City and campus’s efforts to reach zero waste by 2020 meet obstacles

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An audit report presented to Berkeley City Council last week found that the city may not reach its zero waste goal by 2020, while UC Berkeley’s efforts to reach the same zero waste goal have been met with comparable obstacles.

The council approved a zero waste resolution in 2005, which aimed to divert more than 90 percent of waste from landfills by 2020. Five years later, Berkeley successfully diverted 75 percent of recyclable waste from landfills, one of several goals set by Alameda County, with minimal community outreach. However, the report insists that educational programs and community outreach are now vitally important to meeting the zero waste goal in time.

Ann-Marie Hogan, Berkeley’s city auditor who helped prepare the report, said an ongoing issue involves people depositing waste into the incorrect bins. Residents must habitually deposit food waste in compost bins and recycle their cans, bottles and plastic, she said.

“Quite a few people are still not recycling. They’re just throwing everything in the garbage and not composting,” Hogan said. “It’s basically the challenge of changing human behavior.”

The report also urges the Department of Public Works to develop a strategic plan that would allot a sufficient amount of funding to education and better define the responsibilities of those involved in the city’s zero waste program.

Doug Halperin, chair of the Zero Waste Commission, said encouraging residential and commercial properties to comply with zero waste standards and creating more recycling opportunities in public spaces will ultimately help the city reach zero waste in the next six years.

“The citizens of Berkeley seem inclined to recycle and get to the zero waste goal, so making it easier by creating more awareness about it will make a difference and get us further along the path,” Halperin said.

UC Berkeley, along with the wider UC system, has its own commitment to reaching zero waste on campus by 2020. The strategy for making this ambition a reality includes implementing campuswide composting, promoting responsible waste disposal and emphasizing education to the campus community, according to Kira Stoll, sustainability manager at the campus’ Office of Sustainability.

UC Berkeley did not meet a goal set by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability that aimed to divert 75 percent of waste by 2012.The campus instead reported a 62 percent diversion rate in 2012 when including materials from campus construction and demolition and 42 percent when not including such materials. Nevertheless, Stoll said, the campus is making progress.

“We have the kind of focus that we need and the ideas to reach zero waste,” Stoll said. “Because it requires engagement of every person to participate and make that happen, it raises a challenge but also is an opportunity.”

Although the city is concentrating more on the individual household and UC Berkeley is focused on residence halls and campus buildings, Stoll said they are essentially looking at the same problem: making it easier for people to use provided disposal systems at their maximum capacity.

Contact Natalie Meier at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @nat_meier.