Look out, Harvard, Emerson wants to eat your lunch. And then recycle the container it came in.
Between now and April 2, Emerson College is participating in Recyclemania, a nationwide competition that pits colleges and universities against each other in a battle for the best recycler.
Last year, Harvard finished the competition 38th in the nation, with a recycling rate of 49%, second only in the Boston area to tiny Olin College of Engineering in Needham (21st, at 58%).
Well… Emerson’s recycling rate was 25%, good for 158th out of 232 schools. But this year, the College’s fifth in competition, will be different, said Campus Sustainability Coordinator Amy Elvidge. This year, the goal is to clear a 46% recycling rate and land in the top 50% of colleges.
“I know it’s pretty ambitious, but I think we deserve a little more recognition,” Elvidge said. “Most people on campus want to be environmentally friendly and live a lighter lifestyle.”
In an effort to get students, faculty, and staff to step up and help Emerson meet that 46% goal, Elvidge and her team are offering bribes…er…prizes for campus offices and dormitory floors that recycle the most.
Anyone who fills out a survey and pledges to recycle gets entered into a weekly raffle to win gift cards, and on Wednesday, February 17, during the men’s home basketball game vs. MIT (38% yawn), there will be recycling-themed contests, according to Nancy Howell, senior copy editor and a member of the Emerson Recyclemania committee.
Actually, that 25% rate was just during Recyclemania. In a random audit last year, Emerson’s waste hauler, Save That Stuff, found that the College was recycling just 17% of its refuse. Emerson could be recycling 63%, Elvidge said.
“We’re not even at a third of our potential, which I think is really shocking,” she said.
The reasons could be behavioral, or they could have to do with infrastructure, Elvidge said. A month ago, there weren’t any recycling bins in any campus classrooms. And what’s actually recyclable is constantly changing, she said. Not long ago, your venti skinny vanilla latte cup would have to pitched in the garbage. Now, the cup, the lid, and the cardboard sleeve that keeps your hand from burning can all be recycled.
“Now, all over campus there are small blue recycling bins in all the classrooms, and on the front of the bin is a picture of a Starbucks cup [with the label removed],” Elvidge said.
Emerson is far from alone in its lax recycling. Only 30% of the waste stream nationally is recycled, when three-quarters of it could be, said Charlie Greenwald, a resident assistant at Piano Row and a member of the committee organizing this year’s Recyclemania.
“Part of this is because Americans don’t believe our planet is in serious danger. Part of it is the school systems in America don’t do enough to educate our youth on where trash goes, and why it can be devastating for future generations,” Greenwald said.
But if there’s one thing that can motivate a college to rise to the challenge it’s the lure of free food and the chance to embarrass Harvard.
“Emerson is a competitive school,” said Jess Guida ’19, an Energy and Sustainability Eco-Rep, “and I think that merely putting out there that we were out-recycled in previous years by other Boston schools will, hopefully, engage people.”