While UC Davis is known for being a high-ranking public school and premier research institution, it can now add being a top recycling campus to résumé.
The R4 Recycling program’s campaign to reduce UC Davis’ waste has led the campus to have the highest 2007 recycling rate of all UC schools – 60 percent. The recycling efforts saved 46,594 million BTUs of energy, equivalent to taking 682 passenger cars off the road, according to R4 Recycling data.
R4 Recycling, a student run program started in 1989, is working to move the campus toward the goal of producing zero waste.
“The University of California system and UC Davis have adopted the goal of 75 percent waste diversion by 2012 and zero waste to the landfill by 2020,” said Michael Siminitus, R4 Recycling coordinator in an e-mail interview. “R4 [Recycling] has taken the lead in moving our campus toward that goal.
“Zero Waste is a goal…. It means no waste burned or sent to landfill, among other things,” Siminitus said. “It requires changes to production and consumption patterns throughout society.”
R4 stands for recycle, reduce, reuse and rebuy. One of R4’s more visible efforts is the green compost bins and blue recycling bins that have popped up all over campus.
“Most of the recycling on campus goes through us,” said Patrick Quest, senior electrical engineering major and communications manager for R4.
“We do indoor pickups, a lot of education and promotion, RecyleMania with student housing and we do all the zero waste events on campus, such as small dinners or luncheons or big events like Picnic Day,” he said.
RecycleMania is a national competition in which college campuses track the amount of materials recycled from student housing and submit their statistics to the competition’s website weekly over the course of 10 weeks.
UC Davis participates in the student housing subdivision of the competition, and to increase motivation for the students, the residence halls compete against each other to achieve the highest amount of recycled materials. UC Davis placed ninth out of the 400 participating campuses with a 38.83 percent cumulative recycling rate, according to the RecyleMania website.
Recycling is not only beneficial for the environment but profitable as well, Quest said. When UC Davis sends waste to a landfill, the university must pay a fee as opposed to using free recycling vendors.
“We have different, various buyers who process and recycle [our recyclables] to make more paper or cardboard or cans and new desks that they can sell,” Quest said. “That is why it’s so important to rebuy – it closes the loop and creates a bigger market for recycled products and helps make recycling more effective.”
R4 Recycling also promotes recycling during special events such as luncheons and dinners on campus in which the program works with catering companies to make sure all materials used are disposable and recyclable. Improvements include using aluminum foil instead of saran wrap and reusable or paper plates instead of plastic plates, said senior biology major Kyla Rogind, a former R4 Recycling zero waste coordinator.
At football games, R4 workers can be seen carrying bins encouraging attendees to recycle.
“It was definitely hard,” Rogind said. “Some people didn’t really understand when they came up to our compost and recycling bins. They didn’t know what to throw away, what can be composted.”
R4 Recycling’s efforts are showing promising results with over 90 percent recycling rates at football games and UC Davis hitting a 60 percent diversion rate last year, saving the campus over a quarter million dollars, Siminitus said.
With oil prices skyrocketing and the cost of living increasing exponentially, many believe the need to reduce waste and conserve natural resources is imperative.
“We will eventually run out of oil and metal and the longer we reuse them the longer it will take for them to use out,” Quest said.
When organics decompose in landfills, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Reducing waste keeps harmful gases from further contributing to global warming.
“Wasting is contributing to global warming, economic woes, deforestation, toxics in the environment and depleting non-renewable sources,” Siminitus said.
R4 encourages students to contribute to the Zero Waste movement with the simple act of throwing a soda can in a recycling bin instead of into the garbage or putting a banana peel in a compost pile.
“You can reduce your global warming impact by recycling everything you can,” Siminitus said. “Compost food scraps and organics. Bring a reusable mug and water bottle (even a lunch box). Everyone can help move us toward Zero Waste.”
WENDY WANG can be reached at email@example.com.