The University ranked far below other District colleges for its overall recycling rate in an eight-week intercollegiate competition promoting sustainability.
GW gained six spots over its standing last year, leaving it at No. 192 in a contest among about 270 colleges nationwide. American and Georgetown universities and the University of the District of Columbia finished the competition with higher recycling rates and larger waste minimization totals. Final results were released Friday.
The competition is broken into several divisions, with the main one – called Grand Champion – measuring the weight of recyclables collected compared to the weight of all trash produced at each institution. Waste production and recyclables across offices, academic buildings and residence halls were included in each school’s count.
The weight of the University’s recyclables dipped by about half a percentage point this year, totaling 22 percent of the overall weight of waste generated. American, which won the Grand Champion category nationwide, boasted a recycling rate of 85 percent.
“It is difficult to say why we are behind without understanding how other schools approach recycling,” GW’s Sustainability Project Facilitator Sophie Waskow said.
Samantha McGovern, GW’s project coordinator for Recyclemania, attributed the consistently low recycling percentage to the University’s downtown location. In 2011, the University ranked only five below American but 171 spots below Georgetown – the highest performing D.C. college in the Grand Champion category that year.
“GW’s open-campus physical layout makes it more difficult to collect as much clean/consistent recycling as some of our peer institutions which are located on more contained campuses,” McGovern said in an e-mail.
McGovern praised Eco-reps – student volunteers that promote sustainability within residence halls – for their efforts in the challenge. Eco-reps sorted through nearly 30 bags of garbage in GW’s annual Waste Sort and conducted a “dorm storm” campaign to collect recyclables from residence halls.
“I would dare to say that we are probably one of the driving forces in trying to get GW to become more green and sustainable, and I think through events like Reyclemania we can try and establish that among students,” Ethica Burt, a freshman Eco-rep for West Hall, said.
American’s sustainability coordinator Emily Curley said promotion was key to the school’s success, pointing to events like their recycled sculpture competition and a clothing swap. American also offers a composting option for paper towels, which saves about 13 percent of waste, according to its website.
“It’s always a challenge to keep recycling or any sustainability initiative kind of in the forefront of people’s minds. People are really busy on a college campus, but I think we did a good job this year of really keeping it relevant on campus,” Curley said.
GW relied largely on Eco-reps and postering to market the competition to students, as well as organizing events to encourage sustainable practices in residence halls.
“Recycling and waste minimization requires the participation of our entire campus, and is not an effort one office can implement alone,” Waskow said. “Through better engagement and infrastructure updates we hope to see improvement in our numbers next year.”
The three-month Recyclemania contest saved more than 140,000 tons in greenhouse gasses nationwide this year. The amount of recycled material has consistently increased over the past few years of the competition, Alec Cooley, program manager for Recyclemania, said.
The University fared well in the “Gorilla” category, which measures the overall weight of recyclables, not compared against trash produced. A total of 276,380 pounds of recyclables were collected on campus this year, topped only by American among universities in the District.
McGovern looked forward to next year’s competition as GW expands its commitment to becoming more eco-friendly, a priority since University President Steven Knapp founded the Office of Sustainability in late 2007. He has since emphasized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ratings for construction projects and the University’s new sustainability minor.
Knapp will announce targets and goals for the University's ecosystem plan – the third and final element of GW's sustainability strategy – in an address April 20 at the Earth Day Fair.