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RecycleMania begins 10th year of campus competition

It’s all about reduce, reuse and recycle when it comes to the annual RecycleMania competition, pitting Cornell against hundreds of campuses across the U.S. and Canada to see which campus can improve recycling and decrease overall waste.

This year’s competition kicked off on campus Feb. 3  and runs through March 30. Cornell competes in four categories: overall waste reduction, recycling improvement, food waste and electronic waste.

Individuals and teams can contribute to all four waste areas during the competition. The Campus Sustainability Office maintains a RecycleMania website with ideas for how staff and students can get involved, such as making a commitment to host a zero waste meeting or event, learning the new recycling rules on campus, and committing to bringing reusable containers and utensils to meals.

“Everyone has a role to play in reducing waste and brushing up on the recycling rules,” said George Wood, Cornell R5 operations manager.

The five R’s referenced in his team’s name stand for “respect, rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle,” which George says is the right order to think about waste practices.

“Recycling is important, but even recyclable goods are waste. First, we need to respect the planet,” Wood said. “Next, we need to rethink how we use materials and goods, including whether items we purchase are sustainable. Only then should we start to reduce, recycle or reuse goods properly.”

This year’s competition will be governed by recycling changes that went into effect on campus and across the country over the last year. Cornell and other county waste collection agencies now only accept Nos. 1, 2 and 5 plastics, and recyclable content must be clean. A series of informational posters was created to help the campus understand these changes.

According to Kim Anderson, sustainability engagement manager for the Campus Sustainability Office, during last year’s competition Cornell decreased overall landfill waste by more than 280,000 pounds – or about 20 pounds per student. The campus also increased food waste and compost collection by 29,000 pounds, which means the community is learning how to dispose of goods properly, Anderson said.

“Look for new opportunities to compost in on-campus residential communities, and be sure to reduce food waste by only taking what you need at dining halls,” she said.

The competition is organized by R5 Operations, the Campus Sustainability Office, the RecycleMania Steering Committee and dozens of active Green Team members and student volunteers. For questions about the competition, contact

Sarah Brylinsky is the sustainability communications and integration manager for the Campus Sustainability Office.

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Gillian Smith