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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

UC Davis will not meet zero waste by 2020 goal

While the campus is not on track to meet its zero waste goal, it still plans on taking actions toward waste reduction, energy efficiency

UC Davis is known as an environmentally-conscious university, therefore it comes as little surprise that that university, alongside the entire UC system, has been working on the “Zero Waste 2020” initiative and #MyLastTrash pledge, all part of the first zero waste initiative for college campuses. The campaign’s main goal is to certify all UC campuses as zero waste by 2020, meaning that they divert 90% of campus-wide waste. 

While this goal is considered admirable by many, it has proven to be unrealistic for the campus. Although UC Davis has been working consistently to achieve zero waste status and has made considerable progress, 2020 is in less than two months, and the campus is not expected to meet these goals before the new year. 

The California Aggie’s Editorial Board interviewed Chancellor Gary May recently and asked about whether the university was on track to meet its goals of waste free by 2020 and carbon free by 2025. The chancellor did not directly address the university’s progress on the waste free initiative and, in a follow-up email with Dana Topousis, chief marketing and communications officer for UC Davis, it was revealed that the campus will “not be meeting the zero waste goal for 2020.”

“Our campus sustainability team is preparing a revised zero waste plan with strategies and steps that will be available for review in the coming months,” she said. “The plan will speak to progress to date and emerging barriers.”

This does not discount the progress UC Davis has made since the initiative’s launch in 2009. According to the Engagement and Zero Waste Program manager Sue Vang, UC Davis set and achieved a subgoal to meet 75% diversion of waste by 2012, but unfortunately, much of the campus’ progress has plateaued since then. 

Another component of the initiative that the campus has made considerable progress toward includes meeting a set level of California’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, a concept that UC Davis’ Director of Sustainability and Campus Sustainability Planner Camille Kirk commented on. 

“Those goals actually come from the UC sustainable practices policy,” Kirk said. “One of the things it calls for is for LEED buildings to achieve silver, strive for gold [status]. Since that policy was enacted and we’ve been building things and certifying existing buildings, we have one certified LEED building [that was previously existing], five silver, 20 gold and 11 platinum LEED certified buildings.”

UC Davis and the UC system are still committed to pursuing zero waste and plan on making structural changes in the initiative to make it more attainable. 

As part of these changes, the UC will now be setting annual goals to keep campuses accountable and make it easier to track progress, according to Vang. One particular update to the goal encompasses the Title 24 energy consumption mandate, a state-wide group of energy efficiency standards expected of California buildings. The UC Sustainable Practices Policy originally called for UC campuses to be at 20% below the energy efficiency limits put forth by Title 24 annually. UC Davis is striving to surpass these limits, and is aiming to be at 25% under the limit. This has proven to be a difficult standard to meet, according to Kirk.

“Title 24 is a constantly ratcheting down code, so every three years they update it to get progressively more stringent,” Kirk said. “We are finding that, at a certain point, 25% below something that’s really stringent becomes not actually achievable, so as a whole system we have called for [an option for our campuses.] Either you can do below 20% below Title 24 or you can meet an Energy Use Intensity, EUI, target, [which asks] for campuses to achieve a 2% [EUI] reduction annually.” 

The option to reduce the EUI annually may be a more achievable option. On Davis’ campus, the EUI, measured in British thermal units per square foot per year, has been reduced from 295 to around 160 since 2000, Kirk said. In recent years, the immediate Davis campus has struggled to maintain at least a 2% reduction annually, but in the past year it has revamped its approach to meet these standards. Kirk is hopeful that it will once again be below the 2% reduction mark, noting that the Sacramento campus has consistently been below this mark.

Another major revision puts more focus on reduction of waste, rather than on diversion. Vang expressed that, in the time that has transpired since the initiative first launched, reduction has become the most integral part of becoming zero waste. 

“We’ve had the goal modified in recent years to recognize that reduction is really important, and so we also have a waste reduction goal.” Vang said. “We’ve added a waste reduction goal that by the year 2030, our waste generated per capita will be reduced by 50% from our 2015 to 2016 levels. A lot of that is tied to recognizing that reduction is higher on the hierarchy than recycling and also recognizing that the recycling world is changing, and we need to better think about how we deal with our waste. Reduction and reuse are better ways.”

UC Davis has implemented action on campus in line with these goals to help students focus on their reduction. In each of the service centers in the residence halls, there are donation bins for students’ used clothes and shoes, donated to the Aggie Reuse Store — UC Davis’ very own thrift store — that sells office and art supplies, electronics, crafts and clothes. Aggie Reuse alone has helped divert over 8,100 pounds of waste since its founding in 2012. In addition, the CoHo and Peet’s Coffee shops on campus offer discounts to students who bring their own reusable cups and dishware. 

Another main issue that UC Davis is striving to improve upon is composting on campus. Much of the campus’s waste could be diverted through composting, according to Vang.

“In general, it’s safe to say that our landfill audits are showing that a lot of what we are throwing out that could be diverted is compostable,” Vang said. “Yet at the same time, it’s hard to have composting infrastructure. In the plan that we are writing that is a priority. We need to work more on how to make it easier to compost.”

One way to make composting a priority on campus is through education. Maya Bhadury, a second-year environmental policy analysis and planning and economics double major, is a commissioner on ASUCD’s Environmental Planning and Policy Commission (EPPC). She said the lack of education among students leads to a lot of unnecessary waste. 

“One area of weakness is definitely education, especially regarding CoHo signage,” Bhadury said. “All of the plastics there are compostable and actually contaminate the recycling because a lot of people don’t know that it’s compostable.”

In addition to upgraded composting infrastructure, making UC Davis a zero waste campus is a campus-wide effort. Second-year evolution, ecology and biodiversity major and chairperson of EPPC Kyle Krueger said that although it is overwhelming, there are ways that all students can and should get involved.

“The environmental movement often asks people to make small sacrifices for greater gains,” Krueger said. “Small actions give you a sort of sense of control over our future in terms of sustainability and the environment. I would hope that people begin with these small actions […] and then move on from that and find something that they are really passionate about […] and apply the skill set that [they] have to make some sort of difference.”

Written by: Katherine DeBenedetti — features@theaggie.org


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