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Sustainable 2nd Century

Sustainable 2nd Century

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Campus Progress: Waste

Our Sustainable 2nd Century vision: At UC Davis waste is considered a resource, and the complete life cycle of products — including whether they can be returned to the manufacturer, composted or recycled — is considered before their purchase.

Photo: Truck delivering trash to the UC Davis landfill

UC Davis' waste diversion efforts reduce the amount of waste delivered to the landfill.

Where we are

In 2009-2010, 67 percent of Davis campus waste was diverted away from landfills and instead was recycled, composted or otherwise reused. In the previous year, UC Davis diverted 76 percent of campus waste, which included waste from construction and demolition projects.

The campus focus on reducing waste can be traced back to at least 1975, when Aggie Reuse (formerly Bargain Barn) opened in an effort to more responsibly dispose of surplus equipment, furniture and supplies. Today, Aggie Surplus is the first stop for campus departments looking for a deal: The unit sells about 8,000 items and recycles around 120 tons of electronic waste each year.

Reducing campus waste requires rethinking daily operations for most campus units. Campus eateries, for example, compost pre-consumer kitchen waste. Most campus landscaping waste is chipped for mulch to reduce green waste. The Waste Reduction and Recycling program coordinates many diversion campaigns on campus using a team of student staff, interns, volunteers and collaborating units.

Photo: Sign says "Zero waste event in progress"

Aiming for zero waste

UC Davis is planning for the entire campus to meet the goal of zero waste by 2020. Zero waste means avoiding sending trash to the landfill altogether; instead campus would avoid buying things that can only go to a landfill, and then reuse, recycle or compost the remainders. The definition of zero waste does not include medical and hazardous waste, which are a byproduct of UC Davis' research and medical missions. But eliminating nonhazardous solid waste could avoid an estimated 6,779 tons sent to the landfill per year.

When it opened in 2007, the new Aggie Stadium was the first college stadium in the country to set the goal of zero waste. All of the concessions served at the stadium use recyclable and compostable packaging. In 2008, the Human Resources Administration building became the first designated zero-waste office facility on campus.

Events at UC Davis are also being hosted with the goal of zero waste. As of 2009, all events catered by University Catering come with compostable or recyclable materials, an important component to hosting a green event. In the residence halls, Student Housing supplies and professionally washes reusable plates, cups, bowls and utensils for all student programs through the Aggieware program. Since Aggieware eliminates the purchase of disposable paper products, additional funds are made available for the purchase of sustainable food options.

UC Davis has also hosted the Plan Green conference, to help conference and event planners learn how to plan low-impact or zero-waste events.

Photo: text on paper package with recycled logo says: Premium Recycled Papers

Making sustainable purchases

UC Davis administrative personnel are making an effort to reduce waste with a strategy called environmentally preferred purchasing. Departments are encouraged to consider existing resources, buy surplus or buy recycled products before considering other purchases. The campus purchasing system is online and prioritizes recycled products.

Employees are instructed to consider an item's cost over its whole life cycle, including energy use, water efficiency, how quickly the product will need to be replaced and whether it can be recycled. Energy Star products certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are prioritized, and campus has been successful with campaigns to buy back inefficient refrigerators and freezers as well as exchange older Hewlett Packard printers.

According to UC Davis Policy, paper purchases and publications should have a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer waste recycled content; e-mail, electronic forms and paperless transactions are encouraged.

Photo: Compost bins

Expanding compost options

Composting organic matter from campus dining facilities began as a pilot project in 2001, with pre-consumer food scraps collected from campus kitchens. As of 2009, nearly 98 percent of all organic matter from University Dining Services, including kitchen scraps and uneaten food, is composted. 

While kitchen staff may be accustomed to sorting out food scraps, providing a compost option for consumers at the trash bins is a project in itself. Uneaten food and soiled paper goods are collected at all residential dining rooms, Gunrock Pub, Aggie Stadium and University Catering events. In 2010, compost bins were added to the Memorial Union, with a student-led campaign to inform campus consumers how to most efficiently sort their trash among recycling, compost and landfill options.

Some organic matter collected on campus is sent to a nearby industrial compost facility to create compost for local farms, with other food scraps going to the Biogas Energy Project to test the UC Davis-developed biodigester. Several days a week, truckloads of per-consumer kitchen scraps are also transferred from campus kitchens to the Student Farm for soil conditioning, with the help of Project Compost student staff and volunteers. 

Organic waste collection for composting is active in the campus residence halls. In the past Student Housing ran the Bucket Program, a pilot project in Cuarto residence halls in which participating students collected compost materials in their rooms. The Bucket Program has been replaced by an expanded, centralized program and all three residence halls now have organic waste collection bins. In Potter Hall, every room is currently provided with an organic waste collection bin as part of a pilot program. Student Housing also collects paper towel waste from restrooms in five buildings for composting.

Some offices on campus are also trying pilot compost programs, with bins in the Human Resources Building, John Muir Institute of the Environment and in Mrak Hall office suites.

photo: students moving boxes

Focus on moving in and out

At the beginning and end of each school year, students can generate record levels of trash as they move in or out of a residence hall. To combat filling dumpsters with reusable goods, Student Housing has started a campaign to collect excess paper goods, cardboard, food, appliances and clothing to recycle or donate.

During the three-day move-in drive in fall 2014, students recycled 16,638 pounds of cardboard and 487 pounds of polystyrene (packing foam), diverting 61% of total waste from the landfill. During 2014's Spring Cleaning at the end of the school year, 16,840 pounds of materials (compared to 8,512 pounds in 2013) were donated by students, including 2,362 pounds of non-perishable food (up from 1,147 pounds in 2013) to the Food Bank of Yolo County. In total, 54.9% of move-out waste was was diverted from the landfill, an increase from last year's 51.68% diversion rate. 

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