UC Berkeley is trash for not caring enough about trash

CAMPUS ISSUES: How can the campus meet its zero waste goals if it throws compost in the landfill?

Kelly Baird/Staff

We’re not angry about the news that UC Berkeley will sometimes throw the contents of compost and recycling bins into landfill dumpsters; we’re just disappointed. It’s like finding out Santa Claus isn’t real.

When custodians and groundskeepers see compost and recycling bins that are topped with regular trash and are “contaminated,” Cal Zero Waste manager Lin King said, they throw it away into a landfill dumpster. And with it goes the campus community’s last-ditch attempt at some semblance of sustainability.

That’s right — if a few items that aren’t compostable on the pile, all the compost will be thrown away in the landfill too. Why even have separate bins for compost and recycling if they’re all going to end up in the same unsustainable heap?

And you’ll never guess what can “contaminate” a compost bin. The most ridiculous contaminant: compostable utensils. Those supposedly “compostable” forks and knives you’re getting at The Golden Bear café can’t actually be broken down by the compost facilities UC Berkeley contracts. Despite the fact that these utensils are considered “contaminants” to custodians, their taunting images remain on various compost bins’ charts.

The fact that utensils labeled “compostable” do not in fact belong in the compost bin is a totally bizarre oversight — why call something compostable if it’s not? Students can’t read minds: How on Mother Earth are they supposed to know their soiled food-focused implements aren’t compostable?

It’s clear that this issue of “contamination” will further prevent the campus from reaching its lofty Zero Waste 2020 initiative. The campus has already missed the initiative’s target of a 75 percent reduction in landfill waste by 2012, and a 2017 UC sustainability report found that UC Berkeley ranks as one of the worst UC campuses when it comes to diverting trash from landfills. Compounded by the fact that these fancy bins separating trash into compost, recycling and landfill aren’t even placed in most areas of campus, it’s obvious that UC Berkeley needs to do a better job when it comes to sustainability.

The campus doesn’t even keep track of how many loads of compost and recycling are being thrown out because of contamination — will the campus’s occasional waste audits alone help it meet its zero waste goals? UC Berkeley needs to be more transparent about how much compost and recycling is getting diverted to landfills so the larger community always knows the campus’ progress.

Of course, campus issues aside, UC Berkeley won’t make any progress without significant buy-in from students. Students consistently throw the wrong things in the wrong bins (King appropriately dubbed these people as “bad apples”) and engage in countless other sustainability faux pas. Stop it! Take the time to sort your trash, and go the extra mile to reduce your waste. It’s your campus too.

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