Plastics that cannot be recycled will become the focus of a UC Berkeley research center aiming to eliminate waste on campus by the year 2020.
Two weeks ago, the campus secured funding for a zero-waste research center to study where waste on campus is coming from and what can be done to reduce it. The first action the center will take is adoption of the Plastic Disclosure Project, a worldwide initiative asking the business world to report and assess how much plastic waste it is producing.
The project was founded last year by UC Berkeley alumnus Doug Woodring, who witnessed the effects of plastic in local waters and at the North Pacific Gyre, an aggregate of plastic floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Woodring said the project is looking to work with businesses “to hold a mirror up to themselves” and address how plastic production and waste effect plastic pollution in oceans. UC Berkeley will be the first campus in the world to join the project.
“Even though (Berkeley) as a school does not make plastic, as a recipient, it is important to understand what the waste streams are,” Woodring said.
Lin King, manager of Campus Recycling and Refuse Services, said the research center was created as a way for the campus to meet the university’s goal of waste elimination by 2020. According to Lin, 25 percent of the waste that is produced by campus is not recyclable or compostable. A significant portion of what is left, he said, is plastic.
Within the next month, Recycling and Refuse Services will begin a several-month audit of campuswide waste. The study will look at diverse campus buildings — laboratories, student residences, lecture halls — to look at what waste campus is producing, as well as keep an eye on what waste is brought onto campus from outside.
“We are looking at if our vendors are making plastic material that cannot be recycled. We want to make it so that they can take plastic back and make something else from it,” King said. “We are also looking at reuse options. Harvard University, for example, looked at the cost of labware and saw that going back to reusable glassware was cheaper than going with plastic.”
Elizabeth Chan, a 2012 UC Berkeley graduate, was a student in Shanghai when she heard Woodring speak about the project at the nonprofit at which she was interning. She decided to help bring the project to campus.
“I understood the landscape of the environment and knew that Berkeley had a 2020 zero waste goal. I thought PDP would be a perfect avenue for that goal,” Chan said.
After returning to campus the next school year, Chan kept in touch with Woodring and acted as a liaison between the project and campus. She applied for funding for the project through the Green Initiative Fund, a student-funded initiative to support projects to reduce Berkeley’s impact on the environment.
King’s department also applied for green initiative funding for the research center at the same time as Chan. King said the two projects were eventually merged under the same grant because the project fit into the mission of the research center.
Chan, who works on environmental issues in the Bay Area, will continue in an advisory role on the project, but King said he is looking for students to take on implementation of the project in the coming year. After completing a report for the Plastic Disclosure Project, the zero-waste research center will then look at ways to reduce waste.
“I think that it is great that we are not looking to eliminate or ban plastic altogether,” King said. “We are tracking it and working with our vendors to try to find a solution.”