The Collegian
Saturday, March 25, 2023

UR Ranks 14th in the Nationwide Recycling Competition: Campus Race to Zero Waste

The University of Richmond’s Rethink Waste Office has joined Campus Race to Zero Waste, a nationwide recycling program that promotes sustainability and reduces waste on campus. 

From January 29 to March 25, most universities across the United States are participating in the two-month event, formerly known as RecycleMania, to compete for the highest diversion rate. 

According to the latest rankings on CR2ZW’s website, UR ranks 14th out of 145 universities in the competition division, with a diversion rate of 48.558% as of March 13.

David Donaldson, Rethink Waste manager, said he viewed the current results as a triumph. “If we do better than we did the previous year, that’s a win,” Donaldson said.

The competition category is divided into two parts: diversion, which measures the weekly percentage of waste diverted from landfills through recycling or composting, and per capita classic, which measures the pounds of recycling per person.

“Everybody on campus is participating in the CR2ZW,” Donaldson said. “Every time you dispose of your receipt or coffee cup and make sure that you’re putting it in the right bin, then you’re participating.”

“The idea of Rethink Waste came out of the campus sustainability plan where we have a goal for the campus to reach 75% waste diversion by 2025,” Donaldson said.

First-year Paxton Mills, a Rethink Waste representative, said Rethink Waste had multiple strategies to achieve that goal. During CR2ZW, Rethink Waste is going to reduce waste by running the Spider Exchange, hosting a Rethink Waste basketball game and setting up tables in different dining locations, she said.

Senior Megan Salters, who is involved in planning and outreach for Rethink Waste, said people can think of the Spider Exchange as a free thrift store. 

“Any kind of things that you don’t want anymore, you can drop off there and someone else can come and find a good use for it,” Salters said. “That’s a really cool way to encourage circularity on campus.”

The Spider Exchange, formerly the University of Richmond Office Supply Exchange, is located at the end of New Fraternity Row. During Spring 2023, Spider Exchange is open Monday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the Spider Exchange’s website.

Rethink Waste has diverted over 500 pounds of items from the landfill this semester through Spider Exchange, Donaldson said. He said he was glad that so many items found a new home.

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As part of CR2ZW, the Rethink Waste basketball game was held on Feb. 21. The basketball game’s diversion rate of 79% was an impressive amount, Mills said. This came as a surprise to Donaldson since it was his first time organizing such an event, he said.

The fact that UR was able to achieve such a high diversion rate at the game shows that it is possible to reach the goal of a 75% diversion rate across campus by 2025, Salters said. 

As for the education strategy, Rethink Waste will set up tables in different dining locations, such as Heilman Dining Center, Tyler’s Grill and Passport Cafe to help people sort their waste into the appropriate bins for landfill, recycling or composting, Mills said. 

“We’re working to help the university community as a whole to be better educated about these issues and understand the changes they can implement in their daily lives to help be more environmentally friendly,” Mills said.

Salters highlighted the negative impacts of landfills on the environment, particularly when landfills are often placed in environmental justice communities. 

“These are communities that are typically low income, so they don’t really have the wherewithal to be able to tell large waste management corporations not to come and pollute in their areas,” Salters said. “That’s a part of our underlying mission of why it’s necessary to reduce the use of landfill waste.”

Donaldson, who has been working at UR for 16 years, explained that when Rethink Waste was created in October 2021 as an office operated through University Facilities, he immediately took the opportunity and moved over. “It really gave me a chance to get back to working on something I feel very passionate about,” he said.

Donaldson said he has seen a significant increase in voluntary participation levels from when he started working at UR. The current level of participation was not something he witnessed when he first started working at UR, he said. 

There are 15 offices participating in the Rethinking Workspace Waste pilot program, exceeding the expected five, Donaldson said. The program replaces small waste bins with two big bins in each office that have to be serviced by custodial and disposed of on campus.

This program is going to save approximately 70,000 plastic bags, and the program’s success relies on community effort, Donaldson said.

Community members can contribute to the CR2ZW by disposing of their waste correctly, including receipts in the landfill and plastic bags in a separate recycling stream, according to Rethink Waste’s Instagram page. 

Mills believes that individual actions can create a domino effect, inspiring others to follow suit and contribute to a more environmentally sustainable society, she said.

Contact news writer Mo Song at mo.song@richmond.edu. 

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