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Waste and recycling in the circular economy

Rural waste case study: University of Pikeville Rural Waste Innovation Challenge

Rural America will always be the heart of our nation. Unfortunately, it is also a dumping ground for much of our trash. Without economic incentives to clean up the garbage, the problem will not end. The abundance of waste is one of the key struggles in generating economic development in rural America.

Eastern Kentucky has been home to coal miners and their families for generations, but with regulatory burdens and a decreased demand for coal, the area has been left without this economic engine. Rubicon believes waste cleanup can play a pivotal role in the region’s economic revitalization and generate momentum for attracting further private investment into the area—and will launch this effort in the City of Pikeville.

Earlier this year, the top county executive in Pike County lamented that despite excitement for and investment in adventure tourism in Eastern Kentucky, “People are not going to come here… when they see garbage and illegal dumps along the trail[s].”19

Research shows that the poorest counties in Kentucky—most of which are in Appalachia—have the highest number of illegal dumps. The lack of public trash pickup services combined with the cost of disposing of waste at the landfill has turned illegal dumping into a regional challenge. Trash gets dumped along the roadside or in creeks, where it quickly washes up along the shore or fills up the waterways. All of this poses a long-term risk to Eastern Kentucky’s economic ambitions, not to mention its beauty.

That is why Rubicon and the University of Pikeville will soon launch the Rubicon Rural Waste Innovation Challenge, inviting University of Pikeville students to submit concepts for solutions, products, or programs to promote sustainability on campus, in the community, and in the Appalachian region at-large. These will be community-driven and community-centric approaches. Our panel of experts will judge submissions, and the winning entry will be awarded a cash prize.

Furthermore, Rubicon will work with the University of Pikeville to implement a university-wide sustainability program. As a student-driven effort, and with campus-wide engagement from University of Pikeville’s faculty and staff, Rubicon will lend its expertise in sustainable materials management. For example, the dining hall, which has been using single-use polystyrene cups, containers, and utensils, will look at implementing sustainable alternatives.

In the near future, Rubicon plans to partner with additional colleges and universities throughout Kentucky to replicate the successes at the University of Pikeville. To start, Rubicon will work with Kentucky State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU) based in Frankfort, to develop solutions for urban waste, particularly food waste. This effort will build upon Rubicon’s food waste efforts in other parts of the state, including at the Keeneland racecourse located in Lexington.