Nine Things You Should Know About CSUN’s Zero Waste Goal

CSUN launched its Zero Waste Plan in 2019 to help move the campus towards the ambitious waste reduction goals of both the State of California as well as the California State University System. These include directives to recycle, compost or reduce 80% of the campus’ landfill-bound material, and strive to raise that number to 90%. If that sounds a little confusing, you’re not alone. Zero waste is a complicated topic, so we’ve compiled a list of the key things you should know to better understand CSUN’s zero waste initiative.

  1. What is CSUN’s zero waste goal?
    CSUN’s goal is to divert 95% of all campus waste products from landfills or waste-to-energy facilities, and to instead reuse, recycle or compost them. Because not all products have recyclable or compostable alternatives, a key component of CSUN’s plan involves reducing the overall volume of trash produced on campus.
  2. Where do we currently stand in relation to our goal?
    Currently, CSUN diverts about 55% of the material leaving campus from the landfill. This means that if 100 pounds of waste leave campus, 55 pounds of it are either recycled, composted, donated or otherwise reused. The remaining 45 pounds go to a landfill. CSUN has had difficulty increasing its diversion rate beyond 55% for the past three years, and it is expected that diverting food waste and reducing the amount of single-use items on campus will help us move past this hurdle, especially since an estimated 25-35% of CSUN’s waste is compostable food.
    Despite our diversion rate being over 50%, CSUN still sends an average of 4.25 pounds of trash to the landfill, every single minute, 24/7/365. Reducing the overall volume of waste is just as important as diverting a large portion if it from the landfill.
  3. How was CSUN’s zero waste plan developed?
    CSUN’s zero waste plan was created by a working group with representation from all the operational units across the campus. This included Facilities Planning, Associated Students, the University Student union, Student Housing, Physical Plant Management, Environmental Health and Safety, and The University Corporation. The group looked very closely at CSUN’s waste outputs to identify the materials and products comprising the campus waste stream. The group then reviewed zero waste strategies pursued by universities, municipalities and other organizations, and identified best practices which could be adapted to the CSUN campus.
  4. What do “diversion”, “source reduction”, and other terms mean?
    Like any industry, zero waste has its own terminology and jargon. We’ve compiled some common terms below to help you better understand communications dealing with waste.
    • Diversion: Diversion refers to the practice of sending waste materials somewhere other than a landfill or incinerator. Depending on the material, this can be a recycling facility, composting facility, donation center, food bank or other space set up to receive unwanted items and find another use for them.
    • Source reduction: This is the practice of preventing waste from being created. Bringing your own coffee cup is an easy example of source reduction, since it keeps you from needing a single-use cup that will become trash. By not using a disposable cup, you are reducing a source of waste.
    • Landfill: A landfill is a giant pit that holds garbage. It is sealed on the bottom to prevent leachate (trash juices) from leaking into local groundwater, which is usually effective. Some landfills also have equipment to capture the methane (a potent greenhouse gas) that is emitted by waste materials as they rot in the landfill. CSUN’s garbage goes to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill north of Santa Clarita, and the Victorville Landfill more than 100 miles northeast of campus.
    • Recycling: This is the process of breaking products down into raw materials that can then be used as the building blocks for new products. Aluminum does not degrade in quality when recycled, and it can be made into new aluminum products indefinitely. Paper and plastic are reduced in quality when recycled, and are often made into lower quality products such as paper napkins, or plastic fibers for carpeting or polyester clothing.
    • Compost: Composting is the process of recycling food waste and other materials like tree trimmings and leaves. When mixed together in the right ratios, these materials break down into a nutrient-rich soil which food producers can use as fertilizer. When sent to a landfill, compostable materials such as food waste release greenhouse gases as they break down, and their nutrients are lost forever.
    • Waste-to-energy: Waste-to-energy is the process of burning garbage to produce electricity.
    • Repurpose: Repurposing involves finding a new use for a product no longer needed for its intended purpose. This could be turning an old t-shirt into a grocery bag, using a vinyl banner from an event as a tarp, or any number of other actions. Get creative and see what you can repurpose!
    • Waste Stream: A waste stream refers to the flow of any type of waste material generated by a site or activity. CSUN has waste streams for recyclables, compostables, landfill material, hazardous waste, construction debris, landscape trimmings and more. Typically, these materials move through a series of bins to dumpsters, then trucks which haul them off campus to another location.
  5. How will the zero waste initiative impact me?
    Meeting our goal depends on the participation of the entire CSUN community. For some, that will simply mean separating their waste into the correct bin when disposing of it. Others might take the initiative to shift a process or change a habit so that it consumes fewer resources and generates less trash. You’ll likely notice small changes across the campus aimed at reducing waste, such as hand dryers in place of paper towel dispensers, or forms being signed and submitted electronically instead of via hard copy. Zero waste is a very ambitious goal, and we will not reach it without making significant changes to our operations, infrastructure and behavior. We’re asking campus users to embrace these changes, and recognize the potential they have to conserve natural resources and save money.
  6. What can I do to reduce my own waste?
    A significant portion of CSUN’s waste is from packaging, serving and consuming food and drink items. Carrying a reusable beverage cup is a simple way to eliminate your your disposable drink cups from the campus waste stream. You’ll also save 30 cents on each purchase you make on-campus. Even if you don’t purchase a daily coffee (or two), carrying a simple reusable kit will enable you to avoid lots of single-use garbage. A starter kit could include a tote bag with metal silverware, a cloth napkin, reusable container for leftovers, and a cup or water bottle. You can find additional resources at https://www.csun.edu/sustainability/resources or https://www.csun.edu/zero-waste.
  7. What goes in each of the three different waste bins?
    CSUN’s new waste bins feature separate containers for landfill, recyclable and food waste materials.The blue recycling bin accepts bottles, cans, clean office paper and cardboard, metal items and rigid plastic items with the triangular arrow symbol. The cleaner these items are, the more likely they are to be recycled. Plastic wrap and bags are not recyclable.
    The green food waste bin is for all food scraps, but they must be separated from food containers, wrappers and other packaging.
    The black landfill bin is for all products that don’t belong in the blue or green bin, such as paper plates and cups, plastic wrap, Styrofoam and more. We know this brief description doesn’t cover everything, so we’ve created a more detailed guide accessible here: https://www.csun.edu/zero-waste/what-goes-each-bin
  8. What are the benefits of going zero waste?
    There are both economic and environmental benefits to achieving zero waste. Sending less material to the landfill means fewer trucks making the 200-mile round trip from CSUN to the Victorville landfill that holds a large portion of the campus’ waste. Recycling more material reduces the need for the raw materials that become paper, plastic, and metal, meaning less logging, mining and petroleum extraction. The recycling industry also provides jobs for thousands of Californians. Turning our food waste into compost keeps valuable nutrients out of landfills, recycling them to create more sustainable food systems.
    Additionally, because the Los Angeles storm drain system flows to the ocean, keeping waste and litter off our streets means that less garbage will flow into the ocean during rain events.On the economic side, CSUN spends around $300,000 annually on waste disposal. Reducing the amount of material needing to be hauled away from the campus will reduce the campus’ hauling costs. The campus will also save money it spends each year on paper towels, printer paper, office supplies and other items that end up in our waste stream. Many of these purchases that could be avoided by reusing supplies, transitioning to electronic processes and providing other alternatives to traditional resource-intensive practices.
    Additionally, adopting and pursuing a zero waste plan has further positioned CSUN as a leader in higher education sustainability. This initiative will increase the campus’ overall awareness of the global challenge of waste, and accelerate CSUN’s contribution to a waste-smart society. CSUN’s faculty, staff and students will all come away with a greater understanding of the issues surrounding waste generation and disposal, and will be able to share this knowledge and extend CSUN’s impact well beyond the physical borders of campus.
  9. Where does CSUN’s waste currently go?
    The material from CSUN’s trash and recycling (black and blue) waste streams are transported to a sorting facility in Sun Valley. There, a series of conveyor belts, machines and workers sort out materials that can be sold to recycling companies. The remaining garbage is trucked to a landfill either in Chiquita Canyon or Victorville, where it is buried forever. Compostable material from the Food Waste/Compost (green) waste stream is sent to a composting facility in Victorville, where it is mixed with other natural materials and broken down into a nutrient-rich soil which is sold to growers as fertilizer.

If you’ve made it this far, then congratulations! You are now much more informed about CSUN’s zero waste goal and some of the initiatives being deployed to pursue it. We thank you for your interest and engagement, and hope that you feel inspired to get involved and help CSUN acheive zero waste!

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