The University of Michigan was a top-ranked university in the 2020 RecycleMania competition.

U-M placed first in the large-campus division for zero waste, a new category designed to help schools test their zero-waste efforts and compare their results to other campuses.

Contestants tracked all sources of waste generated during a four-week period, aiming for the highest diversion rate by recycling, composting and reusing items to reduce the amount sent to landfill.

Unlike the long-standing RecycleMania categories, which track all campus buildings, for the new zero-waste category, RecycleMania asked participating schools to select a subset of buildings. The Office of Campus Sustainability identified five “high-achieving” U-M buildings that represent different types of buildings on campus:

  • The Michigan League (social gathering spot), which has the highest diversion rate of union-type buildings and represents student-focused meeting spaces, event venues and retail food operation.
  • South Quad (residential), which boasts a high diversion rate with composting in the dining hall (food prep and front-of-house areas) and the residence hall portion of the building.
  • The Biological Sciences Research Building (research), where facility managers, custodial staff and occupants are highly engaged in sustainability, including composting in 100 percent of staff kitchens.
  • The Dana Building (classroom), home to the School for Environment and Sustainability, and an early adopter of the composting program. It has a dedicated crew of students to support zero-waste efforts, and an engaged facilities team.
  • The Madison Building (office/administrative), where several operational units with a strong connection to waste reduction, including the Office of Campus Sustainability and Custodial Services, are headquartered, contributing to a high diversion rate.

“Each of these buildings has strong waste-diversion programs and a culture that truly supports sustainability,” says Alison Richardson, recycling coordinator with OCS. “They were already taking the initiative to reduce their waste and increase composting efforts, which was critical to U-M winning this award.”

The diversion rates in the participating buildings ranged from 53 to 76 percent over the course of the competition.

“This is our first time being a top-ranked university in the 15 years we’ve been participating in RecycleMania,” said Andrew Berki, director of OCS. “It’s a testament to the university’s commitment to zero-waste efforts and impressive dedication by a wide range of students, staff and faculty to composting, recycling and other waste-reduction activities.”

Campuswide, U-M collected more than 544,200 pounds of recyclables and 304,440 pounds of compost during the first five weeks of RecycleMania, which was cut short from its traditional eight weeks this year due to COVID-19 campus closures.

Alongside the national RecycleMania competition, OCS runs Battle of the Buildings, a challenge between participating facilities on U-M’s campus.

In the Battle of the Buildings, each facility competes against its 2019 composting and recycling performance across three categories: greatest waste-reduction rate, greatest waste diversion from landfills through recycling and composting, and most improved diversion rate.

This year’s winners included:

  • Greatest waste reduction: Research Museums Center (48.6 percent reduction).
  • Highest diversion rate: Buhr Building (76.1 percent diverted from landfill).
  • Most improved diversion rate: Madelon Pound House (54.7 percent improvement).

More than 300 U.S. and Canadian campuses participated in RecycleMania, and recycled, composted or donated 48.6 million pounds of waste. The national winners of each category are recognized with an award made from recycled materials.

RecycleMania and Battle of the Buildings support the university’s sustainability goals for waste reduction and community engagement.

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