Students battle to be green heroes in Great Recycling Challenge

October 16, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Beginning on Monday, Oct. 22, all Penn State residence areas will compete against each other in a recycling and composting contest. The Zero Hero, Great Recycling Challenge will last five days and inspire Penn State students to reduce, reuse and recycle waste. Currently, University Park recycles 59 percent of the waste stream but still sends 5,200 tons of solid waste to the landfill every year. This contest will challenge the residence hall areas (North, South, East, West, Pollock, Eastview Terrace, Nittany Apartments and White Course Apartments) to see who can recycle and compost the most. The winning residence area will receive appropriate recognition for leading the way towards zero waste.

Although Penn State has a robust recycling and composting program, the University still sends trucks to the landfill every day. These vehicles travel 102 miles each way (at 5 miles per gallon) to dump trash in a Somerset County landfill. Every day, Penn Staters make a choice to place items in a recycling bin or a trash bin. When they choose trash, it costs the University $70 a ton, when they choose to recycle it costs $20 per ton for bagged and $5 for un-bagged material. Choosing the recycling bin saved Penn State more than $600,000 in fees in 2010 and the University sees potential to save even more. The contest aims to highlight that by sending nothing to the landfill, those in the campus community could become Zero Heros.

The Recycling Challenge contest is managed by the Eco-Reps, first-year students who live in the residence halls and work for the Campus Sustainability Office. Their mission is to educate their peers on eco-friendly living while residing on campus. They coordinate with the Office of Physical Plant waste management team who will audit each residence hall area’s landfill-bound trash to determine area-by-area recycling rates. In order to win, students should make sure that the only things going into the landfill-bound trash cans are items that cannot be recycled or composted.

Suggested actions for students are:

-- Purchase products with less packaging or that are packaged in recyclable, compostable or reusable containers.
-- Donate unwanted residence hall room items to the Trash to Treasure ( sale in December and May.
-- Buy a permanent water bottle and refill it at the tap, and grab a refillable mug for that cup of coffee or tea.
-- Use cloth napkins, handkerchiefs and rags rather than paper napkins, tissues and towels.
-- Reuse bags from the bookstore or grocery store or use canvas tote bags for your shopping.
-- Print on both sides of paper.
-- Use rechargeable batteries.
-- Stop your junk mail.

The contest goal is to educate the Penn State community about recycling and composting and to increase recycling rates in residential areas on campus. Penn State is committed to reducing, reusing and recycling — and refusing — waste.

The Recycling Challenge and the Eco-Rep program is made possible by the collaborative efforts of Housing, Residence Life, Penn State faculty, OPP and the Campus Sustainability Office.


  • Al Matyasovsky, OPP recycling and waste management leader discussed zero waste initiatives with Brian Sedgwick, at Shaver's Creek nature center caretaker.

    IMAGE: Paul Ruskin

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Last Updated October 23, 2012