Recycling crew member David Brennan (left) and recycling coordinator Matthew Freed take a break pause during their rounds outside Eastern Mennonite University residence halls. The duo helped the university to another top finish in the Recyclemania competition. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Royals recyclers top all Virginia schools to become two-time Recylemania champ

For the second straight year, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) finished first among Virginia colleges and universities entered in the Competition Division of Recyclemania. EMU’s recycling rate of 45.35% also placed it 13th nationally among schools with 2,500 students or fewer and 53rd overall out of 208 participants.

EMU recycling coordinator Matthew Freed says the annual nationwide event provides an opportunity to “engage with the campus and community in more creative and enjoyable ways.”

“Encouraging participation helps us increase awareness about the recycling program,” Freed says, “and it helps remind people of the best recycling practices, as well as serving as a general reminder of the recycling resources available. “

Recycling coordinator David Brennan explains his artwork on the walls of the winning residence hall: “This mural’s arrows delight in their communion, the touching of tips in the center a symbolic gesture toward the eco-prescience of Steven Spielberg’s classic film ‘E.T.,’ a reminder that we might ourselves ‘phone home’ and better tend to the one true home we all share.” (Courtesy photo)

This year’s RecycleMania also featured a competition within the campus, as Freed and crew member David Brennan conducted a weekly “waste audit” of each residence hall over a two-month period to see which one was keeping the most recyclables out of the trash. Brennan, who holds an MFA in creative writing, used a variety of prose and poetry in weekly emails to encourage student investment in the project.

The announcement of the winner, for example, stated that “Cedarwood has been officially named the cream of the giant jug of milk that is EMU dorm life” because, of course, it rose to the top. Cedarwood received a creative mural to “liven up the wall” of its recycling room as a prize.

“Ever since I stepped foot on campus, I’ve wanted to do a waste audit,” Freed says. “RecycleMania presented an opportunity to do so and to add a fun competition between dorms at the same time. I wanted a clearer picture of what type and percentage of recyclables, compostables and re-usables were being thrown out in an effort to better evaluate our own effectiveness in capturing items that could be diverted from the landfill.”

Freed says that despite EMU’s respectable numbers, he would like to see the campus improve in future years. He and Brennan were especially surprised by the amount of compostable food scraps they found in trash cans.

In all, about 350 schools competed this year in 13 categories of RecycleMania, which began in 2001. Richland College of Dallas, Texas, finished first in the 2016 competitive division with a recycling rate of 81.774 percent. The University of Missouri-Kansas City, New Mexico State University-Main Campus, Loyola Marymount University and Berkshire Community College rounded out the top five.

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Matthew Freed, EMU recycling coordinator, handles recyclables at the physical plant. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

In Virginia, EMU was followed by the College of William and Mary (37.1% recycling rate), James Madison University (35.3%), the University of Virginia main campus (27.2%) and Virginia Tech (19.3%).

RecycleMania says the participating schools recycled or composted a combined 79.3 million pounds of recyclables and organic materials.

“RecycleMania provides us with an opportunity to heighten awareness about the importance of recycling among college students, and help make recycling participation a core component of the college experience,” said Brenda Pulley, senior vice president/recycling for Keep America Beautiful, which manages the competition. “Our hope is that these recycling behaviors stick with them throughout their life, creating a new generation of community stewards.”

Prior to its 2015 and 2016 finishes, EMU finished twice as state runner-up.