far as student involvement, I look forward to seeing the ways in which they engage the student population and various student groups on campus.”

Colleges and universities are small cities that consume large amounts of resources and generate much solid waste.

Whether a school has an extensive waste reduction program or is just getting basic recycling collections off the ground, experience has shown that all schools have potential to further reduce the amount of resources they consume and dispose.

Logo of the Campus Conservation Nationals 2012RecycleMania runs from Sunday, Feb. 5, through Saturday, March 31. The Campus Conservation Nationals are scheduled from Monday, Feb. 6, through Monday, April 23.

“We are asking the campus community to utilize the recycling containers around campus and make conscious usage and purchasing decisions,” Wawerski said.

“The eight-week RecycleMania campaign is not only a competition with other schools, but it is a challenge to ourselves to see how much we can improve,” she added. “It is important that the entire NIU community make an effort to recycle and reduce waste, and I hope that students and faculty will encourage their friends to do their part participating in the competition.”

To win, NIU must cut down waste and increase conservation and recycling by more than 10 percent. Accomplishing these goals will place NIU among the Top 10 colleges for Illinois.

However, Burlingame said, students, staff and faculty will need to educate themselves and others in the ways of recycling and conservation to reach those heights.

“RecycleMania and Campus Conservation Nationals provide the needed push to get our campus moving in the direction toward increased sustainability,” she said.

“The NIU community should expect to see more initiatives to follow through on those seemingly simple ways to reduce our footprint such as turning off the lights, turning off faucets, unplugging electronics and taking shorter showers,” she added.

Photo of new NIU recycling bins“The ultimate hope is that the NIU community will adopt the mantra of ‘Your University, Your World,’ ” Read said, “and become more conscious of how everyday actions affect the larger environment.”

Members of the effort’s Events Committee are scheduled to meet at the end of January to finalize
events and marketing.

Some of the events on the agenda include “Reduce Your Water Use Day,” “Spread the Word Day” and “Check It Before You Chuck It” to determine whether the items are recyclable.

In the Campus Conservation Nationals, which began last year, schools can choose to pit buildings on their own campus, enter a state or regional competition or vie against a select group of peer institutions.

Organizers are striving to create a national energy savings of one gigawatt hour among all participants. Participating schools can instantly compare performance, share winning strategies and track standings among the leading schools and buildings.

CCN continues to build on a successful 2010 pilot run.

From Nov. 1 through Nov. 19 that year, 40 participating colleges and universities in the United States and Canada reduced electricity consumption by 508,000 kilowatt-hours, saving $50,200 and averting 816,000 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere.

In RecycleMania, launched in 2001, schools report recycling and trash data. They then are ranked according to which collects the largest amount of recyclables per capita, the largest amount of total recyclables, the least amount of trash per capita or the highest recycling rate.

With each week’s reports and rankings, participating schools watch how their results fluctuate against other schools and use this to rally their campus communities to reduce and recycle more.

Participation in the competition familiarizes students with a campus’s environmental programs and, organizers hope, instills in them lifelong habits. Past surveys have indicated that 80 percent of participating schools experienced a noticeable increase in recycling collection during the competition.

“We are very excited that Building Services is taking the lead in getting students excited about recycling on campus,” Burlingame said.

“The ESE Institute fully supports participating in these competitions and we will do what we can to help increase our chances of winning. We love that the prizes are money to further improve campus recycling and conservation; it’s a great way to encourage innovation and involvement.”

For more information, email rread@niu.edu.

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