Let’s Talk Trash: A Guide to Zero Waste on Campus

By: Aly Boyce, Cal Zero Waste

Common campus bins - where to sort your waste!

Common campus bins and standardized signage – where to sort your waste!

At Cal Zero Waste, we love to talk trash- that is, about campus waste! We are working towards zero waste by 2020 through education, outreach and physically changing the waste system on campus. By providing bins and proper disposal, along with education components, we hope to change the traditional thought of trash. We hope that instead it being something that disappears once it is thrown into a bin, those on UC Berkeley’s campus will consider their waste a resource that can be reused or a contribution to a landfill, recycling plant or compost pile.

Ever been confused by which trash to put in which bin? Here are some general guidelines.

  • Many of the products you use every day can already be diverted from the landfill simply by sorting properly.
  • All paper products including ones with staples or even spiral paper notebooks can be put into the paper bin. If the paper is soiled with food, it can be composted.
  • Anything that was once alive can be put in the compost bin, which includes compostable plastic, which is labeled 7 PLA in the chasing arrows at the bottom of the product.
  • For plastics, all numbers 1 and 2 can be recycled, which can also be found in the chasing arrows.
  • Here at Berkeley, we do not recycle plastics 3-7 because there is not a US market for them. Thus, we would have to ship them to a different country for recycling and selling, and we have determined that it is ethically and environmentally better to manage these plastics in our heavily regulated landfills in the United States.

At Cal Zero Waste we concentrate on two different aspects of waste reduction- downstream and upstream. If every person on campus were to sort his or her waste properly, every time, we would be at a 75% landfill diversion rate- almost at zero waste! This is where replacing bins, and ensuring education comes in, as this is very attainable, and we are getting close! Currently, we are at a 52% landfill diversion rate, and one of the main ways we are trying to increase this is through implementing Solar Belly trash bins.

You may have noticed the new Solar Belly bins on Sproul Plaza. Not only do they provide proper signs and education, but the solar panel attached to the outside compacts the trash, as well as notifying the custodians when they need to be emptied. This is extremely efficient as it reduces custodial labor along with reducing the liners needed. We are hoping to implement more Solar Bellies across campus in order increase our diversion rate and our efficiency. This will help us get to a 75% downstream diversion rate.


"Solar Bellies" - Solar Compacting Bins on Sproul Plaza

“Solar Bellies” – Solar Compacting Bins on Sproul Plaza


The remaining 25% diversion rate starts with you. Because this remainder is due to upstream waste, meaning that purchased or provided materials are unable to be recycled, composted or reused, we call on the Berkeley community to think green. Bring your own cup, instead of using a plastic coffee cup that is unable to be recycled. Think twice before you use a straw. Be conscious of what you purchase. YOU have the power to get us to zero waste by 2020!



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