Over the next eight weeks Knox will be participating in RecycleMania, a nationwide event dedicated to decreasing waste on campuses. By getting the school officially involved for the first time, the Office of Sustainability is hoping to spark more student interest in waste reduction.
“I always thought that people would be really excited for recycling and just helping the planet in general but it’s really hard to get people on board with doing things,” senior Sofia Gillespie said.
Sophomore Dani Nichols, another student helping to organize the event, also recalled being surprised when she came to Knox from a high school where sustainability had been heavily emphasized.
“It was kind of a culture shock because I notice there are – especially in Galesburg – less materials that are recyclable, there’s less composting,” she said. “So I wanted to be a part of helping Knox progress in our sustainability.”
RecycleMania itself is a friendly competition between colleges and universities centered around encouraging students to be mindful of the amount of waste they create by weighing landfill and recycling amounts over an eight week period. The focus is largely on year-to-year improvement.
“It’s basically competing against yourself,” Gillespie said.
Events organized to run over the eight week period include various social media promotions and trivia contests, as well as a campus event called “Caught Green-Handed” where prizes will be given out to students randomly spotted taking sustainability-friendly actions.
“We’re trying to come up with exciting things to do for each week just to keep the intensity and the motivation up during the process . . . but also trying to customize it to the Knox community,” Nichols said.
Knox will be among four schools in Illinois participating this year. Organizers characterized the main focus for this year as being to set a baseline to build on in the future.
“For this year since it is the first year and we are a smaller campus . . . we just want to make the community at Knox aware of it,” said Nichols. “The goal is to beat ourselves in the future.”
Director of Sustainability Deborah Steinberg also commented on the benefit of being able to see how Knox does in comparison to participating schools.
“We can also compare to similar sized schools. So just by having our data mixed with the other school’s data we can really see what the comparison is,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg stated she felt positive about Knox’s current efforts at improving sustainability, such as recently getting new recycling vendors.
“Previous to this summer, we didn’t have weights for our landfill numbers, so we knew how much we were recycling but we didn’t know how much we were throwing out,” she said.
With access to those figures now, she estimates that Knox is recycling 25-30 percent of its waste.
“It’s not great, but it’s not terrible,” Steinberg said.
Gillespie also said she felt she’d seen things improve on campus, with recycle bins being placed next to every landfill bin and multiple buildings on campus getting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. However, Gillespie noted that one issue is actually people trying too hard and putting everything into recycling.
“That is also bad . . . you need to recycle the things that need to be recycled but also put things in the landfill that need to go to the landfill. If your bag of recycling is contaminated they won’t recycle,” she said.
Nichols noted her hope that students on campus would be mindful of more ways they can improve sustainability, like reusing more things and reducing their overall waste.
“But recycling is the most well recognized step to that and the easiest first for people to make,” she said.
While she stated she was simply hoping for the various events to run smoothly this time, Steinberg also commented that success could lead to trying to do more next year.
“I hope everybody participates and thinks about what they’re throwing out and what they’re buying . . . not just during these eight weeks, but always,” she said.