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UC campuses boost emphasis on composting to reach sustainability goals

On University of California campuses, there usually are two choices for throwing something away: the black garbage bin or the blue recycling bin. But increasingly, green is also becoming an option as composting programs spread at UC.

Recycling has allowed UC to divert more than 50 percent of waste from landfills, but the blue bins alone won’t be enough to reach the system’s objectives of diverting 75 percent of waste this year and becoming zero waste — sending no garbage to landfill — by 2020.

Implementing campuswide composting programs and educating people on using a green bin for organic waste are key to achieving such ambitious goals, set by the UC system’s Policy on Sustainable Practices.

“We haven’t hit the wall, but we’re at a point where we’re stuck around a certain level. There’s only so much you can do to increase recycling,” said Michelle La, program coordinator for the Waste Reduction and Recycling Program at UC Davis. “We have to take that extra step to reach that zero-waste goal.”

Much of the material that winds up in landfills is organic. Capturing it through composting not only has huge potential to increase waste diversion rates, it’s environmentally beneficial and can save UC money.

“Campuses are doing a good job of recycling and composting is the next step,” said Lin King, manager of Campus Recycling and Refuse Services at UC Berkeley. “There’s still a focus on recycling but by adding composting, together they are a holistic system.”

In addition to reducing materials sent to landfills, composting can help reduce carbon emissions and energy use. Mulch created by food scraps, tree and lawn cuttings and other green waste is sold to farmers for use as an organic fertilizer. That mulch then reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, which often are made from oil products and are energy intensive to create.

Composting programs for green landscaping and food waste are underway or being explored at all UC campuses. Last year, nine UC campuses surpassed a 2008 goal to divert 50 percent of their waste away from landfills. UC Irvine (79 percent), UCLA (77 percent), UC Santa Barbara (73 percent) and UC Santa Cruz (74 percent) had diversion rates above 70 percent in 2011-12, according to data from UC’s Annual Report on Sustainability Practices.

For UCOP Principal Editor Harry Mok’s full story, go to the UC Newsroom.

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