Many college students look for small ways to make the world a better place in their daily lives. But when Union student Victoria Nichols saw a big opportunity to change her classmates’ views on recycling, she took it.

Last April, Nichols, a biology major from California, led Union in a nationwide recycling competition sponsored by Garnier. She entered the contest and was chosen to involve her community and her school in the collection of empty personal care and beauty items.

“I wanted to encourage my classmates to reduce their footprint on the earth,” she said.

The contest was hosted by and sponsored by Garnier, who partners with TerraCycle for the Rinse, Recycle, Repeat campaign to educate America’s youth about the importance of recycling beauty and personal care empties in the bathroom. Garnier and TerraCycle set a goal to divert 10 million beauty and personal care empties from landfills by the end of 2017.

Nichols was among the 50 applicants chosen to be captains for their college communities—based on their community involvement and demonstration of leadership skills. She worked to collect as many empty personal care and beauty containers as she could during April 2017, the first month of the program.

Nichols then had to break them down, box them up and ship them to New Jersey.

“It was a lot of late nights,” she said. “I had good help breaking them down and organizing them all, which I am really thankful for.”

As part of the contest, Nichols posted weekly updates with all of her empties in pictures.

“Tori was the winner by far, with over 7,000 empties,” said the representative from TerraCycle who spoke at a ceremony in November honoring Nichols and Union for the achievement.

“Recycling has always been a passion of mine,” said Nichols. “I was really committed to this, and I offered a lot of incentives for people to help me with this project, as well as inspiring competition within the student body.” Nichols offered a variety of prizes, such as gift cards, help applying for scholarships, and friendly competition.

For winning the competition, Nichols received a scholarship and Garnier created a community space in a local Community Crops garden.

Community Crops sponsors 12 locally owned and maintained gardens around Lincoln, but many of the gardens lacked space for people to sit and enjoy the plant and animal life. So, on behalf of Union, Garnier gifted two picnic tables, two chairs, three trash cans and a covered area, all made out of the recycled beauty products to a Community Crops garden located at 46th and Pioneers, just a few blocks from Union’s campus. The recycled material is very durable and will last much longer than wooden equivalents.

“I used gift cards to help motivate students, but I learned that most people are passionate about making a change, and they only need an outlet to do so,” Nichols said. “I’m glad we were able to make such a difference as a school.”

Maren Miller is a freshman communication major from Lincoln, Neb.