With sustainability initiatives that work to redirect cardboard, Styrofoam and other plastic away from landfills as students move into their residence halls in the fall and programs that help students donate unwanted items to thrift shops when they move out in the spring, Carolina has kept hundreds of tons of waste from landfills over the years.
This environmental feat can be traced back to a competition among residence halls that began 25 years ago.
The Green Games competition challenges residence halls to demonstrate superiority in sustainability. The games are a partnership between the University’s Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling and Carolina Housing.
“The idea was to hold a competition that would bring awareness to energy and water costs, would provide a competitive way to help reduce those costs and result in students learning that they can impact their environment, starting where they lived,” said Larry Hicks, who helped launch the program in 1994 as the associate director of Housing and Residence Education.
One-third to a half of students living on campus are involved in some way and more students participate each year, said Amy Preble, waste diversion coordinator in Carolina’s Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling.
“I think part of the reason why this has lasted so long is that it’s completely student-run,” Preble said. “Between the student intern that runs the program and the sustainability officers in each residence hall community, Green Games raises the partnership between housing, our office and the students.”
In the Green Games’ early years, the residence halls competed in various environmental objectives including increasing recycling and cutting back on electricity and water usage to introduce a new focus on sustainability.
Initiatives to install energy-efficient windows, make composting bins available to residents and put energy monitoring systems in residence halls came in the years that followed.
“After several years, it became really hard to compare apples-to-apples for the residence hall communities,” Preble said. “Residence halls were different sizes, and some were more energy efficient because they had been renovated or were newer.”
Recently, the focus of Green Games has shifted to promoting other sustainability efforts such as implementing more composting programs and organizing service projects to clean up waterways.
This year, Hinton James was crowned champion of Green Games — its second title in three years.
“It is important to participate in Green Games because environmental education is crucial to encourage individuals to live sustainably,” said Cara Kuuskvere,a first-year student and sustainability officer from the Hinton James Community Government. “Hinton James had an environmental focus and sustainability in mind in the planning of every event we held this year.”
Hinton James’ winning approach included a competition among the floors to recycle the most plastic film and encouraging residents to bring their own dishes and silverware to residence hall events instead of creating waste with disposable items.
“College students are often making their own living decisions and living on their own for the first time in residence halls,” Kuuskvere said. “Through Green Games, we can encourage them to make sustainable living decisions and form habits that they bring into their adult lives.”