NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Come to Rutgers and you’re a Scarlet Knight, but at The State University of New Jersey, a second color – green – is just as prominent.
Long one of the nation’s most environmentally conscious universities, Rutgers strengthened its reputation as a sustainable community by capturing its sixth consecutive Gorilla Prize in RecycleMania 2012, the annual intercollegiate competition that featured 605 entrants.
Rutgers recycled 2,489,529 tons of material and retained its title during the spring semester’s eight-week contest. The university was one of only three schools to recycle at least 1 million tons of waste and the sole competitor to top 2 million tons, nearly doubling runner-up Duke’s total.
“At Rutgers, our goal is not to lead in tons recycled. We need to reduce the waste produced by each individual at the university,” said Dianne Gravatt, director of Environmental Services and Grounds (ESG). “Among all competitors, we placed 157th in the Waste Minimization category. We must improve in this area to meet our goal of zero waste to landfill. The effort starts by educating every new student at orientation and every new hire.”
In the world of sustainability, eliminating 90 percent of waste to landfill is considered generated zero waste, added Dave DeHart, ESG’s associate director. “We reached 83 percent waste recycled and/or diverted from the landfill in 2011,” he said. “We’ve been above the state’s goal of 65 percent to 67 percent for five years. The goal is to reach and sustain 90 percent recycling/diversion rate by 2015.”
Astoundingly, the university achieved a perfect zero percent waste to landfill score on April 28, 2012 – Rutgers Day – when an estimated 70,000 visitors enjoyed a daylong schedule of activities on the New Brunswick and Piscataway campu
“The bigger the event, the more potential there is for a large amount of waste to be generated,” Gravatt said. Although Rutgers Day attendees generated a great deal of waste, there were no trash cans to be found on the grounds. “We asked everyone, vendors included, to dispose of waste in clearly marked, widely available recycling or compost bins because it was imperative for people to understand what waste items were to be placed in each.”
Environmental Services and Grounds also recruited and trained easily identifiable student ambassadors to explain the concept. “By day’s end, Rutgers collected 1.78 tons of compostable material, 5.15 tons of recyclables and sent nothing to the landfill,” DeHart said.
To increase participation in waste reduction, Rutgers added several techniques to its repertoire last year to reduce the waste stream, cut disposal costs and enhance campus aesthetics. Environmental Services launched “single stream” recycling, changing more than 12,000 receptacles in offices and hallways, and with help from key vendor Waste Management of New Jersey installed 10 pairs of smart, solar-powered trash compactors in New Brunswick and Camden. PepsiCo, another important vendor, introduced beverage recycling kiosks to student centers.
“Big Belly” compactors which produce 35-to-40 pound cubes – five times as much trash as a normal container of its size – were installed. These smart compactors alert staff via email when it’s time for a pickup, thereby reducing labor and fuel costs. In addition, PepsiCo reverse vending machines reward recyclers with points redeemable for merchandise, and retrieved recycling income benefits the Keep America Beautiful organization and also returning veterans by offering educational programs.
Last but not least, Rutgers partnered with the city of New Brunswick in a successful pilot program, Project Move Out, aimed at the off-campus student population to collect unwanted furniture, electronics and appliances left curbside or at designated collection points by students vacating their off-campus housing at spring semester’s end. With 333 students registering for bulk-waste pickup, Rutgers, along with Waste Management, retrieved 45 tons of bulk waste and five tons of electronics, which were either recycled or taken to a waste-to-energy plant.
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