Going for the Gorilla: U.Va. Surpasses Itself So Far in RecycleMania

March 4, 2008 — The University of Virginia, vying for the coveted Gorilla Prize in the national "RecycleMania" competition, is well ahead of last year's pace as the competition nears the halfway point.

The University is one of more than 375 schools competing in the National Recycling Coalition's "RecycleMania" contest, which measures how much each participating school recycles over the 10 weeks between Jan. 27 and April 5. The Gorilla Prize, one of several categories in the competition, recognizes schools that collect the highest gross tonnage of recyclables, regardless of campus population.

In the first four weeks of this year's contest, U.Va. collected 185.74 tons of recyclables, up from 163.65 tons at the same point last year.

In 2007, U.Va.'s first year in the contest, the University collected 397.8 tons of recyclables during the event.

"We placed ninth [for the Gorilla Prize] last year," said Lindsey L. Daniels, a student employee in the Division of Recoverable and Disposable Resources who is coordinating U.Va.'s efforts in the competition. "Out of 201 colleges, that's a pretty big deal."

Aside from the Gorilla Prize, U.Va. is entered in most of the competition's categories, including grand champion, per-capita recycling, waste minimization, per-capita paper, per-capita corrugated cardboard and per-capita bottles and cans. In the fourth week, per capita recycling is at 3.32 pounds per person, up from last year's 2.85 pounds per person at the end of four weeks.

Each competing school tallies its totals weekly and posts them on the RecycleMania Web site. The University's totals are also posted on bulletin boards in the Newcomb Hall and Observatory Hill dining halls and at the front of West Range Café. Daniels also plans to put "scoreboards" in residence halls after Spring Break.

"Through this competition, student employees [who work in recycling] and Conservation Advocates" — volunteer student advisers on environmental issues — "are pushing students to be No. 1 in the state," said Bruce C. "Sonny" Beale, supervisor of the University's Office of Recycling. "It also gets students to look at ways of increasing recycling, sustainability and reuse. And it helps prepare them for upcoming Earth Day events."

Daniels plans events to get students more involved following Spring Break. On March 15, there will be a cardboard castle-building competition, and that will be followed by an aluminum can castle-building competition.

"We want to do something fun," she said.

RecycleMania started in 2001 as a competition between Ohio University and Miami of Ohio, said one of the event's founders, Ed Newman, recycling and refuse manager for Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. The two schools started a "fun and friendly competition" to spur lagging student interest in recycling.

The following year, Bowling Green State and Harvard universities got involved, and the third year the field doubled again, to eight schools. In 2004, the federal Environmental Protection Agency stepped in and ran the competition as a disinterested third party, creating a Web site where each school's progress could be monitored.

After three years under the EPA, the National Recycling Coalition, a not-for-profit group started in 1978 to promote recycling, waste prevention, reuse and composting, took over administering the competition.

"We had no clue when we started this that it would double in size each year," said Newman, who is on RecycleMania's steering committee. "It just blows my mind."

But while he is impressed with the number of competitors, he said the "quality of the experience" is a more important issue.

"It should be a meaningful experience to generate more recycling," Newman said. "This makes it more appealing."

Daniels noted that U.Va's participation has many benefits.

"We gain recognition nationally by participating in the program and it provides us with another way to promote education about sustainability to U.Va. students, faculty and staff," she said. "The competitive side of it makes it fun. "

-- By Matt Kelly