Waste Reduction and Recycling

Policy Goals

  • Achieve zero waste (defined as 95 percent diversion from landfill) by 2020.

Chart illustrating UC waste diversion rates over time. Campus diversion has plateaued in recent years.

Progress Towards Goals

Collectively, UC campuses and medical centers diverted 58 percent of municipal solid waste from landfills in 2015-16. Including construction and demolition (C&D) waste, the
total diversion rate was 69 percent. However, excluding medical centers, the systemwide diversion rate was 76 percent this year, up 4 percent from last year. UC Irvine continues to achieve the highest waste diversion rate at 80 percent (not including C&D). UC Riverside (78 percent), UC San Francisco (74 percent), UC Davis (72 percent) and UC Santa Barbara (68 percent) are not far behind.

Waste diversion rates have plateaued on many campuses in recent years, with only UC Riverside and UC San Francisco achieving significant increases in diversion rates since
2014-15. There are several potential explanations for the lack of further progress toward the zero waste goal. The primary barriers to achieving zero waste include the challenges of capturing the compostable waste stream, convincing suppliers to provide reusable or recyclable packaging, the changing market for recyclable materials and the limited number and proximity of composting facilities.

However, flattened diversion rates are also partly due to the success of programs emphasizing the principles of “reduce and reuse,” such as reusable water bottle campaigns. For example, reuse means that there is a reduction in total waste; however, some of that avoided waste was recyclable material like plastic water bottles. Diversion rates therefore do not fully capture efforts to reduce or reuse waste. In order to track the success of waste reduction efforts, campuses also report waste generation per capita as a complementary metric to the diversion rate. The Merced, Riverside, San Diego and Santa Cruz campuses reported the lowest pounds of waste per weighted campus user.

My Last Trash Website Link

Website that provides resources for UC's Zero Waste by 2020 communications campaign.