Happy Earth Day! How to actually reach zero waste by 2020

Daniela Cervantes/File

Happy Earth Day, Bears! Today’s the day to celebrate Mother Earth and all that she gives to us, so let’s show her a little love and do our part in taking care of this lovely planet we call home.

In case you’ve forgotten or you’re a newbie to UC Berkeley, a few years ago, the campus made a little promise of reaching “zero waste by 2020.” Sure, we’ve made many steps toward zero waste and sustainability — but considering global warming’s clearly tangible effects in this year alone and the United Nations’ alarming report of the catastrophic effects of global warming by the year 2030, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go. So, in celebration of Earth Day, here are 20 tips to help you take better care of planet earth and get our campus one step closer to reaching zero waste by 2020.

  1. Use a reusable coffee cup and water bottle when you’re out and about on campus! This is a no-brainer, but hey, we all forget from time to time. Carry one in your backpack wherever you go in case you need to stop at Caffe Strada or Free Speech Movement Cafe on your way to or from campus. (Bonus: Nonreusable coffee cups now cost an extra 25 cents in Berkeley, so this is a great money-saver too.)
  2. Ask for no straw when you order out, or, if you’re getting coffee at one of the popular shops on campus, don’t take a straw! If you’re really wanting to live that #strawlife to avoid those wretched coffee stains on your teeth, buy a set of reusable metal straws and keep them in your backpack!
  3. Compost, compost, compost! One of the great things about UC Berkeley is that composting is already huge here — just look at all of the compost bins on and around campus! But, it could easily be bigger and better. If you’re out and about on campus or in the dining hall, or even at home, toss any vegetable scraps (make sure to also avoid dairy and animal products!) and paper plates, napkins or cardboard boxes you have into a compost bin. Yes, that includes pizza boxes too! If you’re at home, try setting up your own compost bin and get in on the composting game yourself!
  4. Not to shade any of the people handing out flyers on Sproul, but avoid collecting free items (colloquially known as “junk”) that you’re not planning on using in the future. If you do collect a flyer on Sproul, be sure to head to the nearest recycling bin after you’re done “reading” it.
  5. Bring a reusable bag with you whenever you go shopping. Be sure to leave one in your backpack just in case! This is also a great way to save money and avoid collecting more waste!
  6. Meal plan and prep to avoid extra food waste. Set aside time during each week to plan out your meals for the week and make as much as you can in one fell swoop to last you throughout the week so you don’t have any excess later on. (Bonus: Bring your meals with you to campus in a reusable lunch bag to avoid eating out and accumulating more excess waste!)
  7. Avoid using Postmates and Uber Eats and other food delivery services frequently. Yes, easier said than done (we are lazy college students after all). But, on top of the money you save by not ordering Postmates every night, you’re also avoiding all of the plastic waste that food delivery and takeout create. Plus, you’re saving a driver a trip to your house, therefore, reducing carbon emissions, so go you!
  8. Make your own shampoo, deodorant and face masks! Yes, you CAN do this yourself! It’s a fun activity that saves a ton of material waste, and you can put it in reusable containers to save even more. Check out our very own DIY face mask recipe here!
  9. Swap cotton rounds and other disposable hygiene products for reusable rounds and towels.
  10. Go paperless for all of your bills! And, when you’re at stores, say, “No, thanks” when the cashier asks if you want your receipt, or ask for it to be sent to you digitally. Yay for going paperless!
  11. Swap tea bags for a loose-leaf reusable tea dispenser. It’s a common misconception that tea bags can be composted, but they must be thrown into an actual waste bin, so pick up a reusable tea dispenser and some loose-leaf tea to avoid excess waste!
  12. On the same note, if you have a Keurig coffee maker, avoid using single-use K-cups. Sure, they’re easy and convenient, but they have to be thrown out into the waste bin, so if you do have a Keurig, pick up a reusable K-cup from Amazon and fill up a canister with coffee grounds.
  13. Use both sides of the paper you have. Scratch paper is your best friend. Zero waste is about zero waste in general, including the items you recycle, so reduce the amount of paper you’re using!
  14. Swap out disinfecting wipes for a reusable rag and cleaning solution. You can even take a stab at making your own cleaning solution in a reusable container!
  15. Trade your plastic disposable razor for a metal safety razor.
  16. Ditch the paper towels and use reusable towels in your kitchen instead. This is a concept that is overlooked, and often times, we don’t even realize how many paper towels we’re using in a single day because it’s so ingrained in our daily lives. Save money and leave those giant paper towel rolls behind.
  17. Be more mindful of what and how much you’re purchasing in general. Always purchase with intent and think about how much use you’ll get out of each item you’re buying. Also, consider how much packaging the items you’re buying are wrapped in, and if you can, buy things without the package!
  18. Amazon is a popular resource for everyday items, so whenever you’re ordering from Amazon (yes, we did tell you to order those reusable K-cups off Amazon), in the notes for your order, put “zero-waste household” to signal to them that you want as little packaging as possible when your items are delivered. It’s a simple step, so don’t forget!
  19. Shop local. Sure, Amazon is convenient, but when you can and have the time to, shop at your local stores to keep the packaging and waste to a minimum.
  20. Pick up litter when you see it. This is a simple action that’s often overlooked, but if you pay attention to your surroundings, you’d be surprised at how much trash and waste you’d find on the ground on and around campus. Pick it up and throw it in the appropriate bin when you see it (when in doubt, Google it!).

So, Bears. Get out there and get your zero-waste lifestyle on. By easing into applying these 20 easy tips into your daily life, you can make zero waste 2020 totally tangible and possible! Happy Earth Day!

Chloe Lelchuk is the blog editor. Contact Chloe Lelchuk at [email protected].