UCI’s sustainability efforts were featured in a recent UC-Vox collaborative video which emphasized the importance of transforming sustainability practices to emphasize reducing and reusing items rather than recycling or throwing away single-use items.
The viral video focuses on the impact of take-out and food service-based waste on efforts to create a waste-free world. The video encourages restaurateurs to discontinue offering customers plastic, single-use bags and using extra materials in their packaging that customers may be unsure of how to, or whether they even can, be recycled or composted.
As a result of this confusion, packaging makes up the largest portion of municipal waste – close to 200 million tons — and single-use items like plastic cutlery and bags make up another 10 percent of waste.
The video suggests solutions as simple as refusing those extra plastics that turn into waste instead opting for reusable items. The total amount of container and packaging waste worldwide has been “relatively flat since 2000” according to a Vox press release. However, this does not mean reducing waste is any less important.
“We really do need to prioritize reduce and reuse over recycling,” said Anne Krieghoff, UCI’s Recycling and Sustainability Manager. “Recycling is great to deal with a product once it’s already in your hand. But waste minimization is more important.”
The way that we go about producing and disposing of our everyday goods contributes to 29 percent of greenhouse gases, the video explains, as compared to 25 percent from lighting our homes and 15 percent caused by local transport.
“All this waste isn’t just a problem we can solve with recycling alone.” said M. Sanjayan, visiting researcher at UCLA and narrator for the video, said.
UCI is ahead of many campuses in its pursuit of a zero-waste future. The campus has erected 160 water fountains and water refill stations, saving approximately three million plastic bottles every year, and encouraging the use of single, reusable water bottles.
At UCI, disposable water bottle sales have gone down by 30 percent in the last couple of years.
“It’s really important that we get away from thinking of anything as a single use item.” said Krieghoff.
Reusable take-out boxes are also in use in dining halls like the Anteatery, a practice that has spread as far as UC Merced. At UC Merced alone, that adds up to saving at least 350,000 containers from circulation, with take-out measured at around three quarters of meals served at dining halls.
Increasing the popularity of the sustainable method is all a campus has to do in order to make it an integral part of the culture, said Julie Sagusay, food services manager at UC Merced.
“Sustainability is something that once you catch wind of it, once you understand it, it becomes embedded in your personality.”
Krieghoff showed the same concern: “How can we change our processes little by little by little each year until they become the way we do things?”
According to M. Sanjay, it is about changing culture.
To date, UCI has reduced their waste to the point that 80 percent of the waste is diverted from landfills as they work toward their goal of zero-waste, and hope that through the UCI Carbon Neutrality Initiative’s video series Climate Lab, of which the viral video was a part, the message to reduce and reuse before you recycle can spread not only to students, but to the world at large.