- Associated Press - Sunday, March 4, 2018

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Tammy Thompson has been recycling since she was 12 years old. She’s kept up the habit as a student at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“I recycle mostly plastic and paper,” she said. “We have recycling bins in our dorm rooms.

“I feel like it’s an easy way to protect the Earth, keep things out of landfills and prolong human life on Earth.”

Melissa Covington-Olsen is hoping students like Thompson will help send 100,000 pounds of waste from Southern Miss to the recycling center during a two-month period ending March 31. The school’s sustainability coordinator has set that amount as the goal for students, faculty and staff as they participate in the recycling championship RecycleMania 2018.

The national competition pits colleges and universities against each other for the coveted title of top recycler. Last year, Southern Miss finished in the top 140 of 320 participating schools by recycling more than 78,000 pounds of waste.

“We want to promote recycling and environmental issues and get the campus community aware of what it can do to encourage sustainable behaviors,” Covington-Olsen said.

Southern Miss started its recycling program in June 2008. Every office and residence is equipped with a blue recycling bin, which can be emptied into large recycling containers located on the first floor of each building.

To reach this year’s goal, the Southern Miss community must increase its recycling efforts by about 15,000 pounds a month. It typically recycles 35,000 pounds per month.

The 78,000 pounds of plastic, aluminum, tin, cardboard and paper recycled last year reduced 110 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, comparable to taking 21 cars off the road or equal to the energy consumption of nine households.

Last year was Covington-Olsen’s first spearheading the university’s participation in the competition, and she has upped the ante this year as she reaches for that 100,000-pound goal.

“I wanted to go for 100,000 because we have a lot of programming throughout these eight weeks,” she said.

Earlier this month, Covington-Olsen held a special recycling drive at Pete Taylor Park during the Golden Eagle baseball series against Mississippi State.

From mid-February until Friday, Covington-Olsen is running a contest she calls “Caught Green-handed.” Anyone she sees recycling or exhibiting other behaviors kind to the Earth will get a coupon good for a free drink at the campus coffee shop.

“I walk around campus and look for people bicycling, using reusable water bottles, reusable totes, reusable food containers and I approach them and tell them why I stopped them,” she said. “I encourage them to pass the word along to other people to do the same (thing).”

Later this month, staff and faculty will be urged to do some spring cleaning and put appropriate items into recycling.

Chris Crenshaw, assistant vice president for facilities planning and management, said the recycling push is in line with Southern Miss’ commitment to its green initiative passed in 2008.

“RecycleMania 2018 is an important part of helping the university reduce its carbon footprint,” he said in a news release.

If Southern Miss makes its goal this year, it could conceivably move up in the rankings, but more importantly, it would be doing a good deed for Mother Earth. For instance, it takes enormous amounts of electricity to refine aluminum from its ore, but it’s relatively easy to recycle an aluminum can into a new one.

Making recycled paper uses 30 percent to 55 percent less energy than making paper from trees. Two plastic soft drink bottles can be remade into a polyester baseball cap and 1,000 milk jugs can be transformed into a plastic park bench.

All those facts are music to Thompson’s ears. She’ll be pushing recycling through the end of March as she participates in RecycleMania 2018.

“I’m always talking to my friends and peers about it,” she said. “It’s a fun way for students to get into (recycling) and create better habits.”

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