Sustainability initiatives help reduce waste

A student stands behind 3 bins used to sort waste

As hundreds of students returned to campus during August’s Week of Welcome, volunteers with University of the Pacific’s Green Team worked to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills from catered events and student move-in, which can generate a lot of waste from boxes and other items.

“Our main task was to let people know about the separate bins for landfill, recycling and compostables, so we had stations everywhere with volunteers,” said student Ayesha Bibi ’23. 

Through the efforts, 90% of waste generated during the week’s catered events, such as the new student luncheon on Knoles Lawn, was kept out of landfills by being composted or recycled.

Green Team was created in 2014 to improve landfill diversion rates by monitoring waste stations at major events. The university closely tracks its numbers with a goal of eventually reaching zero waste.

“Week of Welcome shows what we can do when we put the pieces together with clear signage and people helping at the bins,” said Sustainability Director Jessica Bilecki.

It’s one of many steps the university has taken to divert material from landfills and reduce food waste, part of the university’s overall sustainability initiative. In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly designated Sept. 29 as International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.

According to the USDA, more than one-third of available food in the United States goes uneaten through loss or waste and is the largest category of material placed in landfills.

“When food waste and organic matter is in a landfill, it produces methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas. It's about 26 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions,” Bilecki said. “If you are keeping organics out of the landfill, you are not creating those greenhouse gases.”

Pacific has launched initiatives to further its efforts. Food waste bins were recently added to residential living areas on the Sacramento Campus and Bon Appetit, the university’s long-time food service provider, is getting a new system to weigh compostable material collected from the DeRosa University Center Marketplace, the main dining area. 

“It means we can control production waste. Any food that is thrown away is going to be weighed so the cook knows, ‘okay, I made 200 pounds of mac and cheese. I only need 150,’” explained Sia Mohsenzadegan, food service director for Bon Appetit.

Excess food is donated every Friday to St. Mary’s Dining Room, a Stockton nonprofit that provides meals to people in need.

To prevent waste at the Chris and Robb Garden on the Stockton Campus, produce is available at no cost for students Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and later in the week at the university’s food pantry located in Room 98 of Wendell Phillips Center. 

The university cuts down on single-use plastics with compostable utensils and to-go containers and by offering reusable containers through the Tiger To-Go program. Students, faculty and staff can purchase an eco-clam for $5 from the Marketplace, which can be exchanged later for a clean container or token to save for future uses. 

The initiatives landed Pacific in the top ten for sustainable food and dining practices on college campuses in 2021.

“We want to be good leaders and educators,” Bilecki said. “If we're educating people to go out into the world, it's important that we demonstrate practices that contribute to our health instead of taking away from it.”

Pacific’s Green Event Guide has tips for reducing waste and volunteers can be requested to help monitor waste separation bins at on-campus events. Anyone interested in helping the Green Team can sign-up to volunteer during Homecoming and Family Weekend Oct. 14-16.