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In my classroom, there is a shelf by the sink. Occasionally, I drink a soda and put the empty bottle or can on the shelf. For years, there has been no more than three or four bottles at a time on the shelf. Sometimes, I take them off to the store and return them for the deposit. Containers that don’t have a deposit go to the recycling bin at home. This year, however, something happened in the school, where now there is a bottle and can recycling bin in most classrooms. Now there is a huge collection of bottles and an often overfilling paper bin where it all used to go into the trash. It started a few years ago when we started recycling paper through a big dumpster in the parking lot.

What this illustrates is that people and cultures can change. People can start to see that the things they throw out don’t all get classified as ‘trash.’ Some of it can be recycled, some can get reused, and some people may start to see all the waste in it and choose to reduce their consumption.

RecycleMania is seeking to help bring about that change on campuses . While registration for this year’s contest is closed, there is plenty of reason to have your fellow students take a cold hard look at your waste stream and look for a better solution. Generating less waste leads to less money being charged for trash removal fees, and it’s better for the environment.

When you pile up a day’s worth of trash and recycling from just 500 residents of one of Penn’s College Houses, it makes a pretty big geographical feature!

Remembering that when you throw something away it doesn’t just “go away”, but gets added to a mountain in a landfill, may help you remember to recycle whatever you can — and make the mountain into more of a molehill.

The Recycling Triangle has in many minds three components: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It is worth noting that Recycling is the last of the three. If we do the other two first, we will have less to recycle. Makers are natural ReUsers. Taiwan has a really cool recycling logo that makes sophisticated use of negative space.

Is your campus recycling? What systems are students and staff putting in place to help reduce the amount of waste on campus? Is there a high school equivalent to RecycleMania in your region? What are the students in your local school system doing to help reduce, reuse and recycle the waste that passes through the school system’s buildings? What projects are you doing or contemplating to reuse waste that would otherwise be tossed? Post your ideas in the comments, and contribute your photos and video to the MAKE Flickr pool.