University of California Santa Barbara: Zero waste campus by 2020, we are really close!

Written by Riccardo Bellini

During my exchange experience in Santa Barbara, unfortunately back in 2013, I was continuously impressed by the green culture that flowed in almost any student of the University. Thinking about it, if you consider that the campus is sited between the shore and ocean on one side, and hills on the other side, resulting in an astonishing landscape wherever you turn your eyes, you must be mad not to take care of this piece of heaven.

However, green culture and awareness of the risks your land is always facing are just fancy talking if real policies are not implemented to enforce the vision of a sustainable future. Therefore, in 2012 the zero waste committee was formed to achieve the ambitious goal of a zero waste campus by 2020. 
Before analyzing the interesting steps forward that were taken these years, I must premise one thing. UCSB was the perfect place where to try this, not just because of the abovementioned culture (for instance, any kind of fuel-based vehicle is forbidden, everyone just moves through the campus by bike, rollerblades or skateboard), but also thanks to the UCSB environmental studies and engineering departments that are among the best in the country. 

The key elements of the program are set around three pillars: food, books, residual.


All pre and post-consumer food waste in all campus dining commons are composted.
Compostable plates, cups, and cutlery are used as the standard for all catering events and housing and residential Services.
Post consumption composting bins are available to the public in six locations on campus, near major food service locations.


The bags given out at the UCSB Bookstore are made of compostable materials. 
Advanced platform and tools to exchange used books (made easier by the high costs of new books). 


Centralized indoor co-mingled recycling bins have been located in 111 spots on campus (21.000 students, so 1 bin per 190 students).
Plastic bags are not given out at stores on campus unless a bag is specifically requested by the customer.

These are just the main parts, in terms of materiality, of the program, but there are many more projects ongoing that haven’t been mentioned (by now, the waste diversion rate is over 75%). Another interesting fact is that the campus has been able not just to prevent waste production and to divert waste production from landfills, but also to create real industrial alike (obviously on a minor scale) facilities on campus to compost and recycle. This was clearly feasible thanks to the engineering department and the funds assigned to it.

But still, in the very end, the main theme here is that the mindset, as always, has driven the change.