Virginia Tech is competing with schools across the U.S. and Canada to reduce waste, increase recycling, and raise awareness of conservation efforts through the challenge Race to Zero Waste from Jan. 29 to March 25.

Formerly known as Recyclemania, the competition was rebranded to expand its message from only recycling to an equal focus on reducing waste in the first place and finding other ways to divert waste from landfills. Virginia Tech has taken part in the competition since 2005.

“We want to elevate our commitment to being a zero-waste campus, which is one of our goals outlined in Virginia Tech’s Climate Action Commitment,” said Emily Vollmer, sustainability coordinator for the Virginia Tech Office of Sustainability.

Virginia Tech's Climate Action Commitment establishes a goal of becoming a zero-waste campus by 2030. This means diverting 90 percent of the university’s waste from the landfill.

Participating in this challenge helps raise awareness about waste management practices on campus as well as educating people on the roles they play within the larger system of waste at Virginia Tech, Vollmer said.

The competition offers different levels of participation depending on a school’s goals. Virginia Tech participates in three categories. The first is diversion, looking at how much of the waste produced on campus is rerouted from landfills to be recycled or donated. The second category is per capita recycling, which normalizes waste generation across universities by looking at how much waste is generated per person on average. Finally, the third category is food organics, examining how much more food waste is composted but also takes into consideration any measures taken to reduce food waste in the first place.

Loading player for

Cate McHugh, a senior studying human nutrition, foods, and exercise, said she has made efforts to be more mindful of her own waste after learning about the impacts of food waste on the environment in her classes.

“I try to avoid creating excess food waste by finding recipes that use multiple of the same ingredients and not purchasing more than I can consume,” McHugh said. “As for the university, I think composting as well as ensuring that the prices for dining hall foods match the portion sizes is very important.”

To determine the school’s placement in the Race to Zero Waste, the results of the three categories are combined to create an overall score that compares Virginia Tech to other schools.

“Our main goal is to teach our students, faculty, and staff how to take steps toward reducing their own waste so they can positively contribute to our larger goal as a community,” Vollmer said. “We want people to not only reduce how much waste they are producing but also reuse what they can, recycle whatever is left over when possible, and improve the recycling rate on campus overall.”

Vollmer also encourages people to get involved with different programs related to waste on campus. These include the Green Office Certification Program, Green Lab Certification, Y-Toss, and Game Day Green Team.

“The best way for students to participate in a positive way is to try to reduce their waste in the first place, learn more about what alternatives exist to help them reduce their waste, and learn how to properly recycle,” Vollmer said.

If anyone has questions about how to specifically reduce their waste, they can reach out to the Office of Sustainability for advice and product alternatives.

Written by Cyna Mirzai, a senior and an intern for Virginia Tech Communications and Marketing


Share this story