UC Berkeley ‘on track’ on zero waste 2020 journey

Allen Zeng/Staff

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Fifteen years ago, UC Berkeley set out to reduce its contributions to landfills and become zero waste by 2020 and campus’ sustainability website notes it is “on track” to reach this goal.

Specifically, UC Berkeley aims to divert 90% of its municipal solid waste by the end of 2020. Campus currently diverts more than half of its optimum municipal solid waste stream to recycling, composting or reuse.

Kira Stoll, campus director of sustainability, said in an email that the issue of waste is a global environmental problem. She added campus hopes to develop and apply a different set of strategies to alleviate the impacts that waste creates.

“Our community, particularly students, really care about reaching zero waste and are leading efforts to change how we use and reuse materials and phase out non essential items,” Stoll said in an email.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, which is used by more than 900 colleges and universities to establish environmental and social sustainability values, granted UC Berkeley a gold rating in 2018.

The results of the waste reduction project are reflected in UC Berkeley’s STARS Waste score of seven out of 10 available points, according to UC Berkeley’s sustainability website.

The ASUC Senate recently passed a resolution officially recognizing the month of October as Zero Waste October in efforts to aid reaching the goal.

Nicole Haynes, plastic-free seas coordinator at CalPIRG and chair of the Zero Waste Coalition said this month involved highlighting and focusing on the ways that individuals can reduce waste. She added this could entail sorting trash correctly or purchasing products that have less single-use packaging.

Haynes, however, said she has seen an increase in single-use packaging that has slowed the shift to zero waste.

“I think there is this disconnect that we all want to reduce our waste, but the products that we keep buying and need to continue to buy just aren’t being packaged in the way that allows us to not put harmful things into the landfills,” Haynes said.

The campus uses a dual-stream recycling system, which separates paper and cardboard from cans and bottles, providing a cleaner stream of diverted material and yielding higher recycling revenues, according to the recently released campus Zero Waste Plan.

Cal Zero Waste intends to expand and grow its current portfolio of programs such as the Refreshing Refills program, which will include refillable items other than coffee mugs and water bottles.

“The goal is still 13 months away; even so, that’s not that much time when you consider how many buildings there are,” Haynes said. “We go talk to the custodians and figure out what would work with the custodian’s schedule, get it approved by a fire marshal — making it quite a task.”

Haynes said she believes the installment of landfill, recycling and compost bins in all buildings across campus should be completed as soon as possible.

There is still a large amount of organic material that ends up in the city’s landfill bins, according to Stoll. She added the city would achieve its goal sooner if individuals sorted their trash and compost properly.

“Students are playing a key role in reducing our landfill waste and improving recycling, composting, reuse, and more,” Stoll said in the email. “With bins in place and great education and engagement, this goal is achievable.”

Contact Olivia González Britt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Oliviagbritt.