Rising Against Pollution: 5 Million College Students and Staff Join the 2019 RecycleMania Competition 

In recent years, the true threat posed by plastics and solid waste pollution has become better understood through the identification of vast areas of floating plastic trash and particles in our oceans. One of these, the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the northern Pacific, is twice the size of Texas.

This plastic waste is ingested by fish, whales, dolphins, turtles, and smaller animals like shrimp and plankton, some of which are then consumed by humans. This means much of this plastic is eventually getting into our food chain. Also, it is now estimated that 90 percent of all seabirds are ingesting plastic particles and floating trash as they mistake it for food.  

The plastic pollution and solid waste problem is not just an ocean issue. Freshwater systems, including major drinking water sources and land areas across the U.S., are likewise seeing more solid waste pollution posing a threat to land and water creatures, people, and habitats. Plastic pollution in our waterways is one of the biggest threats to wildlife — up to one million seabirds each year die from plastic ingestion.

Bottlenosed dolphin. Credit: Maude Buszek.

RecycleMania 2019

Plastic pollution and solid waste disposal are a rising and critical threat to wildlife and to human health. There are few solutions to this problem as important as engaging and educating America’s future leaders on the dangers of solid waste and plastics build-up, and how the problem can be addressed through reduction of use, recycling, composting, and more. The RecycleMania competition is designed to do precisely that, educating and challenging students, staff and faculty at U.S. college campuses to compete for best in category by reducing and recycling the most waste in an prescribed eight week period. It measures factors such as how much of a campus’s waste stream is recycled, how much is diverted, per capita results, food waste abatement, and more. It also examines the effect of education on the choices of young people to avoid single-use plastics such as disposable bottles and packaging.

This spring, the 2019 RecycleMania Competition gathered 5.1 million students and staff at 300 colleges in the U.S. and Canada, who recycled and composted 69.8 million pounds of waste (food was also donated to food banks, farms and used in biofuels). This prevented the release of 99,254 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E) into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to preventing the annual emissions from 20,895 of cars.


5.1 million students and staff at 300 colleges recycled 69.8 million pounds of waste, avoiding 20,895 cars worth of waste. Credit: Ohio State University.

RecycleMania is the only competition of its kind, helping colleges and universities to reduce waste, improve recycling, and implement strategies to work toward zero waste on campus. Through the competition, campuses track and report their trash, recyclables, and food organics weekly and host activities to encourage recycling, and recognize students and staff that use reusable items over single-use. Campuses also educate their campus community on how to properly recycle and when to donate items instead of discarding them.

The winners

  • Loyola Marymount University in California wins in two of the main categories – the diversion category recognizes Loyola for the highest waste diversion percentage of 89 percent, and the per capita category awards Loyola for recycling the largest combined amount of paper, cardboard, and bottles and cans on a per person basis (both students and staff); Loyola’s per capita for the 2019 competition was 78 lbs. per person.
  • Knox College in Illinois takes first place in Food Organics, for donating close to 5,000 pounds of food to a local food bank.  
  • RecycleMania also features special categories that require one time reporting during the 8 week timeframe. Saint Louis University in Missouri wins the Electronics category for total amount recycled/engaging the community, and Southwestern College in Kansas wins for highest per capita, Union College in New York wins the Race to Zero Waste category for their efforts to significantly reduce their waste stream in one building in one month, and Ohio State University (highest diversion rate) and Rutgers University (highest per capita) lead the way for GameDay Basketball.

Learn more about the 2019 RecycleMania Results and find out which campuses participated.

“We are all so excited to learn the 2019 RecycleMania results here at LMU!  It really was a campus-wide effort that was embraced by all elements of our University Community.  A big ‘Thank You’ to the RecycleMania Team, and the National Wildlife Federation for an exhilarating 2019 Tournament.”

Bill Stonecypher, Manager, Solid Waste Management & University Recycling Program, Loyola Marymount University

“The Knox Chapter of the Food Recovery Network is only a few years old, but we are proud of the great strides they have accomplished in a short time frame – last year diverting more than 9,000 pounds from the landfill, while educating the campus and local community on reducing food waste.”

Deborah Steinberg, Director of Sustainability Initiatives, Office of Sustainability, Knox College
Credit: Southwestern College.

Having fun while Recycling

The average person uses 200 disposable plastic bottles in a year. Many of the RecycleMania campuses address the challenge of single-use plastics on campus through efforts such as providing students and staff with reusable cups for hot and cold drinks, food containers, and tote bags. If one-third of the students and staff reached through RecycleMania used a reusable cup instead of a single-use plastic bottle, it would result in removing about 300 million plastic bottles from the waste stream. That works out to be about 8.3 million pounds of plastic bottles, which is equivalent to the weight of 25,000 common bottle-nosed dolphins. Three hundred million bottles would also go around the Earth one and half times.

Campus strategies addressing the issue of single-use plastics for the 2019 competition, included policies to ban water bottles, plastic straws, plastic bags, and Styrofoam. Campus dining facilities offered discounts for students and staff using reusable mugs, as well as the “Mug Shot” campaign that features photos of students and staff using reusable mugs, which are then shared on the campus website and social media.  

Other fun and educational activities lead by RecycleMania teams include the “Caught Green Handed” campaign, which encourages recycling and using reusable items by rewarding students caught “green-handed” with prizes, and the “Fix it Fairs” campaign, which teaches students and staff how to fix everyday items instead of purchasing new things.

Credit: Loyola Marymount University.

2020 RecycleMania

Change is coming for the 2020 RecycleMania competition. We at the National Wildlife Federation and RecycleMania Inc. are ramping up our efforts to help campuses work toward zero waste. With that goal in mind, a few changes to look forward to include a new competition name, main engagement category, and more resources to support campuses in their efforts to work toward reduced and zero waste, and advancing their knowledge on how to move toward a circular economy.

Today, most official estimates find that only a 9 percent of recyclable material is actually being recycled, making it clear there is a huge need for improved public education and initiatives such as RecycleMania. We need to educate people on how to protect our wildlife and nature, and ensure a better world for future generations.

Students in the Food Recovery Network club repackaging and loading surplus food from campus cafeterias, donated by Knox College Dining Services to community service organizations in Galesburg.

About RecycleMania

RecycleMania is the nation’s premier waste reduction and recycling competition among colleges and universities, managed by National Wildlife Federation, and governed by RecycleMania, Inc.

RecycleMania has been helping campuses reduce waste and improve their recycling efforts, since its launch in 2001. Today it is the nation’s premier waste reduction and recycling competition among colleges and universities, in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation.

In August 2018, National Wildlife Federation became the new managing partner for RecycleMania, and made a commitment to help campuses not only improve recycling, but to significantly reduce their waste — specifically plastics — to address one of the biggest threats to wildlife.

Please visit the 2019 RecycleMania scoreboard to check the complete results of this year’s tournament.

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