UCSF Sustainability Stories

Katherine Garcia, March 2022

The Strive for Zero Waste at UCSF Health: Waste Auditing Program and Partnership with Zabble Zero Inc

It’s essential for the human, environmental and economic well-being that the UCSF Health community stands by initiatives stemming from the UC Office of the President’s zero waste policies to divert waste from landfills and comply with the City and County of San Francisco’s Refuse Separation Ordinance law.

UCSF Health partnered with Zabble Inc., to launch an improved waste auditing program in January 2022. This innovative software company uses artificial intelligence to automate waste data collection. The launch of the waste auditing program was established to help UCSF reach its zero waste initiatives for diversion and reduction at the Parnassus Heights, Mount Zion, and Mission Bay campuses.

The goal is to divert 50 percent of waste from landfills by 2022 through recycling, composting, donating, reselling, or reusing; and to achieve the target of 25 pounds of waste per Adjusted Patient Day (APD) by 2025 and eventually down to 20 pounds per APD by 2030.

“UCSF Health must also comply with the City and County of San Francisco’s Refuse Separation Ordinance law,” said UCSF Health Zero Waste Analyst, Katherine Garcia (pictured above). “If we’re noncompliant, we can be fined for exceeding Recology’s maximum limitations for contamination of landfill, recycle and compost waste streams. Consequently, by exceeding contamination limits, we allow waste that could’ve been diverted to get incinerated, causing high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions to pollute our community. Hence, causing issues to the three pillars of sustainability: society, economy, and the environment.”

In 2021, UCSF Health had a diversion rate of 26 percent and used about 38 pounds of waste per APD. “The program’s current focus is to reduce contamination rates in patient care units, where staff share a common space,” Garcia said. Contamination is the action of polluting a waste stream with anything that shouldn’t be there.

“With the Zabble app, we can easily monitor and track contamination rates, waste generation, and diversion rates,” Garcia said. “All it takes is a quick picture and analysis of the waste to complete an audit.”

The observations of an audit include bin level fullness, acceptable waste, and contaminants found. Since January, UCSF Health has audited close to 18,000 waste bins and analyzed 60-cubic yards of waste. That’s equivalent to 16 pickup truck loads.

“Every month we summarize results and give customized feedback to units falling short of meeting UCSF Health goals,” Garcia said. “We encourage unit leaders to schedule waste separation and recycling training with our team. Engaging UCSF Health staff to participate in waste separation training supports a culture of health for all through sustainability. We’ll soon be launching a webinar to substitute for our in-person training and make training more accessible to all staff.”

In addition to outreach and education, UCSF Health also hosts quarterly e-waste drop-off events for the three campuses, where staff is welcome to drop off their e-waste and bulk items for free. The waste audits, campaigns, and e-waste events are limited to the three medical centers at UCSF Health.

UCSF Health has also launched campaigns to help reduce contamination. One campaign is called Bins are Better Together. Keeping the bins together allows staff to effectively separate waste into the correct waste receptacle by getting them to stop and think about what they’re putting in the trash.

“We have two other campaigns to help prevent contamination and divert waste: Don’t be a Drip and Compost on Carts,” Garcia said.

The Don’t be a Drip campaign encourages staff to remove excess liquid from cups or containers before recycling. Liquid can contaminate an entire recycle waste bin. The Compost on Cart campaign enables staff to place lunch leftovers in patient food carts, leaving the waste sorting to get done by faculty. “Our team will also deploy additional bins and update signage across the three campuses,” Garcia said. “We are determined to meet our goals through our programs and campaigns and are sure to progress before the end of this year.”