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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.