Macalester has placed fourth in this year’s RecycleMania, the annual challenge that compares the percentage of waste diverted from landfills to composting or recycling facilities at over 150 schools across the nation.
The fourth-place ranking, achieved by diverting 79 percent of the college’s waste, is the best that Macalester has ever earned during its years of participating in the challenge.
“Those are really good numbers and it shows to me that we’re getting the hang of composting,” Sustainability Manager Suzanne Savanick Hansen said. “That’s what drives this. Nobody who’s getting up in these diversion rates is doing it without composting.”
Macalester placed behind Berkshire Community College, which finished third with a diversion rate of just over 80 percent, last year’s victor, Loyola Marymount University, in second with a nearly 87 percent diversion rate, and the champions, College of Staten Island, which won with a nearly 95 percent diversion rate.
A medal-stand finish, however, was well within Macalester’s grasp. Macalester diverts about 83 percent of its waste annually – meaning that it underperformed during the challenge’s eight-week run.
“We’re not [at] significantly higher of a diversion rate during RecycleMania than we are during the rest of the year,” Hansen said. “it’s just that we have a good diversion rate so we rank well.”
The results from RecycleMania indicate that Macalester will need to improve its diversion by more than ten percent in the next two years to reach 90 percent by 2020 – the Zero Waste, which apparently means 10 percent waste, deadline.
While Hansen and Sustainability Office employees are confident that Macalester has improved its sustainability practices significantly in recent years, there remain areas where the college could continue to improve.
“One problem [is that] there [are] not necessarily three sorting bins in every single [residential] room and office, so less sorting happens in those individual spaces,” Sustainability Student Network Coordinator Lydia Sulik ’20 said.
“It’s just a little harder to motivate, to make people walk out into the hallway to sort all of their waste,” she continued. “We’ve been trying to come up with some ways to address this, but it is now one of those ongoing struggles.”
Another challenge is ensuring that people sort their items in the appropriate bins. Excepting chip bags, all of Bon Appetite’s containers and wrappers are compostable – but people regularly missort these items into the trash.
“I think it’s really about just getting the information out there, giving people resources to find out more,” Sulik said. “I don’t think complacency is an issue. I think it’s more getting the structure and the information out to people.”
For the Sustainability Office, Macalester’s participation in Recyclemania is ultimately about improving the college’s overall sustainability practices and reaching the 2020 deadline.
“All the work that we’ve been doing for Zero Waste on campus shows that we are really ahead of this,” Hansen said. “We’re moving in the right direction, [and] maybe we’ll get to our Zero Waste goal soon too.”
The office recently released a progress report that views favorably Macalester’s sustainability progress and is positive about the college’s prospects for reaching its sustainability goals.
In addition, outside analysts recently completed an assessment of campus-wide sustainability practices. The Sustainability Advisory Committee (SAC) is currently reviewing its information and recommendations; Associate Dean of Faculty Paul Overvoorde has instructed the SAC not to release the initial report until after that process has been completed.
The review and the Sustainability Office’s corresponding report should be made available by the beginning of next semester.
by Hannah Catlin and Anisha RajBhandary