Campus Race to Zero Waste 2021 Final Results: Colleges and Universities keep 230 million plastic containers out of the landfill

Despite the challenging 2020-2021 academic year, more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities reduced their waste footprint through minimization efforts, reuse, donation, and recycling. 

During the 2021 Campus Race to Zero Waste competition this spring, more than 200 campuses in 43 states, reaching 2.9 million students and staff, diverted more than 25.8 million pounds of waste from the landfill through waste minimization efforts, donations, composting, and recycling. 

Reducing Waste

“Over the last two decades, more than 1,000 higher education campuses have joined our Campus Race to Zero Waste program. By reducing their waste, these campuses have decreased the amount of trash entering our waterways and the negative impacts this has on wildlife and ecosystems”, said Kim Martinez, vice president of education and engagement programs at the National Wildlife Federation. “Our organization is pleased to work alongside RecycleMania Inc. to engage and educate millions of students, staff, and faculty in the U.S. each year, and preserve this amazing program’s decades-long impacts on our environment.”

Due to COVID-19 pandemic closings and increased online learning, many Campus Race to Zero Waste campuses were unable to reach the success levels accomplished in past years. However, campuses unable to track and report their waste were encouraged to host online education and engagement campaigns.

These online campaigns helped schools stay connected with their faculty, staff, and students and encourage the continued practices of good, safe waste reduction practices. Despite these difficult circumstances, this year’s tournament engaged 2.4 million students and more than 500,000 faculty and staff for a total of 2.9 million participants. 

Participating colleges and universities donated, composted, and recycled 25.8 million pounds of waste, and kept more than 230 million plastic containers out of the landfill. In eight weeks, participants prevented the release of 30,669 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere, which is equal to avoiding the annual emissions from 6,463 cars. 

Looking Ahead

Post-COVID pandemic, the Campus Race to Zero Waste program will be a vital tool to help campuses re-energize and re-educate their communities on good sustainable, waste reduction practices. 

“Faculty, staff, and students at participating CR2ZW colleges and universities, once again, have shown new innovations of combating the huge amounts of packaging, food and material products that are traditionally sent to nearby landfills or incinerators,” says Stacy Wheeler, president, and co-founder of the competition.

“CR2ZW participating campuses have either found new ways to prevent food or packaging waste in the first place or colleges have found successful ways to extend the usability of packaging or leftover food by giving these products second chances such as feeding the hungry and proving material for making biofuel or new consumer products. We are proud that the CR2ZW competition gives college participants an outlet to showcase better solutions to reducing campus waste and promoting recycling each year.”       

Starting 2021, Campus Race to Zero Waste is recognizing three campuses per main category (Zero Waste, Food Organics, Diversion, and Per Capita) based on the Carnegie Classification of size – small/very small, medium, and large. This helps level the playing field for all campuses. This year, winners also received electronic badges in order to reduce the waste created by mailing a physical award. 

  • Kent State University Electronics Recycling

Campus Race to Zero Waste 2021 Winners

Zero Waste category:

  • Kent State University at Kent, Ohio (*only one campus was awarded in this category because all participating campuses were large campuses.)

Food Organics category:

  • Small campus – Macalester College, Minnesota
  • Medium campus – University of North Carolina Asheville, North Carolina
  • Large campus – University of California Irvine, California

Diversion category:

  • Small campus – Macalester College, Minnesota
  • Medium campus – Seattle University, Washington
  • Large campus – Grand Valley State University, Michigan

Per Capita category:

  • Small campus – Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island
  • Medium campus – Wilkes University, Pennsylvania
  • Large campus – Stanford University, California

Race to Zero Waste – One Building challenge:

  • Aquinas College, Michigan

Electronics challenge:

  • Per Capita category – Southwestern College, Kansas
  • Total Pounds Recycled category – Kent State University at Kent, Ohio

For more details about our categories and winners, please visit the 2021 Scoreboard.

Campuses participating in the competition tackle two of the biggest threats to the environment – pollution and a warming climate

Impacts On Wildlife

Management and disposal of solid waste material, especially plastics, has become one of the most challenging environmental problems of our time. The entire world has shifted, in the past 30 years, to single-use plastics as a way of eating, drinking, washing, and packaging merchandise that goes straight into the waste stream, on to landfills, and ultimately into the natural environment – with the accumulated waste lasting for decades and posing a hazard to living creatures including humans. 

It is clearly a problem for people and for nature and wildlife that is expanding globally including in the U.S. Plastics of different sizes are being ingested by billions of creatures – and are killing and/or harming endangered species at sea and on land; it is estimated that ingestion of plastic kills 1 million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year.

Positive Impact on the Climate

Additionally, through campus efforts to increase their recycling and reduce their food waste, colleges and universities are making a positive impact on the climate. 

Campus efforts to reduce the purchase and use of new products results in less energy needed to extract, transport, and process materials to manufacture these new products. The purchase of materials made of recycled materials is also key. One of the most popular categories of the competition each spring is the Food Organics category; more than 150 campuses compete each year in this category. The main goal of the Food Organics category is to recognize campuses that are successfully implementing food waste minimization activities that address overage including portion control techniques and preparing food to order. The secondary focus for this category is how food waste recovered is managed, such as donations to people, used for biofuels, and composting. In 2019, more than 2.5 million pounds of food was donated to people and animals and used for biofuels.

According to Food Rescue, American food production has a tremendous energy resource cost – 10% of the nation’s total energy budget, 50% of its land, and 80% of all U.S. freshwater consumption is dedicated to the production and distribution of food.

Today over 1,100 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada have participated in the Campus Race to Zero Waste (formerly RecycleMania) program, diverting close to 1,090 million pounds of waste through waste minimization efforts, donation, reuse, composting, and recycling. Through these efforts, campuses have also prevented the release of nearly 1.65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is comparable to removing over 340,000 gas engine passenger vehicles from the road for one year. 

About Campus Race to Zero Waste

Campus Race to Zero Waste – formerly known as 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.

Campus Race to Zero Waste has been helping campuses minimize 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.