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UConn joins national recycling contest

by Richard Veilleux - February 11, 2008

UConn’s environmentally conscious students are at it again. Fresh from coordinating Focus the Nation, a successful campus-wide awareness event, the EcoHusky organization has signed on to join a nation-wide competition, Recyclemania – which involves not only students, but faculty and staff too.

The EcoHuskies are a student group promoting environmental awareness and activities.

At the same time, student interns in the Office of Environmental Policy have begun planning another round of EcoMadness, a biannual competition that pits residence halls against each other for a month of curtailing water and energy use.

The recycling contest, which began Jan. 27, has grown to include about 400 colleges nationwide, including seven in Connecticut. UConn students are competing in two of the four categories – the Per Capita Classic, which divides the total amount recycled by the number of students, faculty, and staff on campus, and the Gorilla Prize, which is based on total tonnage recycled.

The contest runs for 10 weeks. Each week, every university’s results will be posted on the national Recyclemania website at Recyclemaniacs.org/results.asp.

The Daily Campus also will publish UConn’s results weekly, along with a photo of a student, faculty, or staff member who is caught ‘green handed’ putting an item into a recycling bin.

Recycled paper, bottles and cans, and corrugated cardboard all count toward the total, says Alysse Lembo, who is coordinating the project. Lembo also is a co-chair of the EcoHuskies.

“We’re hoping to increase our recycling by 50 percent, compared to last year,” Lembo says.

“We’re working closely with Residential Life, the Student Union, and Babbidge Library to promote it – they’re the largest areas where people recycle. And we’ll be getting more posters and signs out wherever we can. We’re also putting out more recycling bins.”

The EcoMadness competition was held in the fall among three freshman residence hall complexes, where it was a big success.

This time, environmental policy interns are hoping to test upperclassmen.

In a contest scheduled to run from March 18 until April 18 (roughly the same time the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball teams compete in March Madness), EcoMadness will move to residence complexes traditionally reserved for upperclassmen – Hilltop and Charter Oak apartments, South Campus, and the Greek Village.

“It’s not set in stone,” says Jessica LaRocca, an intern at the Office of Environmental Policy who is coordinating this spring’s contest.

“We still have to make sure the sub-meters are working in all the buildings, but that’s where we want to go.”

Sub-meters, which have been installed in about 60 percent of buildings on the Storrs campus, provide automated, digitized monitoring of a building’s electricity, water, sewer, and steam consumption, and provide real-time data.

They better allow researchers to figure out what to charge granting agencies for indirect costs, and also help the University track utility use in residence halls and other buildings.

They also make it possible for the Office of Environmental Policy and the EcoHuskies to sponsor contests aimed at instilling water- and energy-conserving behavior.

Last fall, in a competition between 13 residence halls in three complexes, residents of Shippee Hall won the contest for curtailing energy use, using more than 16 percent less energy during the one-month contest than had been expended the month before.

Residents of Hanks Hall in Northwest Campus, won the water conservation contest, using more than 50 percent less water than they had the previous month.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” said Richard Miller, director of environmental policy.

“We even rechecked the metering data with Facilities Operations, but everything was OK. They just did a great job there.”

Miller calculates that the contest kept more than 20 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. As part of the prize (along with an ice cream social featuring UConn Dairy Bar ice cream), his office also purchased carbon offsets, effectively matching the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by Shippee residents during the competition, and awarded Shippee with a framed certificate of ownership for eight hours of carbon offsets.

Miller says the fall contest was “one of our more successful initiatives.

“It’s really about behavior modification,” he says.

“If we can create systemic change through mechanical, electrical, and plumbing retrofits that result in lasting reductions, combined with this kind of behavioral change, we can really reduce our carbon footprint and educate students about it at the same time.”

Besides slowing carbon emissions, Miller says the cutbacks saved the University an estimated $3,000 in utility costs during the one-month contest.

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