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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

UC Davis will not meet zero waste goal, fails to be transparent about it

Editorial Board calls upon university to release contingency plan

Earlier this quarter, when The California Aggie Editorial Board sat down with UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, we asked him a straightforward question: Is UC Davis on track to achieve the UC-wide goals of being waste-free by 2020 and going carbon neutral by 2025?

“We are on track to get to carbon neutral by 2025,” May said. “We have some goals beyond that — to get to more renewables, less waste, we don’t have specific targets or dates on those yet.”

May neglected to answer the first part of our question. Rather than be transparent regarding the university’s progress on its waste-free initiative, he instead chose to focus his answer on the carbon neutral initiative. It was disheartening that the chancellor did not acknowledge the fact that the university would not be meeting its goal of being waste free by 2020.

Our suspicions that the zero waste goal had failed was confirmed after UC Davis Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Dana Topousis sent the Editorial Board a follow-up email after the interview, and said that the university “will not be meeting the zero waste goal by 2020.”

This initiative was lofty to begin with — the mere words “zero waste” alone command thoughts of rigid diversion strategies and benchmarks. Aspirational goals, however, require efforts of matched intensity, which sadly was not seen on the UC Davis campus.

This is not to say that our campus hasn’t made impressive progress, such as placing compost bins around campus and constructing LEED certified buildings. The Environmental Policy and Planning Commission within ASUCD is also a vocal advocate for these types of goals.

Admirable as these efforts might be, UC Davis has an undergraduate student population of over 30,000. In order to become zero waste, there needs to be broader campus support and participation from both the student body as well as administration.

How is the sale of countless single-use plastic bottles every year at on-campus stores conducive to this campus-wide initiative? What is the point of supplying students compostable utensils if compost bins are only accessible in a select few areas on campus? Yes, being zero waste by 2020 is an enormous and important goal — one that would have been potentially feasible if UC Davis had made greater commitments earlier on.

Moreover, where was the notification when the administration realized our campus wouldn’t be meeting this goal? For a university that prides itself on being one of the most sustainable universities in the world, transparency regarding sustainability goals must be more of a priority. Now that we are not on track to meet this goal, we call on the UC Davis administration to release a contingency plan immediately.

The Editorial Board believes that increased transparency and genuine effort would have gone a long way in the fight for sustainability — a goal not just important for our status as a university, but one with a wide-reaching global impact. Hopefully the student body and administration can fully commit to the new goals that are expected to be released in the coming months.

Written by: The Editorial Board


  1. He probably didn’t want to address it because it’s an absurdly overambitious goal that had zero chance of being met in the first place; you would be writing a piece about how “disheartening” it is no matter what he said. Instead you should be focusing your scorn on those who actually created and approved of such a preposterously unrealistic initiative, and push for a more thoughtful and realistic approach to environmental responsibility.


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