By Aliyah Kovner
Campus News Reporter
UC Santa Cruz has always had the reputation of being environmentally avant-garde, bordering on fanatical.
The campus started its recycling program in 1989. And thanks to a student initiative last year to purchase exclusively sustainable energy, UCSC is the sixth-largest purchaser of green power of all campuses in the nation.
There are handfuls of groups, administrative and student alike, dedicated to the cause. From the Student Environmental Center (SEC) and California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) to the Global Chillers, EnviroMerrill and the Campus Sustainability Committee (CSC), there is a network of devoted and dutiful workers continuously striving for a better campus.
“It’s gone from being kind of a fringe thing and now it’s more mainstream,” Dave Wade, director of campus recycling said.
But the idea that the campus is an eco-friendly Mecca may be an overzealous assumption.
With about 15,000 students and faculty using resources, the impact can be exponential. The Bay Tree Express Store used over 35,000 paper cups last year, according to Bob McCampbell, director of the Bay Tree Bookstore.
“Those cups are not recyclable, though many believe otherwise,” Wade said. “Paper cups always get thrown in [the recycling], because people think they’re recyclable. People want to do the right thing.”
While hearts may be in the right place, the guidelines have yet to be mastered.
Dean Raven, head of Grounds Services, cited that a 75 to 25 percent ratio of recycling to trash means maximum recycling efficiency. As of this year UCSC recycles 46 percent — up from 32 percent in 2006.
“But we’d like to be at 50 percent right now,” Raven said. “In a short time we would like to see it at 75 percent, by 2012.”
“Most residential trash is recyclable,” Wade said. “These are huge issues. The total waste stream is in the thousands of tons a year. That means millions of pounds a year.”
Though there are 950 outdoor recycling containers and 520 office paper containers, refuse does not always end up in the appropriate receptacle, Raven said.
“Sometimes people are lazy,” Emett Egan, second-year from Porter, said. “I would have been more inclined to recycle last year when I was in the dorms if there were recycling chutes and not just trash chutes.”
It wasn’t until last year that recycling bins were finally implemented in some dorm rooms. The administration is included in the ongoing bad habit of poor recycling protocol.
“We are a huge paper mill,” Raven said. “People don’t think about paper as much, and with printers and office documents, it adds up.”
Like the coffee cups and paper, plastic bags also pile up quickly — thousands are used each year.
Groups all over campus are attempting to curb this overuse. Bay Tree Bookstore has enlisted a new program this year called Bring It Back, which provides a drop-off bin in the front of the store for people to dispose of plastic bags.
McCampbell admitted that the bookstore has been questioned for its large-scale bag use on multiple occasions. This, combined with their own concern, led them to install the drop-off. Also, a bag is no longer offered unless asked for.
In conjunction with CalPIRG, the group Plastics Anonymous was formed. Like a spin-off of Alcoholics Anonymous, the group teaches 12 steps to wean people off their petroleum product addiction. The Oceans Campaign works side-by-side with the group, as plastics are a huge threat on campus due its proximity to the sea.
“It’s not just plastic bags. We work with all plastics, promote reusable water bottles and things like that,” said Laura Larson-Cody, coordinator of the Oceans Campaign. “We try to educate. I have met people who didn’t know plastics were bad for anything.”
Tony Bautista from the SEC worked tirelessly last year with the bookstore to start selling canvas bags for a dollar to encourage students to find alternatives to plastic.
“We went through a thousand of them,” McCampbell said. “We will need to buy more.”
Though the campus has banned Styrofoam and switched to full-scale use of biodegradable utensils, when it comes to plastics, “It would be preferable if we didn’t use them at all,” Larsen-Cody said.
Bautista and the SEC have worked on many issues in the last year. In conjunction with the student group CSC as well as administrative joint efforts like the Waste Prevention working group, SEC has made significant advances.
“Passing Measure 35 was a huge accomplishment,” Bautista said. “We worked with the campus architect, got signatures and put it on the ballot.”
The measure, which passed last spring, caused the renovation construction on the Health Center to be done to LEED certification standards, meaning it met high standards for use of sustainable resources and low environmental impact. It is the only building on campus so far to be built to such standards. Like Measure 28 for renewable energy, passing Measure 35 was a grassroots effort.
Passed last year, Measure 28 initiated the use of only sustainably- sourced electricity for the campus — a great leap toward the desired zero footprint.
“We are entirely renewable,” said Dan Xie, CalPIRG Director. “We were one of the first campuses around the nation. There’s nothing comparable.”
Though the electricity UCSC purchases is from sustainable energy sources, many do not realize just how much is consumed. A goal for the SEC this year is to invest in local power sources, such as solar. By completing a CO2 emissions inventory with the Green Fund, the center will try to record improvements made. The center, funded through students, needs more money to invest in solar panels. The initiative to raise this money is entirely dependent on student campaigning and effort.
“If you live on campus, you aren’t getting a bill [for utilities],” Raven said. “You don’t get those cues. But somebody gets a bill. We hope they get those cues.”
Finally, there is the matter of food waste. The apparent lack of an on-campus composting program upsets many.
Although College Eight and Kresge have some residential programs set up, a campus-wide program is not yet possible — despite the desire on all sides to implement one.
“There is a certain level of infrastructure needed,” Raven said. “There are a lot of startups, but every college has the right space. The program we have can only handle so much.”
Waste management is seeking ways to expand the composting that began last year, which only includes pre-consumer waste from the dining halls. Health Code red tape about contamination and proper handling have prevented a comprehensive system from getting off the ground as of yet. Still, the UC has pledged to continue expanding the program. For now, students can help by trying to portion dining hall splurges to reduce the waste stream in the first place.
There is a lot to be proud of on the part of the UCSC college community. But there are concepts and practices that are still out of reach. The consensus of all is that it is time to educate students, employees and officials alike. It’s time to adapt and prepare for the future of this campus.
“Student involvement is needed,” Bautista said. “There’s so much more we could do. People need to step up. I mean, when I’m gone, someone has to take over.”