Catalyst for change: Zero Waste October encourages students to rethink how they consume

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Vivian Du/Staff

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Every day, we interact with waste. Whether it be a plastic wrapper for a protein bar, a banana peel, colored flyers flung around on Upper Sproul Plaza or plastic locker slips at the Recreational Sports Facility, we are around it, handling it, living with it. The idea of “zero waste” seems ominous when our surroundings are covered with reminders of our excess.

Despite these barriers, students at UC Berkeley are working hard to encourage other students to accomplish simple and attainable solutions. This month marks itself as Zero Waste October, a time during which we are gearing up for high-consumption holidays, as well as a time to think with more intent about what we use and buy. With the help of ASUC Senator Sylvia Targ, a resolution was passed by the ASUC Senate late in September that officially designated October as Zero Waste Month.

UC Berkeley has been supportive of the efforts that environmental groups are making on campus, and there is an ever-increasing atmosphere of mobilization on school grounds and the larger Berkeley community.

“What better place than UC Berkeley to foster this zero-waste movement and set a precedent for the rest of our nation’s schools and organizations alike?” said Conrad DeMasi, co-president of the Surfrider Foundation UC Berkeley Club.

Campus efforts, along with Berkeley citywide policies — such as the Berkeley Single Use Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance, which prohibits foodware plastics and has been in effect since March — have made Berkeley and the Bay Area as a whole trailblazing examples of progressive environmentalism. An important and fruitful addition to the sustainability community has been the formation of the Zero Waste Coalition — more formally, the ASUC Zero Waste Student Advisory Committee. Nicole Haynes, chair of the committee, spoke on her determination, and the determination of others, to form the coalition in spring 2019: “There were so many groups and projects going on at once for zero waste. It’s so much more productive to get everyone in the same room, to update each other and pull from each others’ strengths.”

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The coalition brings together member organizations from all across campus that work on waste. One representative from each group comes to monthly meetings and commits a total of one to two hours per week of work for the coalition.

“Everyone is really on the same page, with the same goals. We are respectful of each others’ ideas and are fostering a successful environment for change,” Haynes said.

The coalition is spearheading the zero-waste campaign, and under its efforts, the campus has come to life with educational events and pledging. Student involvement, support and eagerness to participate is fostering stronger efforts for campus sustainability. During the initial kickoff for the month on Upper Sproul Plaza, 300 students pledged to participate in Zero Waste October in only two days, blowing the initial goal of 250 out of the water. This was accomplished despite the inconvenience of tree thinning next to Sather Gate on those same days, which reduced visibility for the booths, as students, deterred by the noise, walked around Upper Sproul Plaza instead of by the organizers. The coalition has been catering to the campus community through avid social media outreach and Listservs that provide both tips for reducing waste and challenges for the weeks to come.

The goal of these challenges and activities is to not discourage students who don’t feel confident that they know everything about waste at UC Berkeley. In fact, the coalition is trying hard to recruit pledges from people who aren’t typically involved in sustainability efforts on campus — people who don’t typically think about waste. October is the month to create visibility for the zero-waste movement and reinforce student awareness when it comes to consumer choices. According to Haynes, people do not go from producing a normal amount of waste to suddenly producing no waste, but rather it is a journey. The coalition hopes to provide a positive space where individuals can feel supported in beginning or continuing that journey toward conscientiousness.

Throughout the month, each member organization will be heading various events, and participation will culminate in a final celebration on Memorial Glade with art, music and games Oct. 25. It will be an event that produces no waste, so people are asked to help by bringing their own cups, utensils and plates.

Although much planning and effort has gone into the month of October, the coalition’s drive to go zero waste will not end once November rolls around; it plans to keep the momentum going.

“Zero waste is something you can do for the rest of your life. We don’t want it to end in October. We want this to be a catalyst,” Haynes said. “Educational, productive and invigorating — that’s what we want this month to be.”

Contact Aliya Haas Blinman at [email protected].