Then Nunez and Frank rev up the engine and start all over again, making their rounds among the 600 or so white-paper recycling containers planted from one end of campus to the other. By 3:30 p.m., the back of their truck will again be piled high. The job’s a tough one — in a single day the pair will cover several miles on foot and put in hours of heavy lifting — but “it’s really important,” Nunez asserted. “We’re running out of forests.”
With a daily population of more than 60,000 people, the campus produces about as much solid waste as a small city.
“That’s waste from more than 60,000 people working, studying, eating, drinking, dropping and spilling on campus daily,” said E.J. Kirby, manager of campus maintenance, who directly oversees UCLA’s recycling program.
Over the course of a year, UCLA sends some 306 tons of discarded white paper to recycling. But white-paper recycling constitutes only a fraction of UCLA’s campaign, begun in 1990, to recycle campus waste.
UCLA churns out about 51 tons of solid waste every day, almost 19,000 tons every year. And the campus manages to recycle more than half of what it generates in waste.
Some 304 tons a year of cardboard and corrugated board are recycled. There’s also an annual 6,500 tons of mixed paper that is collected in recycling bins around campus. And in buildings identified as significant sources of paper waste, Facilities Management custodians perform a “negative sort” of waste from trash cans and loading dock bins.
“We’re working very, very hard,” said Jack Powazek, assistant vice chancellor of Facilities Management and Environment, Health and Safety. “This is an effort that requires an infrastructure that is quite extensive.”
Contrary to popular belief, recycling is not a money-making venture. While white paper brings some financial return, most aspects of recycling cost money.
A $30,000 grant from the California State Department of Conservation enabled the campus to start collecting the thousands of plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers discarded here every day. The program started three years ago with 12 three-section recycling “clusters” and has since expanded to 60.
Also adding to campus waste are old office and classroom furnishings, some 170 tons over the course of a year. At a campus waste yard they are disassembled into metal and wood parts for pickup by recyclers. Another 60 tons of pallets and miscellaneous wood are collected from campus loading docks.
A growing portion of campus waste is electronic waste. Computer monitors, which contain lead, must be disassembled. Burnt-out fluorescent tubes, which contain mercury, must be collected and sent to a recycler who takes the tubes apart and removes the mercury.
Also recycled is waste from construction projects: Some 1.5 million pounds of broken-up roadways, brick and concrete are pulverized and reused as roadbase for state highways. Campus landscaping generates 1.7 million pounds of green waste. Most of this, however, stays on campus as ground cover or mulch.
In addition to recycled waste, there’s what Kirby calls “rock-bottom trash” — from food waste to mixed wastes too costly to sort. An annual 12 million pounds of this trash — an additional 32% of UCLA’s waste stream — is shipped to a waste-energy plant in the City of Commerce. It is “an environmentally clean plant that not only does not create pollution,” Powazek pointed out, but produces electrical power. Even the ash byproduct is reused for road-building.
UCLA’s recycling and waste-to-energy efforts add up to 53% of UCLA’s waste stream — 28 tons of waste diverted from landfills every day, 10,280 tons every year.
Says Kirby: “It’s the right thing to do. We’re dealing with our future.”