Skip to main content

Zero Waste

UC Commitment

Achieve zero waste (defined as 90 percent diversion from landfill) at all locations other than UC Health locations, which will have separate waste reduction goals.


  • In April 2022, Recreation hosted its first Rec Thrift Pop-up, providing over 500 students with new and gently used athletic apparel. Watch the video.
  • Payment Plus utilizes a Visa Commercial Card to offer payees a payment solution designed to accelerate payment receipt and electronic communications. Payment Plus replaces UC San Diego’s outdated check and Direct Deposit ACH processes and delivers new benefits, including reduced processing costs and paper waste associated with check payments.
  • Stuart Sandin, Director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Dr. Ayelet Gneezy, Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Marketing at the Rady School of Management launched the inaugural Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Pollution Challenge, a six-month accelerator program focused on identifying effective, evidence-based approaches that will curb the flow of plastic into the ocean, with a specific focus on marine conservation and marine cultural preservation areas along California’s coast.
  • The University Center Operations team powder coated 30 sets of tables with four chairs from the Price Center West Plaza outdoor dining area before Fall Quarter 2021. The initiative diverted these items fromthe landfill and saved f $24,900.
  • The campus improved its waste diversion rate to 51%, which was an 8% improvement from Fiscal Year 2020.
  • The Housing*Dining*Hospitality digester at Sixth College aims to reduce food waste by over nine tons annually.
  • Geisel Library redirected unneeded furniture from the landfill to non-profits and in-need community centers in San Diego County and Tijuana, Mexico.
  • Birch Aquarium is working to reduce 20.6 metric tons of CO2e (Scope 1 emissions) by eliminating food waste, ranging from spoiled food, leftovers and animal wastes. Initial projections show that the aquarium could save more than a ton of food waste each year.
  • In accordance with the Sustainable Practices Policy, University of California campuses are to phase out and eliminate plastics. Plastics contribute to over a third of UC San Diego’s waste stream.
    • As part of the first phase of the policy, UC San Diego is working to eliminate plastic bags in retail and foodservice. Three years ago, the Sunshine Market, Bookstore and Audrey’s Café proactively eliminated plastic bags, switched to paper bags and plans to move to reusable bags.
    • In summer 2021, all single-use plastic cutlery will be eliminated.
    • In 2023, all UC campuses will no longer have single-use beverage bottles.

Ongoing Efforts

We are:

  • Reducing municipal solid waste generation to:
    • 25% per capita from 2015/2016 levels by 2025
    • 50% per capita from 2015/2016 levels by 2030
  • Striving to divert at least 90% of materials from landfill or incineration through recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion, etc.
  • Phasing out the sale, procurement and distribution of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS):
    • Ensuring that no EPS food serveware is used on campus (e.g., cups, clam shells, plates, etc.)
    • Working with suppliers to phase out EPS packaging for non-temperature sensitive products (e.g., office supplies, electronics, furniture, etc.)
    • Reducing, reusing and finding EPS alternatives for lab and medical packaging
  • Estimating greenhouse gas emissions from waste management practices

The UC San Diego Health System follows the Practice Green Health metrics and is aiming for 20 lbs. of total solid waste per Adjusted Patient Day (APD) by 2025.

Organics Recycling

UC San Diego is working with our recycling and waste hauler to implement an organics recycling program. EDCO’s new state-of-the art anaerobic digestion facility is expected to help us divert more than 1,000 tons of campus materials from landfills annually. Collected organic material will include leftover food scraps, paper towels and napkins, and eventually animal bedding from research laboratories. See EDCO flyer

Until we implement organics recycling campus wide, you can find a campus garden that accepts food scraps. We use our composted waste to fertilize plants and grow healthier produce in our gardens.

Paper Towel Composting Pilot Program

Facilities Management implemented paper towel composting at the School of Medicine and Warren College to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill. After collection, our campus waste hauler, EDCO, will compost the paper towels at their anaerobic digestion facility. Composting paper towels will increase the campus waste diversion rate by approximately 2.5% and prevent the release of an estimated 390 tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) into the atmosphere each year.

Look for these signs and place your used paper towels in green bins labeled “Compost” located in restrooms next to trash bins. Dispose of other items in bins labeled "Trash." Watch the video

We plan to expand paper towel composting campuswide based on the success of this pilot program. Your participation matters!

compost and trash signs

Reducing Food Waste and Recycling Organics

Diverting food waste is an important step in achieving zero waste on our campus. See how you can reduce food waste and effectively recycle organics.

Zero Waste Plan

A cross-university working group created a Zero Waste Plan in September 2019. The plan includes more than 20 reduction, reuse and diversion recommendations to move the university towards zero waste. Currently, the plan is being updated to include recent waste audits and studies, new regulations and policies, and analyses of new best practices and technologies.