Mac falls short on recycling

By Diego Ruiz

Macalester is receiving mixed reviews on recycling, according to data from a national competition organized by a national recycling nonprofit recycling advocacy group and the Environmental Protection Agency. Recyclemania, which has expanded from two to 230 schools since it began in 2001, compares the per capita amounts of waste and recycled material from different colleges and universities. This year’s competition runs Jan. 17 through March 27.

As of the second trial week of the program in January, Macalester ranks 141 in cumulative recyclables, the total amount of recycled material per person. In this category, it is above local Recyclemania competitors. The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is ranked at 152 and the University of St. Thomas at 184.

In waste minimization, the total amount of both recyclables and trash per person, Macalester falls behind the Twin Cities competition. Macalester is ranked at 102, behind the U of M at 78 and St. Thomas at 73.

Although this is the second year Macalester has participated in Recyclemania, many students have never heard of the program.

Annie Harold ’12, recycling communication coordinator for facilities, said she is spearheading efforts to encourage higher recycling rates.

She said she hopes the competitive aspect of the program may help increase Macalester’s recycling rates, which she said were “frustratingly low.”

In 2009, 25 percent of all waste at Macalester was recycled, according to data from facilities management. An audit in 2006 showed that 65 percent of potentially recyclable materials such as bottles, cans, paper and cardboard are put in the regular trash. This semester’s environmental studies senior seminar is gathering more data about recycling.

The 25 percent recycling rate quoted by the report falls short of the 40 percent goal set by Macalester’s sustainability plan for next year.

“I want the data and rankings that go out to the country to be reflective of the values here,” Harold said. “Recycling is such an easy thing to do.”

Macalester’s average performance in Recyclemania contrasts with the grade of “A-” it received for its sustainability last September by the Sustainable Endowments Institute. No school earned an A, and only 24 out of 332 schools ranked managed an A-.

“Any inconvenience, small or large, will create a barrier,” said Christie Manning, visiting professor in environmental studies and psychology.

She said that although surveys show that people usually have a good impression of recycling, people’s behaviors do not line up with their attitudes.

“When you aggregate that across many people, over many days, you get Macalester’s low recycling rate,” Manning said.

New signs prompting recycling are intended to address these barriers. Harold said previous signs she had made were too negative and “overly preachy.”

She is now working with members of the art department to design signs for this year’s Recyclemania.

“I hope it will be an opportunity to connect with people in other departments,” Harold said. “I want Recyclemania to be a competition with broad appeal.