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Sunday, April 14, 2024

University advances toward zero waste by 2020

Although 2020 may seem far away, UC Davis is avidly ambling toward its goal of being waste free.

The meaning of being zero waste is having no waste going to a municipal landfill, said Sid England, assistant vice chancellor of administrative and resource management.

UC Davis currently dumps into a landfill, which began in 2001 and has an estimated lifetime of 30 years. However, the campus’ efforts to be zero waste by 2020 cut into the longevity of the landfill.

“Every few years we look at the operation of the landfill and make sure it makes economic sense,” said David Phillips, director of utilities.

If the drive to zero waste continues in a progressive manner, the use of the landfill will continue to decrease.

“The issue with the landfill has to do with the economy scale – the cost doesn’t work out well as you go lower and lower,” Phillips said. “The landfill has the capacity to hold 500 tons of waste a day, however, we use more like 70 tons a day; the cost is fixed no matter the amount of waste.”

If the situation arises where the need for a landfill no longer makes sense economically, waste will likely go to Yolo County. It will be a symbiotic relationship because Yolo County, by taking the campus’ waste, will be bettering its own economy, Phillips said.

In lieu of the goal of zero waste, programs are being introduced and established on campus – among these programs is the biodigester.

“The biodigester is a facility that will take organic waste that will turn them into bio gas to use as an energy source,” England said.

The project has already received two grants: $2.5 million from the Department of Energy and $500,000 from the California Energy Commission. The grant money will be utilized to test the feasibility of implementing such a tool.

“Part of testing the feasibility is answering the questions of whether we have the right feed-stocks, determining how much energy it would produce, how much it would cost, what it would cost to operate the facility and the best way to use the gas,” England said.

Initially, green waste, such as lawn trimmings and landscape trimmings, bedding and animal waste from animal facilities and food waste from the University Dining Commons would end up in the biodigester. The production from these materials will be telling of future actions.

“When we produce the biogas there are different things we can do: generate electricity or clean it up and put it in local gas distribution systems so as to offset the current gas we are using for heating and transportation,” England said.

The likeliness of the biodigester will be researched this summer.

Another recently established program that is reaching for zero waste is by the ASUCD Coffee House by the Memorial Union. The Coffee House is active in sustainability through composting and purchasing preferences.

“We control what comes out of it – all the supplies and all the materials will be zero waste; obviously there are several things we are still working on such as the coffee lids and the sushi boxes,” said Michelle La, waste reduction and recycling coordinator.

Additionally, the “mini-bin system” is being implemented in offices and buildings around campus. The mini bin is a large blue recycling bin with a more petite black trash bucket attached to it.

“Most offices have only a metal bin for only trash and they put everything in there,” La said.

Because of the small space for trash, people are encouraged to reduce their trash and increase recycling – they can’t put food waste in the trash bin because it’s too small and attracts pests and odors, La said. This system encourages people to use Tupperware, reusable mugs and less plastic bags in order to achieve the goal of zero waste.

AMIR BEGOVIC can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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