The University of Virginia is defending its statewide “Gorilla Prize” title in the annual RecycleMania competition, including a game-day challenge Saturday when the Cavalier men’s basketball team faces off against rival Virginia Tech.
The statewide Gorilla Prize – which U.Va. has held for six consecutive years – goes to the school that recycles the highest combined gross tonnage of paper, cardboard, bottles and cans, regardless of campus population.
This year, more than 350 colleges and universities nationwide have entered the contest, which began Feb. 1 and runs through March 28. U.Va. is competing in 10 categories, including the Gorilla Prize, waste minimization, composting and several individual categories of recycling.
Saturday’s game-day challenge is one of these categories. Student volunteers will try to achieve a level of “zero waste” during the game at the John Paul Jones Arena. U.Va. Dining, the Athletics Department and the Office for Sustainability have teamed up to compost or recycle waste generated at the game, ensuring that trash is properly sorted and minimal materials are sent to the landfill. The effort will be measured in several ways, including per-capita recycling, composting and waste minimization.
U.Va. has competed in similar contests, sponsored by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, at Scott Stadium during football games.
“It’ll be very exciting because it’s a sold-out crowd,” said Nina Morris, U.Va.’s outreach and engagement program manager. “We will have about 100 student and staff volunteers, with one stationed at every waste receptacle to help fans separate their trash.”
Morris said U.Va. Dining officials have been working with the concession vendors at the arena to suggest compostable materials for their food packaging, such as biodegradable trays for nachos.
Student volunteers also will collect compostable and recyclable materials from suites and concession stands and sweep out the seating area after the game, Morris said.
“Athletics already has composting in the athlete dining area at the arena, so we are just expanding on that,” Morris said.
Even without the RecycleMania competition, the University is already moving in this direction, having previously mounted single-day efforts at football games and special events at John Paul Jones Arena.
“The students have been requesting ‘zero-waste’ events, and this can be a catalyst,” Morris said. “Athletics has been very much in favor of them because they embody the values of the University, they are good for the environment and they save money.”
This year, each of the eight weeks of RecycleMania has had an educational theme, underscored by infographics posted on Facebook, Morris said. Accompanying events included making flower vases from pasta sauce jars and flowers from newspapers for Valentine’s Day, or holding double-sided printing competitions.
“RecycleMania utilizes friendly competition with schools across the nation to educate students about the importance of minimizing waste and how they can contribute by reducing consumption, reusing items, proper recycling and composting,” Morris said.
RecycleMania, a project of the College and University Recycling Council, started in 2001 as a head-to-head contest between Ohio University and Miami University. Since then the competition has grown, with more colleges and universities vying for prizes to reduce their environmental impact. U.Va. began competing in 2008.