UCSF Sustainability Stories

UCSF’s Recycling Coordinators:  Promoting Best Practices in Recycling and Waste Management


UC Regents’ Policy on Sustainable Practices sets a visionary goal of achieving zero waste by the year 2020, with an interim target for all UC campuses to direct 75 percent of the materials they discard to be collected for recycling, compost or reuse rather than for landfill. This 75 percent “diversion” rate must be met by July 2012. 

Recycling and composting programs aren’t new at UCSF. Kathryn Hyde and Susan Bluestone, co-recycling & refuse coordinators, have been orchestrating a major waste reduction campaign since they initiated the UCSF campus recycling program in 1999.

Their passion for helping UCSF go green is clear when speaking with them. “It is an honor to work for a large university and to be a gate keeper for the Earth. Our work is not separate from the health care mission of UCSF—our program is an integral part of the mission.  We’re so fortunate to be doing this work at a time when more and more people are truly understanding the connection between health, the environment and society,“ said Bluestone.

UCSF Makes Major Progress

recycle galsWhen Hyde and Bluestone began institutionalizing recycling as standard policy and procedure a decade ago, UCSF was diverting only 9 percent of its waste from going to landfill. Ten years later, they have achieved a 54 percent diversion rate.

“People want to make the right environmental choices.  So our job is to make participating in recycling, composting and waste reduction as simple as possible. We appreciate all the changes that students, staff and faculty have been able to incorporate into their daily routine,” explained Hyde.

“That’s what brings progress—each person knowing that what seems like a small act is part of the very big picture of bringing UCSF one step further toward zero waste,” continued Hyde.

The annual recovery of materials at UCSF includes:

• 3,332 tons of the standard recyclables (aluminum, glass, small rigid plastics, paper & cardboard)
• 35 tons of scrap metal
• 8 tons of fluorescent light bulb tubes
• 3 tons of small batteries
• 2 tons of toner cartridges
• 54 tons of electronic waste

UCSF Composting Programs

ChancellorIn 2004, Hyde and Bluestone inaugurated a behind-the-scenes composting program for kitchen food scraps from food preparation at the campus cafes. In 2008, Campus Life Services launched Going Greener, a do-it-yourself customer compost program.  Customer-compost station locations include the Millberry Union Food Court, Palio Café and the Courtyard Cafe at Parnassus, the Pub and Café 24 at Mission Bay and the View at Laurel Heights.

Moffitt Hospital introduced a recycling and compost program with great success in the cafeteria and for patient food. The café compost setup will resume after the current remodel is completed in fall 2010. The program composts or recycles 84 percent of cafeteria discards and 87 percent of patient food discards.

Recently Hyde and Bluestone launched restroom paper towel composting and office kitchen composting, in five buildings (School of Nursing, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center Building, Laurel Heights, Kirkham Child Care and Minnesota Street). Over time, this program will be set up throughout UCSF. The recycling coordinators provide hands-on orientations for office suites and labs. This helps the occupants understand what can and cannot be placed in each bin. 

Challenges Ahead

Despite all of the progress, it will not be easy for UCSF to meet the UC goal of diverting 75 percent of its waste by 2012. The recycling coordinators explained, “In order to reach 75 percent, the UCSF campus will need to increase the percentage of standard materials that are recycled, composted or re-used. The first step is the expansion of the post-consumer food waste collection programs in office kitchens and paper towel compost collection in the restrooms.”

Expanding these programs will require ongoing outreach and education for UCSF’s student population, staff and faculty.

Due to limited staff and budget, the recycling coordinators must be creative on how to reach out to UCSF staff, students and faculty. For example, they have developed a “green ambassador” program that trains volunteers from specific buildings to advocate green practices and help colleagues become champions in their work areas.

Important Reminders

Here are a few important reminders to help make the system work best:

1. Just think: It’s compost if it was made from a plant, tree or animal.
2. Paper coffee cups go into the compost, not the recycling.
3. Restroom paper towel compost bins are for paper towels only (no food waste).
4. For milk cartons and juice boxes, if the carton was purchased as a perishable, the carton is compostable; if it was purchased as an unrefrigerated carton, it is garbage.
5. “When in doubt, put it in the trash,” said Hyde and Bluestone, because a key to a successful program is to avoid contaminating a load of compost or recyclables by mixing in garbage, which compromises the usefulness of these resources.

CompostingThe following can be composted: 

• Paper cups and plates
• Paper towels and napkins
• Coffee grounds and filters
• Food and tea bags
• Paper milk cartons
• Pizza and doughnut boxes
• Waxed cardboard

Closing the Loop

Compost soilChoosing to place your compostable items into the compost bin has impact—compostable organics make up more than 20 percent of UCSF’s overall waste stream. If compost is simply hauled away as garbage to a landfill, it is fated for anaerobic decomposition (meaning no oxygen present), which produces significant quantities of methane, 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

In contrast, composting the same material in a well-managed compost facility is fundamentally an aerobic process, which does not produce methane. According to the Composting Council, if everyone in the United States composted all of their food waste, the impact would be equivalent to removing 7.8 million cars from the road. 

In addition to the greenhouse gas benefits, composting at UCSF contributes to a closed-loop system. Once collected from the campus, UCSF’s compost is transformed over a 60-day period at a compost facility in Vacaville, where it is turned into nutrient-rich compost for California vineyards and farms.

Learn More:

UCSF Campus Recycling Program
Jepson Prairie Organics
The Joy of Dirt
Discard Electronics (Goodwill Stores)
Composting Council

Story: Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact
Photos: CPFM, Jepson Prairie Organics