Recycling contest helps UK raise green awareness

Recycling may not be as exciting as football or basketball, but UK should take the Recyclemania 2008 competition no less seriously than any sporting event.

UK is vying against colleges and universities nationwide, including six other Southeastern Conference schools, in Recyclemania, a 10-week competition to see who can collect the most recyclables. UK’s main goal is to be No. 1 in the SEC, the Kernel reported Friday.

Amid seemingly weekly blood drives and charity events, students who are feeling do-gooder fatigue may be inclined to ignore the latest cause on campus. But the recycling drive deserves the UK community’s support, and unlike other campaigns, it won’t cost participants a single dime or drop of blood.

Although “sustainability” and “green-friendliness” have become buzzwords lately, they haven’t lost their meaning. Efforts to improve UK’s environmental practices do tangible good for the community and the state.

The environmental benefits of recycling are obvious: It slows the expansion of landfills and reduces manufacturers’ need to get raw materials through environmentally unsound practices.

What may be less well known is that recycling is also good for the economy, as it creates jobs in processing recyclables and manufacturing products from recycled materials. The recycling industry has created 10,000 jobs in Kentucky, according to the state Division of Waste Management.

These long-term gains take far more than 10 weeks to achieve and sustain. Recyclemania isn’t just a chance for UK to show its dominance over the SEC — it could also be the start of long-lasting efforts to broaden the university’s recycling program.

UK got a “C” in the Food and Recycling category on the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s 2008 report card, compared to a slightly better average of “B-” nationwide. Although the report noted positive steps on UK’s part, such as hiring a full-time recycling coordinator, there is certainly room for improvement.

While UK focused mainly on residence halls in previous years of Recyclemania, its efforts this year will target all of campus, including classrooms and office buildings. That attitude should extend beyond the competition: Waste problems won’t go away if the roughly 75 percent of students who live off campus, as well as the thousands of campus employees, throw potential recyclables in the trash.

One easy way to keep students and instructors from throwing out recyclables would be to add more recycling bins — for cans and bottles as well as paper — in classrooms. People disposing of a drink bottle or returned homework assignment are far more likely to recycle it if they don’t have to search building hallways for the proper receptacle.

Above all, the UK community needs to start seeing that trash can be the exception rather than the rule. Recyclemania is a time to begin instilling those attitudes.