Colleges engage in RecycleMania’s ‘War on Plastic Pollution’
Loyola Marymount University, California, won in two of the main RecycleMania categories.
Loyola Marymount University.

Colleges engage in RecycleMania’s ‘War on Plastic Pollution’

U.S. campuses recycle, compost 69.5 million pounds of waste, reduce 300 million single-use plastic bottles in 2019 national competition.


Five million college students, faculty and staff across U.S. campuses competed for the best category by reducing and recycling the most waste in an eight-week period in the 2019 RecycleMania national competition.

Managed by National Wildlife Federation, the competition aims to “educate and challenge” students, staff and faculty at U.S. college campuses and measures factors, including 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 young people avoiding single-use plastics, such as disposable bottles and packaging. 

Some 300 campuses in 43 states competed in the competition, engaging 4.25 million students and 900,000 faculty and staff.

From Feb. 3 to March 30, participating colleges and universities recycled or composted 65.5 million pounds of waste, according to a news release. In the eight weeks, participants prevented the release of 99.254 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to preventing the annual emissions from 20,895 of cars.

Loyola Marymount University, California, won in two of the main RecycleMania 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. Loyola’s per capita for the 2019 competition was 78 pounds per person. In addition, Knox College, Illinois, took first place in Food Organics, 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 eight-week time frame. Southwestern College, California, won for the electronics category for highest per capita and Saint Louis University, Missouri, won for total amount recycled.

Union College, New York, won the Race to Zero Waste category for their efforts to “significantly reduce their waste stream” in one building over a one-month period. Ohio State University (highest diversion rate) and Rutgers University (highest per capita) lead the way for GameDay Basketball.

“RecycleMania not only helps campuses improve their recycling and reduce waste, its framework provides guidance for campuses to work toward zero waste” RecycleMania Inc. President Stacy Wheeler remarks. “The RecycleMania competition engages millions of students each year and helps them gain skills through their leadership as part of the RecycleMania teams.”

Officials estimate 9 percent of recyclable material is recycled, “making it clear there is a huge need for improved public education," the release says. There is also a “huge need for educating people on how to avoid generating solid waste and plastic pollution altogether,” through practices, including using reusable containers and bottles.

“For 19 years, RecycleMania has engaged and educated millions of students, faculty and staff at more than 1,000 colleges and universities in how reduction, recycling and composting can save our environment and wildlife habitat,” states Kevin Coyle, vice president for education and training at National Wildlife Federation. “In those years, tournament participants have also prevented the release of nearly 1.55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is comparable to removing over 320,000 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.”

With a focus on “ramping up efforts to help campuses work toward zero waste,” RecycleMania 2020 competition will launch a new competition and main engagement category. Complete 2019 results can be found here.