At this point, the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” has become white noise for many college students. Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but there's rarely much enthusiasm involved.
To generate a little excitement about responsible waste handling, a group of students at the University of Colorado at Boulder (UC) began holding the “Recycling X-Games” about five years ago in concert with RecycleMania, a national recycling competition between colleges and universities.
“Ideally, we just want to increase participation on campus and let people know that their actions do make a difference,” says Dan Baril, recycling program manager at the UC Environmental Center. “We do so through these kind of silly, kind of fun X-Games.”
The games are held for one day in front of the UC student center, an area crisscrossed by thousands of students as they hurry to classes or pause for lunch. Baril says this year's games included seven events:
Recycle Pong, a variation on the fraternity favorite, Beer Pong. In this version, beer-filled Solo cups were replaced by formations of 55-gallon barrels. Teams competed to toss bags of recyclables into opponents' barrels.
Recycle Ball, a timed variation on Ski Ball in which competitors tried to sink recyclables in a progression of bins.
Dumpster Dive, in which a clean Dumpster was filled with shredded paper and competitors had one minute to unearth cans and bottles for points.
The Can Guess, which rewarded the closest estimate of the number of cans contained in a crushed aluminum bale on display.
Recycled Art and Fashion, in which competitors created art and clothing using random recyclables. The results were voted upon at the end of the games.
The Recycling Obstacle Course, in which competitors, bearing an armload of recyclables, had to navigate a barrel slalom, a shredded paper hurdle and a cardboard tunnel before depositing the recyclables in a bin at the finish line. The competitors had to repeat the course as many times as possible in a minute.
To entice participants, donated prizes were offered, including theater tickets, gift certificates from local restaurants and a messenger bag from local company Green Guru Gear, which manufactures items out of reclaimed materials like tire inner tubes and vinyl billboards. “They kind of demonstrate that whole ‘closing the loop’ mentality, creating these functional products that people can use and that are actually pretty cool and pretty stylish,” says Baril, adding that CU also holds a December event with local merchants promoting green gift giving.
But in the end, says Baril, the fun and games boil down to simple awareness: “It's more about getting people thinking about it, participating in the activities and seeing that it's not that hard to recycle.”