UCSF Sustainability Stories

Ana Toepel, Green Impact, November 2019

UCSF Green Champion Spotlight: Dental Students Claire Skach and Jerry Liu

At this year’s UCSF Sustainability Awards Ceremony two School of Dentistry graduate students, Claire Skach and Jerry Liu, were winners in the team category. Claire and Jerry were nominated by fellow students Ida Shaffer and Alison Riley, who described the team as “making a measurable impact in helping the university to meet its zero waste goal.” They expressed that Claire and Jerry brought awareness to both faculty and peers about the disposal of dental materials by designing and displaying placards above waste containers, leading educational presentations, making regular announcements to peers, and actively participating in sustainability outreach events.

One of the team’s noteworthy efforts was sparking conversation with faculty to develop new standards for proper waste management in the dental school simulation (SIM) labs. Prior to these efforts, the UCSF dental SIM labs only used garbage bins to dispose of waste. Claire and Jerry worked with UCSF staff to implement recycling bins in the labs and took time to educate students about which dental materials can be recycled. Because of their work implementing the bins, the labs have been able to recycle a substantial amount of materials.

According to their nominators, “Claire and Jerry have also been enthusiastic educators of their dental school peers and faculty—and, as a result, everyone is now more aware of the carbon footprint they have while they’re working in the dental clinic and of the ways they can do their part to make it more environmentally-friendly.”

Claire and Jerry Share Their Thoughts on Sustainability

Throughout high school and college, Claire was involved in sustainability programs and believes that living an unsustainable lifestyle is living irresponsibly. She lives by the phrase “reuse, recycle, and re-purpose” and is an avid recycler and composter in her personal life as well. She chooses public transportation, biking, or walking for getting around.  Jerry is a big fan of walking as well. He sees our health as being intricately tied to the state of the environment, such as how toxins in the air we breathe and the food we eat have detrimental effects on our well-being. “Since healthcare is moving towards preventative care,” he shared,” it is important for healthcare leaders to take a strong and clear stance in support of environmental sustainability.”

Becoming a student at UCSF made Claire aware of the incredible amount of resources it takes to run a large medical institution, and it quickly became uncomfortably apparent to her that despite her personal efforts to live sustainably, her impact on the environment through dentistry could be tremendous. She noticed areas where the school of dentistry could easily reduce its environmental impact with even small changes and became excited to work with the administration to make these changes a reality. Jerry recognized that the school went through a high volume of single use products in the simulation labs and pre-doctoral clinics. Though he acknowledges it’s important to take infection control seriously and have sterile materials for patients, he saw that this practice is environmentally unfriendly. He was driven to discover new ways to reduce the impact dental waste has on the environment without compromising the quality of care provided for patients.

Claire and Jerry find it rewarding and inspiring to see how supportive their classmates are of their waste reduction efforts. Classmates have told them they are incorporating what they’ve learned about waste into their workflows. Claire shared that she loves hearing things like “why don’t we have recycling in this area?” and “using so many single-use items seems wasteful” when she walks through the clinic. These comments serve as a reminder to Claire and Jerry that, although their job isn’t done in terms of waste management in the dental school, sustainability awareness and a cultural shift are indeed occurring.

Sustainability Recommendations for the UCSF Community

From Claire: “On an individual level: Get educated! It is amazing to me how few people actually know how to properly sort their waste despite the school providing so many avenues to do so. On an institutional level: Train your new students/employees! Make it a required online or in-person short training to learn ways that as a new member of the UCSF community, it is your responsibility to help make a cleaner and healthier world!” 

From Jerry: “As a community, we can support companies that have proven track records of being environmentally-conscious. At an individual level, we can adopt simple changes outside of work. Biking, taking public transportation, and adhering to proper waste sorting can serve a dual purpose of being environmentally-responsible and serving as a gentle reminder to friends and family that UCSF community members are environmental stewards.”