Why is UC Santa Cruz still purchasing single-use landfill products? Why haven’t you done a campus-wide waste audit? When will you present the campus community with a plan to achieve zero waste? What are you doing to get UCSC out of the bottom three UCs in waste diversion from landfills?
These are the four questions that Enviroslug’s No Time to Waste campaign is demanding that Chancellor Larive’s administration answer.
Enviroslug, a collective of environmental student organizations, launched the No Time to Waste campaign in 2021. Enviroslug is made up of three organizations — the Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP), the Student Environmental Center (SEC), and the Campus Sustainability Council (CSC).
Internal issues and a lack of communication from administration has made pushing for the No Time to Waste demands difficult, said Lila Roginski , SEC’s assistant program manager.
“They can’t yell at us if we are not there […] is the logic [the administration] has taken,” Roginski said. “That’s why we have not been able to speak to someone higher up that can do something about [our goals].”
UCSC’s 2020 Zero Waste Goal was to divert 90 percent of municipal solid waste away from landfills and into recycling or composting. This goal was missed by 40 percent.
Today, the 2020 goal still hasn’t been met. In fact, the percentage of campus waste being sent to landfills increased by about seven percent from 2020 to 2022.
In 2021, UCSC’s waste generation per person skyrocketed to almost five times higher than 2020’s numbers as students returned to campus during the pandemic.
UCSC sends its compost and recycling to ReGen Monterey, a waste management facility partnered with the campus. In an interview with facility staff, Roginski learned that the quality of UCSC’s compost is often below the facility’s standards.
“[If the compost] isn’t food waste, it gets composted to mush, then sent to [the] landfill,” Roginski recalled. They said that contamination is partially caused by a lack of education about waste sorting.
This confusion is often due to products’ misleading marketing, said ESLP’s assistant programs manager Kali Lucas.
“Products, like Greenware company plastic cups, say they are […] made from plants, but the truth is it is not compostable; [rather] it is essentially a plastic that is not recyclable,” Lucas said.
UCSC made a switch from greenwashed landfill products to single-use compostable products in 2021. But, according to Lucas, the switch won’t necessarily improve diversion rates due to larger contamination issues.
“[The switch] does not take away from the fact that […] UCSC’s waste management facility actually can’t compost productively what we have been giving them,” Lucas said.
The UCSC Grounds Services team collects and manages UCSC’s on-campus waste. Grounds Services Manager Julie Sutton and Grounds Services Administrative Analyst Chris Leverenz said in a written comment that, while 2021’s data was skewed by the effects of the pandemic, the diversion rate specifically has “generally dropped in recent years”.
Sutton and Leverenz said the “increase of single-use disposable items” during the pandemic was just one barrier to achieving zero waste. They also cited a lack of funding and difficulties finding nearby material handling facilities willing to accept UCSC’s waste.
However, the campus has taken some action to mitigate waste issues. In 2022, the campus launched the Zero Waste Action Committee, which launched a pilot program at Porter College in fall 2022. The program consisted of “placement of exterior zero waste stations, zero waste stations in Porter B residence hall hallways, consistent signage and bin infrastructure, and a door-to-door compost program in the Porter apartments,” according to Sutton.
A waste audit on the program was conducted on Feb. 2, but it was not campus- wide, as Enviroslug demanded. The audit was conducted in Porter B residence hall, where the Zero Waste Action Committee had already implemented the pilot program.
Sutton said the audit sorted 133 pounds of waste and found that over a third of recycling waste was contaminated. It also found that over half of the items being sent to landfill could have been recycled or composted.
Enviroslug has demanded that the audit’s results be shared with the campus. Sutton said that data on the pilot program’s effects will be released soon.
Considering the administration’s lack of progress towards zero waste, Enviroslug has rerouted its campaign towards strengthening UCSC’s network of student organizers.
“We came into this campaign with the understanding that it’s a campaign. It’s not gonna last a year, it might not last five years. It might be a ten-year struggle, we don’t know,” Roginski said. “It’s a long term goal, and we’re going to keep fighting for it.”