The hunger of an overworked, sleep-deprived UC student is a force to be reckoned with. And it’s not something our campus takes lightly, lining every dining hall with infinite entrees and produce that are magically replaced with each ravenous feeding. The daily smorgasbord and buffet-style dining are responsible for two things: gratitude from the growing college kids it serves, and food waste. Lots of food waste.

A glance at the food labels in any given dining hall would prove our campus chummy with the organic movement. We utilize gardens and food co-ops, and we even have compost stations at all 10 colleges. So, we’re doing all we can, right?


However environmentally conscious we strive to be, there are still copious amounts of food waste and trash at the end of the day, each and every day. Right now, our campus has a diversion rate of about 50 percent, meaning that half of all the waste we produce goes to beneficial reuses like compost or recycling. The other half takes a one-way trip to the dump.

So it’s true, we are flexing our greener muscles. But it’s time to up our game and get more aggressive. A friendly gesture toward a greener tomorrow simply is not enough anymore. A few random compost bins here and there won’t cut it. 

The UC Office of the President has put forth a goal for future waste practices UC-wide, hoping to up our current diversion rate to 75 percent by 2012 and dump only a quarter of our waste. By 2020 we are aiming for a zero-waste policy, reusing everything and bidding the local landfill a permanent adieu.

Although lofty, this goal is not out of reach. But UCSC has to take some progressive measures soon, or this vision of a cleaner campus could very well get dumped, along with that 50 percent of our oh-so-reusable waste.

As a means of achieving this goal, it’s time we revamped our compost system. Currently only semi-effective in its disjointed college-by-college state, UCSC’s practice of this sometimes smelly art form isn’t living up to potential. First of all, the UCSC waste that is composted is not even handled on campus. We ship it off so those better equipped can literally do our dirty work for us. With the amount of students here and the sheer strength of the average college appetite, this route will no longer be effective if we plan to achieve our zero-waste goal. We eat too much and throw away too much to send everything offsite. Self-sufficient sustainability is the name of the game. Put on your big-kid pants, UCSC, and learn to take care of your own mess.

What we need is a cohesive system, a campus united under old banana peels, wilting lettuce, and eventually, rich, reusable soil. It is necessary that the various compost stations around campus have communication, and that we gear up enough as a school to handle the waste we produce. This would give us a jump-start in claiming this zero-waste beacon, and also make for a strong system with some staying power. It’s a solid first step, and while it’s not the only road toward zero waste, it’s definitely one of the most important.

The good news is we just have to keep doing what we’re good at here in Santa Cruz: play up that eco-friendly vibe like it’s going out of style. But we could certainly do with a little more organization and fine-tuning. And where better to hone our skills than the place where we stuff our faces? The College Eight dining hall has the right idea, utilizing a “food pulper” that mashes leftover food together to make it more compostable. This is a squishy step in the right direction. In fact, adding a pulper in every campus dining hall could be just the step needed to help us build the foundation for an improved compost system. 

The intention is good so far, but now it’s time to really organize and do something constructive with the heaping pile of waste before us. Let’s dig in.