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Introduction: Alec Stein

Hi everyone. I am a concerned student scientist and I study particles and cosmology at UCLA. I'm also the student representative on the Zero Waste Taskforce there, which is a team of people who brainstorm about how to help our campus reach its target of 95% waste diversion by the year 2020.

Working on the Taskforce has given me a new perspective on dealing with policymakers -- in this case, the university administration. Even for a small proposal (that is, to make the purchase of a coffee and coffee cup separate), I've had to go through all kinds of rigamarole to prove it wouldn't cost a thing to implement -- a little unfairly, in my own opinion.

With that said, I realize that waste problem is just a small part of the larger environmental problem, and that sometimes managing one problem can exacerbate another. I can illustrate the point. To the Taskforce, waste diversion and waste reduction are equivalently good. This means that if we had the choice between using (say) paper bags, which can be recycled, and (say) plastic bags, which cannot be, that we would choose the paper bags, irrespective of the carbon impact.

But maybe that's not such a bad choice. The problem gets bigger when you consider one of our actual proposals, namely, transitioning from disposable to compostable dishware. We will need to divert this waste to nail our target, but we have been overlooking the most obvious solution, which also happens to be the hardest to implement: reusable dishes. Yet however much better those may be in the long run, it's difficult to imagine the administration investing in dishwashers for the sake of sustainability, even if we would eventually break even.

While we are doing better than other universities, there are a lot of ways we can be doing better. And we don't seem to be doing enough quickly enough. I personally think that have a totally "green" university is great for marketing, but I suspect that creating a "green" image (whatever that means) is, to a large part, a marketer's job. On my more cynical days, I worry that the "zero waste by 2020" mantra is itself a marketing gimmick.

If you have tried to make your community more sustainable in some way, I would like to know your story -- what problems you faced, and whether you succeeded or failed. Reply here or message me for my contact information.

Comments

  • 1.

    Hi! What sort of cosmology or particle physics do you do?

    This radio show is pretty interesting:

    As for my own life, almost all my waste goes either into my compost bin, the recycle bin or the green waste bin. I don't really know what the City of Riverside does with the latter two.

    Comment Source:Hi! What sort of cosmology or particle physics do you do? This radio show is pretty interesting: * Tom Ashbrook, [Is recycling really worth it?](http://onpoint.wbur.org/2015/10/22/garbage-recycling-germany-waste-management), 22 October 2015. As for my own life, almost all my waste goes either into my compost bin, the recycle bin or the green waste bin. I don't really know what the City of Riverside does with the latter two.
  • 2.

    Hi John, it's cool to hear from you directly. I remember as an undergrad reading "John Baez's stuff," complete with the ASCII doodles. I'm working on a WIMP detector called "xenon" at LNGS, in Italy. It competes with "lux" for the highest WIMP sensitivity in a particular region of parameter space (and for grant money from the DOE.)

    I listened to the radio show this morning. Thanks -- it gave me a lot to think about. The folks at the Task Force fit squarely into the "recycling is great" camp, and like I mentioned above, they tend to view "reusing" the same way they do "reducing," which can be a little frustrating to me.

    If you have a link to more shows like that feel free to pass it on.

    About your waste, that's inspiring. We (my girlfriend and I) go to unusual lengths to reduce our trash impact (worm bin for compost, making soy milk, carrying cutlery around, etc.) We even do zero-waste camping. Yet despite these efforts I don't know if I'll ever recover from the carbon footprint of my PhD -- flights to Italy have a high carbon price tag. Sometimes I can't shake the feeling that I'm a complete environmental hypocrite.

    If you haven't already, you might consider taking a tour of the recycling plants in your area. Or a local landfill. It might be interesting to see in person. (I've been trying to do the same, but I've been stymied by the odd tour hours.)

    Comment Source:Hi John, it's cool to hear from you directly. I remember as an undergrad reading "John Baez's stuff," complete with the ASCII doodles. I'm working on a WIMP detector called "xenon" at LNGS, in Italy. It competes with "lux" for the highest WIMP sensitivity in a particular region of parameter space (and for grant money from the DOE.) I listened to the radio show this morning. Thanks -- it gave me a lot to think about. The folks at the Task Force fit squarely into the "recycling is great" camp, and like I mentioned above, they tend to view "reusing" the same way they do "reducing," which can be a little frustrating to me. If you have a link to more shows like that feel free to pass it on. About your waste, that's inspiring. We (my girlfriend and I) go to unusual lengths to reduce our trash impact (worm bin for compost, making soy milk, carrying cutlery around, etc.) We even do zero-waste camping. Yet despite these efforts I don't know if I'll ever recover from the carbon footprint of my PhD -- flights to Italy have a high carbon price tag. Sometimes I can't shake the feeling that I'm a complete environmental hypocrite. If you haven't already, you might consider taking a tour of the recycling plants in your area. Or a local landfill. It might be interesting to see in person. (I've been trying to do the same, but I've been stymied by the odd tour hours.)
  • 3.

    Yes, it would be interesting to check out a landfill!

    I sure hope Xenon finds a WIMP. Or definitively doesn't. Either way we'll get some clues about this mystery. I'm sort of hoping the puzzle of dark matter will push us to have some really radical new ideas. But I don't know what those ideas would be!

    I too feel guilty about my air travel. I've taken to listing trips I turn down here on the Azimuth Forum, just to get some mental reward for this renunciation. Certainly there's no other benefit to my career or reputation! It's just good to do.

    I was pushed to take this a bit more seriously when I heard what happened to the Great Barrier Reef.

    Comment Source:Yes, it would be interesting to check out a landfill! I sure hope Xenon finds a WIMP. Or definitively doesn't. Either way we'll get some clues about this mystery. I'm sort of hoping the puzzle of dark matter will push us to have some really radical new ideas. But I don't know what those ideas would be! I too feel guilty about my air travel. I've taken to listing trips I turn down here on the Azimuth Forum, just to get some mental reward for this renunciation. Certainly there's no other benefit to my career or reputation! It's just good to do. I was pushed to take this a bit more seriously when I heard what happened to the [Great Barrier Reef](https://plus.google.com/u/0/117663015413546257905/posts/e9A1AARBJRA).
  • 4.

    Welcome Alec.

    On landfill:

    I find Geoff Manaugh’s BLDGBLOG (“building blog”) of unusual interest, and your mention of landfill reminded me of an article he and Nicola Twilley had written in 2013 for The Atlantic on the Puente Hills landfill “the nation’s largest active Municipal dump”. It closed in 2013 to be replaced by the Mesquite Regional Landfill, said to be “much larger”. And those are well-managed and regulated sites!

    Hi John. I gave up conferences five years before retiring. It's liberating and people ask where you are! I did notice that last year you flew to Singapore and promptly left for the European circuit!

    Comment Source:Welcome Alec. On landfill: I find Geoff Manaugh’s <a href="http://www.bldgblog.com/">BLDGBLOG</a> (“building blog”) of unusual interest, and your mention of landfill reminded me of an article he and Nicola Twilley had written in 2013 for <em>The Atlantic</em> on the Puente Hills landfill <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/04/touring-the-largest-active-landfill-in-america/274731/">“the nation’s largest active Municipal dump”</a>. It closed in 2013 to be replaced by the Mesquite Regional Landfill, said to be “much larger”. And those are well-managed and regulated sites! Hi John. I gave up conferences five years before retiring. It's liberating and people ask where you are! I did notice that last year you flew to Singapore and promptly left for the European circuit!
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