Elon’s Spring “Phoenix Cup” Aims to Reduce Landfill Waste on Campus

By Matt Holzapfel

The average college student produces 640 pounds of solid waste each year, including about 500 disposable cups and around 320 pounds of paper (According to Boston College’s Office of Sustainability). That’s one college student. Now imagine 6,000 students all on one campus, each producing that much waste every year. No matter how many “Please Recycle” signs there are or how many compost bins get strategically placed around campus, it would still be an extremely tall task to even put a dent in the amount of waste that ends up in nearby landfills.

This conundrum of never ending trash bound for landfills is exactly what the Phoenix Cup initiative aims to solve. Between February 13 and March 3, any students that signed up would be entered in a competition to see what group or individual could complete the most tasks, and therefore earn the most points in the Phoenix Cup. The winners, those who earn the most points during the entire competition, got a t-shirt, a meal voucher, an infuser water bottle and $10 gift card, according to the official Phoenix Cup website.  Prizes went to the individual with the most points and the teams with “the most points per person based on checklist responses.” Some of the assignments required to earn points were to attend a compost workshop, track how much trash you throw in the garbage, and put compostable items in compost bins around campus.

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“The Phoenix Cup rewards people for establishing habits and increasing awareness about the impact of our everyday behaviors”

Jessica Bilecki is the Assitant Director of Sustainability and the coordinator of the Phoenix Cup competition. “In 2008 an energy competition called POWERless began,” said Bilecki when asked about the origin of the Phoenix Cup. “For three weeks people competed to conserve energy.  Prizes went to buildings and students who lived in buildings that conserved the most energy.  When I came along in 2013, I changed it up a bit to try to engage more people in the competition and reward people that were actively participating.  Additionally, during the spring semester, we were also participating in RecycleMania.  It was tricky trying to advertise for both campaigns.” The Phoenix Cup is based around rewarding people, while also getting them to develop habits that can help them lead a more sustainable lifestyle in the future, even when the competition is completed. “There are different concentrations each semester – energy in fall, waste in spring,” added Bilecki. “The purpose is multifold: the more people who practice these behaviors, the lower Elon’s environmental footprint is. Second, it’s educational. It connects people to the impact of their everyday habits on others as well as the planet and provides easy ways to do things a little better.  The competition element provides a platform to engage friends with the behaviors as well.  Studies have shown that small habits tend to lead to taking more steps that foster sustainability in the future.”

While the Phoenix Cup program for this year has ended, students can always join next year and participate. In the fall, the energy portion of the competition takes place, where students compete to see who can save the most energy within a three-week span. The same goes for the waste competition in the spring. While most of the work to put on as well as advertise this event is done by the Office of Sustainability, other groups and organizations, such as Physical Plant, play a big role in keeping the Phoenix Cup going. “Mostly we advertise to other groups including residential neighborhoods. This year we partnered with folks putting on the Global Film series to show Wasteland during the competition,” said Bilecki. “Physical Plant is a huge help collecting building energy use data during the fall competition. The unofficial green teams in Belk and Elon Law libraries often compete. If there are other groups interested in partnering we’d be happy to chat!”

To learn more about the Phoenix Cup and sustainability at Elon, you can visit the Phoenix Cup and Sustainability Office websites. To learn how to become more involved in Elon’s sustainability movement, talk to an Eco-Rep or an RA in you neighborhood.

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