Looking at how UC Berkeley takes out its trash, plants its trees

photo of eucalyptus grove
Jackie Samsell/Staff
As campus plans to return to in-person instruction in the fall, campus operations director Felix Deleon noted that he and his team are aiming to beautify the outdoor spaces on campus.

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At the start of almost every morning, long before students begin to enter campus, UC Berkeley gets cleaned.

Beginning at 6 a.m., a team of fewer than 20 groundskeepers journey across more than 1,000 acres to make sure campus looks its best by 9 a.m., according to campus lead gardener Carlos Coronado.

“The way it looks at around 9 o’clock is not the way it looks at 6 in the morning,” Coronado said. “At 6 in the morning, it is pretty much trashed. We got basically two hours to clean it.”

As the grounds are divided into zones with designated landscaping leads and staff, Coronado manages campus’s Union Zone, an area that starts at Simon Hall and ends at Haas Pavilion, according to the Berkeley Facilities Services website.

Early in the morning, Coronado said he and his team collect litter, empty trash bins and blow leaves. In the afternoon, they begin to garden, doing everything from pulling weeds to planting trees.

“We love being outside — we work outside,” Coronado said. “We like what we do and we take pride in our work and pleasure in making the campus look good for students and people who work here.”

As campus is open to the public, Felix Deleon, campus operations director, said visitors leave a lot of extra trash that requires cleaning, especially during the weekend.

During the pandemic, an open campus also allegedly led to more unhoused people staying at the school during the day or overnight, often to charge their electronic devices, Deleon added.

However, with many public facilities being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were few restrooms available, presenting campus groundskeepers with new waste disposal challenges.

To address this issue, Deleon noted that members of the campus operations team serviced restrooms at People’s Park more frequently. They also worked with city officials to add more port-a-potties across Berkeley.

With UC Berkeley reopening in the fall, Deleon said he and his team are trying to beautify campus’s outdoor spaces. Landscapers are planting greenery near the Innovative Genomics Institute and Chemistry Plaza and are weeding areas across campus. 

Beyond trash collection and gardening, outdoor campus operations also include fire prevention and collaborative efforts with students, according to Deleon.

With respect to fire mitigation, according to campus’s Wildland Vegetative Fuel Management Plan, the facility services department helps clear dead trees and remove vegetation along roads and structures.

The plan outlines treatments that will affect more than 300 acres of campus land.

Campus also works with other groups, including the Hills Emergency Forum, the Diablo Firesafe Council and neighborhood organizations in Berkeley, to stay up to date with wildfire trends and practices, Deleon noted.

“One of the challenges is climate change,” Deleon said. “If we see our tree canopy, they are hurting — they’re hurting. The trees are telling us something. They are basically giving us signs of what is coming and what we need to prepare for.”

As for students, Deleon added that the school moved away from using pesticides to kill weeds partly due to conversations started by players on UC Berkeley’s volleyball team.

Groups including Bee Campus, a nationwide organization focused on protecting pollinators, have also helped maintain the school’s outdoor spaces.

Taylor Rein, Bee Campus student lead and campus senior, explained that to help protect bees at Berkeley, his organization planted gardens at three campus sites during the COVID-19 pandemic and helped weed areas and remove invasive species from campus.

Students interested in getting involved with Bee Campus can explore its website, Rein noted. They can also register for a DeCal about protecting bees during the fall.

Outdoor spaces are often overlooked or taken for granted, so it is important for students to take note of their surroundings and help out when they can, Rein added.

“Respect the land like you would respect your room,” Rein said. “Treat it as you would your personal living space if you wanted it to look nice.”

Contact Tristan Shaughnessy at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @TristanShaughn2.