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Students Challenged to Recycle, Donate
as Part of Zero Waste Move-out Campaign

Rex Graham | June 14, 2010

Paper, plastic bottles and containers, aluminum cans and foil and other recyclable materials from UC San Diego are separated and compacted into giant bales for recycling.

UC San Diego undergraduates turned what could have been a mountain of trash into charitable donations and recyclables as part of a zero waste move-out campaign at the end of the academic year last week.

Amid celebrations of the end of the year, the 7,700 undergraduates who live in residence halls and on-campus apartments were challenged by a student-made video to donate or recycle dishes, clothes, appliances and other stuff they don’t want before they moved out for the summer.

“I donated my drinking glasses, cups, dishes and kitchen items that I don’t need because I have them at home,” said Jose Bernal, a 19-year-old freshman majoring in computer science who moved back home to Antioch, Calif., for the summer. “I don’t consider myself a ‘greenie,’ but you don’t have to be a greenie to do your part, after all the recycling bins were right next to the dumpsters.”

The video made by UC San Diego student “Econauts” stressed that one of the best and easiest ways anybody can help the environment is to simply recycle.  The video spread virally on the Internet through social networking sites, increasing awareness.

“We like to say that recycling is the ‘gateway drug’ for sustainability,” said Krista Mays, sustainability manager for Housing Dining and Hospitality at UC San Diego. “If students learn to recycle as a routine, it also will be easier for them to stop using plastic grocery bags, disposable beverage bottles and all the other conveniences of our wasteful, throwaway culture.”

The primary beneficiary of all the used clothes, electronics and other reusable items collected during the zero-waste move out is the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Non-perishable food items went to the Hand Up Youth Food Pantry.

At move out, all recyclables – newspapers, paper, cardboard, paperboard, aluminum, glass, plastics, and steel – can go into recycling bins. Batteries and other electronic wastes are handled separately. Last year, students donated about 9 tons of unwanted stuff to DAV during move-out. Had it been tossed as trash, it would have ended up in the city of San Diego’s Miramar Landfill.

Indeed, UC San Diego sustainability experts say the campus’s overarching goal to be zero-waste by 2020 is achievable because students are pitching in. For example, in 2009, the fifth consecutive year that the campus participated in the friendly nationwide competition dubbed “Recyclemania,” it was ranked No. 6 in the Gorilla Prize category for generating 740,006 pounds of recyclables.

Throughout the year, blue recycling bins are ubiquitous fixtures on the UC San Diego campus. Students can’t escape reminders to go green as part of a residential experience that fosters awareness of the environment and social responsibility. Students study under natural light or low-wattage fluorescents, sit on furniture made with reclaimed and recycled materials, bathe in low-flow showers and walk past landscaping irrigated with reclaimed water.

Even the new residence halls and apartments are constructed with sustainable building practices and Housing, Dining and Hospitality services use waste-reduction programs, resource conservation technologies, green cleaning, and environmentally preferred purchasing that includes the use of local vendors and Fair Trade standards when possible.

Throughout the past year, UC San Diego students were involved in many campus initiatives to increase use of recycled products, recycling and waste-reduction efforts:

Jose Bernal, donating his unwanted kitchen items to the DAV.
Photo/UC San Diego, Rhett Miller
  • Students who prefer to eat in their residence hall can now take china plates and cutlery from dining halls with them. By nearly eliminating disposable dinnerware, Housing Dining and Hospitality (HDH) cut its waste by 37 tons compared to the previous year. To help round up the dirty dinnerware, HDH established “Toby’s Spots” collection bins near the exits of residence halls and on-campus apartments.

  • The university installed air hand dryers to reduce the use of paper towels: the forced-air dryers use about 80 percent less energy than conventional, warm-air hand dryers.

  • UC San Diego utilizes a single-stream recycling program to collect paper, aluminum cans and clean foil; glass, tin, and steel beverage and food containers; and plastic bottles and containers: excluding construction and demolition wastes, single-stream recycling cut landfill wastes by 512 tons in 2009 compared with the previous year.

  • The campus also recycles dirt, concrete, yard waste, metal, office furnishings, carpet and other mixed wastes: in 2009 alone, 2,329 tons of construction and demolition debris was recycled.

  • The campus also diverted 2,340 tons of material from the landfill by processing and using it on site as mulch, significantly reducing mulch purchases. By collecting, chipping and mulching its own organic green waste, the campus not only diverts recyclable and reusable material from the landfill, but also lowers vehicle emissions and saves money.

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