The Rice Recycling Center opened in 1972 as a student-run business where a group of undergraduates collected and accepted newspapers, cans and computer paper from the university and nearby neighborhoods. By selling directly to Houston businesses, the Center was successful enough to purchase a truck. Rice was one of the first recycling centers in Houston and served as a model for other local and campus initiatives. Recycling was then taken over by Rice Recycling Club in the mid-1980s and then by Facilities Engineering and Planning in 1995.
Rice University and its students have become very involved in improving and expanding the recycling program. Initially, the Rice campus did not have a single outdoor recycling bin. It wasn’t until the fall 2012 semester that a group of students in SOCI 302: Rice into the Future researched and implemented several outdoor recycling bins. In order to achieve this, these students calculated the amount of waste in specific areas around campus and measured the amount of recyclable materials present in the trash. From this data, they were able to accurately pinpoint places where recycling bins would be most beneficial. In February 2013, the first outdoor recycling bin was installed outside of Duncan Hall as a test pilot. This bin has a blue ring around its perimeter to indicate that it takes recyclable materials. In the spring 2014 semester, 20 green outdoor recycling bins were installed around the Rice campus as per the group's recommendations.
In 2015, with the help of the Rice Environmental Club, a team of student volunteers led by Emi LaFountain ‘15 identified almost 40 buildings on campus that were in need of recycling bins. LaFountain and her peers identified these buildings by marking up maps with the locations of trash cans and recycling bins in various buildings. Using this data, this team pinpointed locations where new recycling bins would be beneficial. After the team presented the research to director of custodial and grounds, Eusebio Franco and director of sustainability, Richard Johnson '92, Facilities Engineering and Planning approved the 367 new indoor recycling bins in over 39 different buildings. The implementation was carried out by a group of 20 volunteers and seven months later, the project was successfully completed.
Another group of students in CEVE 307: Energy and Environment worked on expanding recycling in the Rice Athletic Facilities. Following in the steps of the previous project, these students observed and audited three athletic facilities to create recommendations for implementing 82 new recycling bins amongst these facilities. After being implemented in May 2016, the students expect that 13,749 pounds of recycling material will be diverted from landfills every year.
Rice has also participated in Recyclemania, a waste reduction and recycling contest amongst universities across the nation. Over the course of 10 weeks, schools report their recycling and waste statistics. Recycling winners are based on the school that collects the largest amount of recyclables per capita and overall as well the rate of recycling at each school. In 2006, Rice University was the first school in Texas to join the contest.
In recent years, Rice’s recycling rate has been around 25 percent. This means, that one in every four pounds of trash on campus is recycled. In fall 2016, Rice set a goal a 40 percent recycling rate by the year 2020 following research on diversion rates conducted by sustainability interns Ethan Hasiuk and Ben Johnson.