Time to face the waste: What UC Berkeley and local organizations are doing to minimize landfill waste

Priya Sundaresan/File

Standing three or more in a row, one of the most familiar sights across the UC Berkeley campus is, in fact, its trash cans. Many of the waste bins, marked according to specified material, sport the phrase “Zero Waste by 2020,” calling on students, faculty and visitors alike to do their part in the campuswide project to promote sustainability. As people on campus throw trash in the differently marked bins, the UC Berkeley administration and Cal Zero Waste are at work to meet their goal of reducing waste in less than two years. In other areas of the campus and local community, student and grassroots organizations are promoting their own projects, programs and campaigns of sustainability.

Since UC Berkeley launched its zero-waste initiative plans in 2013, Cal Zero Waste has and continues to sponsor many different projects. One can see this in the compostable bulk bins in the campus dining halls, for example, but also in other programs such as ReUse.

The campus has reduced landfill waste by 42 percent in the last 10 years and is aiming for a diversion goal of 90 percent of waste by 2020.

ReUse, according to Cal Zero Waste’s website, “reduces 2-5 tons of waste annually” by operating 18 stations on campus that redistribute secondhand clothing, school supplies and textbooks. Its campus performance overview report states that Cal Zero Waste’s efforts are on track.

According to Kira Stoll, director of sustainability in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administration, the administration’s diversion rate for municipal solid waste is 54 percent. The campus has reduced landfill waste by 42 percent in the last 10 years and is aiming for a diversion goal of 90 percent of waste by 2020. This summer, Facilities Services and Cal Zero Waste have installed more than 40 multiple-stream exterior bins.

“They also have in the works rolling out to every campus operated building interior multi-stream bin systems – these systems emphasize diversion,” Stoll said in email.

Cal Zero Waste has photos of the nine different types of bins, including deskside bins and compost barrels, that it administers on campus, as listed on its website.

Stoll added that the campus’s goal to divert 90 percent of waste by 2020 is both “big and exciting,” saying in an email that the community and students on campus are very motivated to “reduce our impacts and make this happen.”

Across the UC Berkeley campus on Bancroft Way, one such effort can be seen in the office of the Berkeley Student Food Collective. The food collective, founded in 2010, was designed to be a zero-waste grocery store. Students there cook food that would otherwise go to waste, resulting in 300 meals sold from a price of $1-$5 on a pay-what-you-want basis.

“The Food Collective is heartened to see strong stances from UCOP on zero waste — among other resource management issues — but also recognizes that the environmental justice outcomes must continue to be demanded by students organizing together.” Jeff Noven, its executive director, said in an email.

With the help of the Basic Needs Security Committee, a campus organization dedicated to ending “hunger, malnourishment and homelessness,” according to its website, as well as other campus partners, Noven and other members of the food collective hope to expand this current model of processing UC Berkeley’s recovered food across the entire campus.

Ending his response, Noven stressed the need for further advocacy. “The Food Collective is one of many justice-oriented institutions crafted from student struggle; it should not — and will not — be the last,” Noven said in the email.

Abrah Steward and Nicole Haynes, a UC Berkeley sophomore and junior, respectively, may agree with Noven’s stance on continuing the fight. They are co-coordinators of Wildlife Over Waste, a CALPIRG campaign currently working toward a statewide ban on polystyrene, the foam substance more popularly known as Styrofoam.

Their primary goal is to bring the citywide ban on foam containers to the state level. Within the next few months, they will also focus their efforts on contacting local businesses in Berkeley, urging them to give up single-use plastic containers as well as promoting a polystyrene ban in surrounding areas.

In addition, they would like to promote an incentivized system in which people can bring in their own reusable containers for discounts. According to Haynes, Philz Coffee on College Avenue already has a incentive-based system that rewards its customers.

“The Food Collective is one of many justice-oriented institutions crafted from student struggle; it should not — and will not — be the last.” — Jeff Noven

Other businesses in Berkeley, such as Eureka! on Center Street, have a straw-upon-request policy, only giving compostable paper straws to people who ask for them.

“There is no ‘away,’ ” Steward said, referring to the notion that noncompostable waste does not leave the environment naturally, even it is throw ‘away’.

Regarding campus efforts, she is in particularly disappointed about the phasing out of reusable containers formerly offered by Cal Dining.

“There is always work to be done, especially when we see administration backsliding on positively progressive choices,” Steward said.

From within UC Berkeley to local organizations to grassroots movements and local businesses, the city and campus environment is always changing. The UC Berkeley campus and the city of Berkeley have long been the home of multiple environmental efforts. If anything, the projects undertaken today by the entities mentioned above are evidence that it’s time to face the waste — time to reduce by building on past and present progressive ideals that go behind and beyond the trash bins students walk past on campus.

“Education and behavior change is key to success,” Stoll said in an email. “Our whole community needs to work together so we recycle and compost everything that can be and find new and better ways to reduce and reuse.”

Contact Kristen Hull at [email protected]