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Recycling and Waste Reduction at UCI

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Recycling bins around UCI’s campus are meant to encourage students to recycle. But where exactly does the waste go? 

Anne Krieghoff, the sustainability and recycling project manager at UCI, recently published the 2021 Solid Waste Diversion Plan (SWDP). The report summarizes UCI’s approach to waste diversion and minimization. 

“Our approach has been multi-layered as we work with the many different campus units and businesses. Not all processes work with every building on campus, but we have been able to implement standardized bin types, colors, and signs that are useful in all areas,” the report reads.

The sustainability program at UCI focuses on recycling more than just plastic, directing their focus to organics, which compostable items, such as unfinished foods and soiled napkins.

“Although organics are produced throughout campus, we focus our resources on the largest producers which are dining areas, animal bedding and groundskeeping. This focus on organics has greatly reduced the amount of material sent to landfill in the last 8 years,” the report reads.

The SWPD applies to all waste generated within UCI, with its boundaries being the main campus, health sciences, the sports complex, the student center, the Bren Events Center, student housing, the Anteater Recreation Center (ARC), the Central Plant and EH&S. In total, this amounts to about 1500 acres of land. 

The goal of the SWPD is to reduce the amount of waste by a certain percentage every few years. Their slogan: “Zero Waste.”

The goal for 2020, which was to reduce waste by 15% from the 2015/2-16 academic year, was not met due to the pandemic. Now, with students and staff back on campus, Krieghoff hopes to continue striving to reach the goal. 

“We plan to reach this goal by continuing to reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost our campus waste. The objective of Zero Waste is to decrease the amount of material going to landfill and increase the amount of material that is composted or recycled which helps us maintain a cleaner environment,” the report reads.

Over the last 10 years, UCI has introduced standardized signs to help students recycle on campus. These signs intend to clarify what types of waste are allowed in recycling bins. There  are signs for compost, landfill and recycling bins, with images of various waste categories depicted on each sign. The pictures and colors on the signs allow students to instantly recognize the types of waste that are supposed to go into each bin. 

“I love how detailed the signs are. It makes it easy for me to know where I should throw away my trash,” first year math student Madison Roemmich said. “When I don’t know whether something is recyclable or not, I tend to just throw it away in the regular trash just to be safe, so the signs really help me recycle more.”

The university has fulfilled some diversion achievements listed in the report. 

“UCI has an 80% diversion rate, meaning that 20% of its solid waste is going to landfill, while the remaining 80% of waste is recycled, reused or composted,” the report said. “The areas to target in order to maximize recycling potential in 2021 are offices, labs, lecture halls, student housing communities, and campus events.”

In 2010, UCI launched a commingled recycling program that collects glass, paper, plastics and cardboard in one stream.

“We converted approximately 10,000 recycling bins in offices and copy rooms from “mixed paper only” bins to commingled recycling bins (if the material is CLEAN and DRY). The program most recently was expanded to 200 general assignment classrooms,” the report reads. 

The idea of commingled recycling is new to many students.  

“I remember in high school the only thing we would recycle was paper … I like how UCI allows us to recycle more,” Roemmich said. 

According to students like Roemmich, UCI’s recycling program has helped make on-campus recycling easy and efficient. Krieghoff’s office has plans to continue to grow its program and eliminate more waste.

A plan that SWPD hopes to invest in is a “Zero Waste” building to encourage students to learn more about being less wasteful and recycling.

Sabrina Contreras is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at sabriec1@uci.edu.