Though students might not have known it, from January to March they were engaged in a friendly competition with universities across the United States and Canada. Known as RecycleMania, the competition encourages participating campuses to recycle more and to decrease the amount of waste they produce. This was Brown's sixth year participating, and its performance was middle of the road.
In the "Grand Champion" category, Brown placed 163rd out of 206 participants, with a recycling rate of 18.06 percent, which compares waste in pounds per person to recyclables in pounds per person.
Despite an abundance of recycling-logo tote bags at the bookstore and recycling bins around campus, Brown's performance was unremarkable. While Brown produced 76.41 pounds of waste per person over the ten weeks, the winner of the "Waste Minimization" category — North Lake College in Irvine, Texas — produced 8.70 pounds per person. The four other Ivy League participants in the "Grand Champion" category — Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and Dartmouth — all placed above Brown.
Madeleine O'Neill '12, head of Brown's EcoReps program, worked with Ginger Gritzo, Facilities Management's energy and environmental programs coordinator, to organize RecycleMania at Brown.
According to O'Neill, Brown's performance isn't as bad as it might seem. Brown looks at recycling as a long-term focus, she said.
"We tend to go at the infrastructure," she said. "Other schools get this burst of enthusiasm from individual students."
According to the RecycleMania Web site, Brown has committed to an array of initiatives, including replacing paper documents with online versions whenever possible, charging by the sheet for printing, offering incentives for using reusable mugs and establishing a composting program for post-consumer waste and biodegradable dinnerware.
"We're working with Facilities Management to change for the long term," O'Neill said.
O'Neill also said not too much importance should be placed on the rankings because of discrepancies in how waste is weighed across campuses. While some schools estimate their waste totals, Brown weighs the amount of recycling and waste every time it is picked up from campus.
While some schools also benefit from intra-dormitory recycling competitions like Harvard's "Green Cup" competition or the annual "Harvard-Yale Recycling Challenge," Brown participates in no other recycling competitions.
Many Brown students interviewed by The Herald hadn't even heard of RecycleMania, something O'Neill said she hopes to change. Next year she plans to do a lot more advertising for the event, she said.
"Publicity for students wasn't as high profile as it could have been," she said.
Still, O'Neill said, Brown did well. "The actual statistics say we increased our recycling rate from 15 to 18 percent," she said. "We transported 91 tons less net to landfills and five more to recycling."