University of California-Davis Zero Waste Program

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Type: Program

Status: Launched in 2004

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“Zero Waste” is a growing trend of the 21st Century ( See Newsweek's 10 Fixes For the Planet)! It is a principle that goes beyond recycling by taking a ‘whole system’ approach to the large amount of waste discarded at special events. Zero Waste seeks to reduce the amount of consumption, minimize waste, maximize recycling, and ensure that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into nature or the marketplace.

Every event can be made Zero Waste! Zero waste events help reduce our dependence on natural resources such as timber, petroleum, and land. Reducing and diverting any waste generated lessens the total amount of waste that goes into the UC Davis landfill. The use of reusable dishware is preferred because they cut down on energy used in producing and disposing of non-reusable wares. However, disposable paper products are also an option for those who cannot afford dishware. In the end, you feel great about helping divert waste!

The basic Zero Waste guidelines include:

  • Only the necessary number of utensils, plates and cups should be used
  • No Styrofoam or #3-#7 plastics (not recyclable in Davis)
  • Biodegradable utensils will be used if silverware is unavailable
  • Food should be purchased in bulk and not in individually wrapped packages
  • Food portions will be determined appropriately to prevent food waste
  • All uneaten food will be composted or donated along with any other compostable items
  • All recyclables (i.e. paper, cardboard, cans and bottles) will be recycled
  • All parties, including volunteers, entertainment, etc, must be informed that the event is not to have any waste
  • Bring your own cup (optional)

The Zero Waste project began in March of 2004. Since then there have been about 70 zero waste events held on campus, some of which include Picnic Day and Relay for Life.

Did you know that the number one shocker about zero waste events is the usage of 100% biodegradable utensils? Unlike plastic utensils, they are made from corn and decompose just like food residue. R4 Recycling can supply biodegradable utensils at a low cost of 2.2 cents each.

Zero Waste: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is zero waste? Zero Waste is a program that helps on-campus events to reduce the amount of waste that they produce and thus reduce the financial burden that they place on the university (it costs the campus money to dispose of garbage). The Zero Waste Brochure (pdf), and manual (pdf) both contain tons of information about Zero Waste Events.

2. Why spend the money and time to organize a zero waste event? The Zero Waste program can help save you money. If the event coordinator takes the relatively small amount of time needed to work with the Zero Waste coordinator, the program can guide you in purchasing biodegradable plates, cups, and utensils. There is no cost for consultation with the Zero Waste coordinator.

3. Is it anymore difficult to organize? Zero Waste coordinators will help the event coordinator make their event zero waste easy in every possibly way. As long as the event coordinator communicates his/her needs well to the Zero Waste coordinators, having a Zero Waste event should be easy and educational.

4. How much does it cost? For large Zero Waste events, utensils cost is 2.2 cents each. Fun Packs including paper plates, cups, utensils, and compost bags cost between $10.00 and $40.00 depending on the size.

5. Will I have to clean up after the event? The Zero Waste coordinators and R4 staff are responsible for setting up and cleaning up all of THEIR materials. R4 will provide recovery stations (compost, recycling, and trash) and haul the waste away after the event.

6. How do I get started organizing a zero waste event? To get started, simply call the R4 office at (530)752-7456. Thank you so much for your interest!