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Less than two years after going on a strict trash diet, University of Wisconsin-Stout has weighed in.
The results are impressive: the university has cut tons of waste, is producing more compost than trash and has earned a state title.
During the 2013-14 academic year, UW-Stout so far has reduced its total amount of waste going to the landfill by 43 tons — more than 86,000 pounds— compared to the previous year.
That figure played a big part in the recently completed national Recyclemania contest. UW-Stout, for the first time, led all competing colleges in Wisconsin and did so by a wide margin.
In the Grand Champion division, UW-Stout's recycling rate of 52.8 percent was 6.6 percentage points ahead of the Wisconsin runner-up, UW-Platteville. A total of 10 UW System colleges, along with four private state colleges, competed.
Nationally, UW-Stout placed 24th, up nearly 100 places from 2013. This year 474 colleges competed from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.
Sarah Rykal, UW-Stout sustainability director, was excited to follow UW-Stout's weekly progress in Recyclemania because it showed that campuswide changes instituted at the start of the 2012-13 academic year are working.
The major change was removing trash cans from all classrooms and meeting rooms across campus. Instead, sets of three bins for recycling, compost and trash were placed in hallways and entrances to buildings. In essence, the new system forced people to think before they tossed.
"We were monitoring our weights each week of the contest, and we noticed a substantial difference from last year. I'm happy to know that our hard work is paying off," Rykal said.
UW-Stout stood out in the Waste Minimization category, which tracks overall waste generated per person, taking 11th in the nation; last year it was 37th. Results from Waste Minimization and Per Capita divisions are used to determine Grand Champion rankings.
This year in Recyclemania, UW-Stout had more compost, 33 percent, than trash, 31 percent. A year earlier the figures were 16 percent compost and 58 percent trash. "We're now composting more than we're putting in the landfill," Rykal said.
Education also has contributed to UW-Stout's sustainability success. Around the same time trash cans were removed from campus rooms, a campuswide awareness campaign was begun. "Our goal was to really lower our carbon footprint," Rykal said.
Rykal credits students, faculty and staff for being vigilant and helping make UW-Stout a UW System leader in the area of sustainability. "Our campus is doing an amazing job of reducing our overall waste," Rykal said.
Rykal oversees UW-Stout's Sustainability Office.