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Davis, California

Monday, May 20, 2024

A new green paradigm

UC Davis continuously pushes toward sustainability in many aspects both on campus and off, including energy conservation, waste reduction, efficient transportation and others. UC Davis’ policies have made us the No. 1 “Cool School,” according to Sierra Magazine. UC Davis prides itself on being an environmentally friendly campus and constructs and utilizes these policies to ensure we have the smallest environmental footprint possible.

All across campus, people are striving to be more sustainable. This includes the dormitory buildings and dining commons, who ship off all the leftover food to become compost.

Project Compost takes this food away from the Silo and several other locations on campus, including the three resident dining commons and Gunrock Pub, and turns it into nutrient-rich compost at the UC Davis Student Farm and the Zamora Composting Facility, north of Woodland. The compost is used by farmers and vintners to fertilize their soil.

UC Davis’ policy extends far beyond waste reduction, however. UC Davis’ construction policy aims to construct new buildings that conform to the highest environmental standards. Even older structures have been improved over time to improve their efficiency.

Sid England, the assistant vice chancellor of Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, elaborated on how UC Davis continues to move toward sustainability, even in older structures.

“We give them [a] tune-up, just like how you take care of your car. We go through to make improvements to keep old buildings up to date,” he said.

Another part of UC Davis’ sustainable campus life is the campus and city transportation, Unitrans. As a major part of student life, Unitrans has also taken great strides to be a convenient and environmentally sustainable mode of transport.

“Almost all our buses have been converted to run on clean-burning compressed natural gas (CNG) … Out of our fleet, only a few run on biodiesel,” said Teri Sheets, Unitrans assistant general manager.

Since 1972, Davis Waste Removal has been responsible for dealing with off-campus waste. By 1976, DWR had taken over the Davis recycling program and now allows 24/7 drop-offs for recycling.

“In 2012, we diverted 21,025 tons from the landfill. This total includes green waste, food waste — a pilot project — and the usual recycled materials [such as] paper, glass, cans, plastic and cardboard,” said John Geisler, an operations manager from Davis Waste Removal. “I’d like residents and students to know that they can recycle all the same materials whether they live in a single-family home or an apartment complex.”

Both UC Davis and the City of Davis continue to improve their sustainability through research.

Another piece of technology to come out of UC Davis’ green research programs is a biodigester created by Ruihong Zhang, a UC Davis professor of biological and agricultural engineering. The biodigestor is capable of taking our waste and converting it into usable energy for our campus. Using anaerobic respiration, bacteria in the biodigestor break down our food waste and create methane gas that we then burn for energy.

“Starting very soon, most likely in the next few weeks, we will begin construction on a biodigester for [the] Davis campus,” England said. “It will create energy for [the] campus from waste.”

The new biodigestor will divert thousands of tons of biodegradable waste away from landfills and compost heaps, and turn it into usable energy for the city and campus.

UC Davis has set a goal to drastically reduce its carbon footprint by the year 2020. The goals include reducing greenhouse emissions to the levels they were at in 1990, to achieve zero waste sent to landfills, to have 20 percent of campus food come from sustainable sources and to reduce potable water use by 20 percent.

UC Davis has reached and surpassed the carbon footprint goal years ahead of schedule. If UC Davis continues these sustainable policies with the same fervor, the university can hope to become one of the greenest campuses in the country, and set a strong example for sustainable institutions worldwide.

KELLY MITCHELL can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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