Confetti = Litter

The past few weeks, Giesel has been surrounded by graduating seniors trying to snap an iconic portrait – we’ve all seen them. They’re a great way to commemorate the accomplishment of graduating college! But, many people have also noticed the leftover glitter dotting the grasses on the 3rd floor of Giesel and around campus.

Although confetti-throwing pictures may be entirely instagram worthy (and show how you feel now that graduation is FINALLY here), confetti comes with a dark side. Confetti litter can have detrimental impacts on our local environment because it runs into our waterways and can also confuse wildlife that might think the colorful pieces are food.

Here are some confetti alternatives to use this graduation season:

  1. Flower petals: Flower or rose petal confetti is a great alternative to paper or plastic confetti that will make for some absolutely gorgeous grad photos while also keeping our campus clean.
  2. Plant or bird seeds: Seeds are an eco-friendly option that can either lead to more flowers being planted or provide a snack for local birds.
  3. Vanishing confetti: You can take the DIY route by creating this vanishing confetti that disappears when it gets wet.

When you’re taking grad photos this year, remember that confetti is litter and although it might make for one or two fun pictures, it’s negative effects remain in our local environment for much longer than the couples of minutes it takes to make a photograph.

UC president recognizes students for outstanding leadership!

UC San Diego student, Enid Partika (pictured left), was recently honored with the annual President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership. Partika, a fourth-year environmental chemistry major, has been building an anaerobic digester, which works to turn food waste into fertilizer and biogas, on campus in partnership with Roger’s Community Garden. Over the course of the academic year, her team collected more than 41,000 pounds of food waste, succeeding in sequestering the equivalent of 6,637 pounds of carbon dioxide!

Read more about the award here:

Read more about her work with the anaerobic digester and her recent recognition for the Lemelson-MIT Prize for novel technology here:

UC San Diego averts 1.4 Million Pounds of Greenhouse Gas Emissions during the Cool Campus Challenge

By Sara McKinstry, Campus Sustainability Manager

UC San Diego announced its top point-earning individual, team and residential college for the April 2019 Cool Campus Challenge at its annual sustainability awards ceremony held May 9 at The Loft. 

The University of California’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative and the Center for Sustainable Energy sponsored the Cool Campus Challenge. During the four-week online competition, students, faculty and staff from every UC campus and the Office of the President logged actions that they were taking to reduce their carbon footprint, including things like washing laundry in cold water, going meatless at mealtime, shutting fume hood sashes when not in use, biking, walking and taking transit. 

Left to right: Allyson Long (representing team winner Scripps Institution of Oceanography), individual winner Sarah Ji ’19, and Vanessa Le (representing college winner Eleanor Roosevelt College). Photo by Rhett Miller, UC San Diego.

More than 22,000 students, faculty and staff from all UC campuses and locations participated in the challenge. UC Berkeley won the competition based on total points, followed closely by UCLA and UC Irvine, the first winner in 2015. UC Merced had the highest overall participation rate. At UC San Diego, more than 1,250 students, staff and faculty, including the Preuss School, joined in the fun, preventing nearly 1.4 million pounds of greenhouse gases emissions, the equivalent of removing 135 passenger vehicles from roadways for one year. Tritons came in seventh place overall.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Eleanor Roosevelt College team leaders found that uniting their peers in a fun spirit of competition helped reinforce their existing sustainable behaviors. “I think when SIO peers started seeing how even small actions made an impact on the challenge, it became an easy and all-encompassing spirited competition,” said Allyson Long, SIO Safety and Sustainability Coordinator. “Really, most people were doing these things already, so it was a matter of getting into the team spirit and collaborating as a group, which ultimately proved victorious.” Vanessa Le, ERC Student Council Sustainability Advocate and ERC Cool Campus Challenge team lead organizer, expressed a similar sentiment. “Our victory in the Cool Campus Challenge sets ERC on the right path to UC San Diego’s zero waste and carbon neutral goals. We could not have done it without the collaboration of ERC council members, residents and students.” 

The larger impact of the Cool Campus Challenge is what excited Long, Le and Ji most about being involved. “I think working towards UC-wide, statewide and nationwide change is the most important thing to do, and showing that individuals truly care about and support sustainable practices is the first step to tackling the main contributors to climate change, like corporations and big institutions like the UC system,” Ji said. 

“The challenge for all of us now is to keep taking action even though the competition has ended,” said Michelle Perez, UC San Diego’s Interim Director of Sustainability and Carbon Neutrality. “The climate we depend on is now depending on us. So let’s keep up the great actions we saw Tritons taking during the Cool Campus Challenge.”

UC San Diego Ranks Among America’s Top Colleges for Renewable Energy!

Environment America, a partner organization to CALPIRG here at UC San Diego, recently released a report detailing how college campuses rank in clean energy. UC San Diego ranked among America’s Top Colleges for Renewable Energy!

While some campuses are well on the way to 100 percent renewable energy, others are leading the renewable energy transition by purchasing their electricity from off-campus renewable energy projects — an important option for campuses without the space or resources to make on-campus renewable energy viable. Below are the rankings released by Environment America, listing UC San Diego at #4.

Top Five Schools for Renewable Electricity Purchased from Off-Campus Sources per Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Student

RankSchoolElectricity per FTE Student (MMBtu)
1George Washington
2American University7.5
3Luther College5.1
4University of California,
San Diego
5Skidmore College3.4

The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., leads surveyed campuses nationwide for purchasing renewable electricity from off-campus projects. In conjunction with American University and the George Washington University Hospital, the university purchases electricity from large, off-campus solar arrays to cover 53 percent of its electricity consumption.

For UC San Diego, these are some exciting statistics as the UCs continue to strive to be more sustainable campuses.

UC San Diego’s 4th Annual Wellness Fair!

On Wednesday, March 27th 2019, UC San Diego Housing • Dining • Hospitality in partnership with UC San Diego Center for Integrative Medicine, Human Resources, Recreation, Global Health, School of Medicine, and UC San Diego Health held their 4th annual Wellness Fair in Revelle Plaza. The event was free for all UC San Diego staff, faculty, and students to attend and focused on exploring the healing power of food and other dimensions of wellness. This zero-waste event included a variety of workshops, fitness classes, health screenings, and education sessions from campus and community organizations as well as lots of vendor giveaways! Attendees were also invited to enjoy a complimentary meal from UC San Diego Catering, who were introducing items from their new anti-inflammatory menu.

Many sustainability organizations across campus took part in the zero waste planning team for this event. Participants, Catering, Vendor Fair, and Giveaways achieved a 99%+ waste diversion rate. However, the vendor from which the farmers market produce was ordered had wax-lined cardboard for the Swiss chard (see picture below). Each one of the wax-lined boxes weighed 4-5 lbs, totaling 41.45 lbs. All the 9 other produce items were boxed in recyclable cardboard boxes. HDH plans to work with procurement and dining to help educate the produce vendor to ensure that sustainable cartons are used in the future for this item.

Overall, 219.25 lbs of waste was diverted from the landfill, totaling to 81.1% of all waste produced by this event.

Waste Diversion Stats

Recycling: 74.15 lbs

Compost: 92.65 lbs

Terracycle: 11 lbs

Participant Trash: 2 oz (2 coffee cups, and 5 small cups) 

Vendor Trash: 41.45lbs (9 wax lined cardboard boxes from the Farmers Market Swiss Chard)

Total Waste: 219.25

Waste Diversion Percentage: 81.1% 

However, the University of California Office of the President standards of a zero waste includes 90% waste diversion, which was missed by just under 10%.

WellFest had a total of 440 lbs. of waste, with about the same number of participants, a 50% waste reduction overall!  This was done through concentrated efforts to reduce food waste by lessening the Catering order and making signage such as A-Frames signs reusable as oppose to recyclable or compostable. These are valuable lessons to be learned as UC San Diego continues to iterate large scale zero waste events.

UC San Diego’s LEED v4 EBOM Master Site, a 4 year endeavor

By Leanne Kao

After multiple years of correspondence between different departments on campus and of multiple students’ efforts, and under the invaluable guidance of Sharmila Krishnamurty, a LEED consultant with Ackerstein Sustainability, UC San Diego’s LEED v4 EBOM Master Site was submitted on Jan 28, 2019.

You may be wondering, “what does ‘LEED v4 EBOM Master Site’ even mean”?

Taking the phrase piece by piece, “LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” is “the most widely used green building rating system in the world”, as proclaimed by its parent organization, USGBC (US Green Building Council). It’s an assessment used to determine and certify how sustainable a building is, from “Certified” to “Platinum”, based on the building phase, whether still in design or already in operation. The assessment assigns buildings points through different credits under 8 different categories, such as “Water Efficiency”, “Energy and Atmosphere”, and “Materials and Resources”. “v4” is the latest version of the LEED assessment system, most up to date with current regulations established under Title 24, ASHRAE, and other entities integrated into California’s own statewide building standards. “EBOM (Existing Building Operations + Maintenance)” refers to the specific LEED rating assessment type that was used for the campus. And finally, the “Master Site” is a collection of LEED v4 EBOM assessment credits which were deemed as relevant to all of UC San Diego’s main campus and SIO based on current policies and operations. As such, any building project done in that scope of territory automatically has those credit points towards LEED v4 O+M certification. The credits enveloped in the Master Site include:

  • Site Management: we have site management practices that preserve ecological integrity and encourage environmentally conscious practices.
  • Site Management Policy: we ensure our site management practices in our surrounding ecological integrity via official, documented rules
  • Integrated Pest Management Policy: we minimize pest problems and exposure to pesticide whenever possible
  • Green Cleaning Policy: we use cleaning products with lower levels of contaminants that compromise air quality and human health than found in conventional products
  • Environmental Tobacco Smoke: we’re a smoke free campus

Your follow-up question might be, “why does this matter?”

The UC Office of the President requires all new buildings and major renovations built on UC campus property to attain a LEED rating of at least “Silver”: that’s how seriously LEED is taken as an indicator for efficiency in building design and performance. In fact, some LEED credits which the team found UC San Diego didn’t meet became topics of conversation on whether the related parts of those policies and operations should be changed, in the effort to be more sustainable. Soon enough, with strengthening efforts to meet zero-waste conditions and carbon neutrality, the LEED rating requirement might bump up to “Gold”. This makes sense since, according to the IEA (International Energy Agency), CO2 emissions from building construction and operations account for almost 40% of all CO2 emissions in the world; it’s undeniable that the building industry plays a significant hand in how global warming develops through the future.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this Master Site project’s conclusion is that review from USGBC’s side came back without questions! I guess you could say the 4 years of work were worth it.

Many thanks to Sharmila for her important guidance in combing through the necessary details for this Master Site, and to the original student team which spearheaded this effort, USGBC Students at UC San Diego.

If you’re a student who’s interested in learning more about green buildings and joining related on-campus projects, email

The End of Recycling as We Know It

Where does recycling go once it leaves your hand?  Since 2001, China has been one of the largest purchasers of American recyclables.  Last year, China stopped buying through Operation National Sword.  How did this impact recycling as we know it?

Learn more about what this means for you and global recycling in National Sword, a new episode from 99% Invisible, a podcast about how design shapes our world.

Free Food Notifications Now Available on the UCSD App!

UPDATE: Departments can now register to send notifications to students when they have leftover food from events here!

Recently, it has become an option to get a notification on your phone every time there is an excess of food from an event on campus! From a sustainability standpoint, this promotes reducing food waste and on top of that, this helps food insecure students across campus! John Weng, the Assistant Director of Associated Students here at UC San Diego and a major part of getting this program up and running was happy to answer some questions we had about the program.

How did you first identify food insecurity as a problem on campus and how did this idea come about as a solution?

“I’ve had the privilege of serving on the Basic Needs Committee as a part of my work with the Associated Students advising the managers of the Triton Food Pantry. Through this work, I learned of a text messaging service at UCSF, where students could subscribe to and receive free food notifications; it was wildly popular. Not only did the service help divert food waste from landfill, it also helped provide meals to students who may need it. 

The timing of campus projects was impeccable. At the time, ITS was also engaging AS on what features students were hoping to see. When I shared the ideas with the AS leadership in 2017 and the Pantry Managers, everyone was excited about the opportunity to integrate food notifications into the UC San Diego app.”

What is the current availability of this program? Is it offered across all colleges?

“The UC San Diego app is available as a download to everyone on the App Store and the Google Play store. Students can get the direct link at: Any registered undergraduate, graduate, or professional studies student can receive notifications.”

How long has this feature been available? Can you speak to its successes so far?

“The notification feature rolled out in Fall of 2018 with campus departments slowly gaining access to the application. So far a handful of notifications have been sent out, each time with a few dozen students showing up.”

How to get notifications:

The steps to turn on this notification are pictured below, simply log in, go to your settings, tap notifications, and turn the free food notification on! By logging in to the app, you can also get helpful notifications relating to parking and easy access to class schedules.

UC San Diego wins Smart Energy Decision Innovation Award

In recognition of its outstanding achievement in supporting the energy transformation currently taking place throughout the country, it was recently announced that UC San Diego was a 2019 recipient of a prestigious “Smart Energy Decisions Customer Project Innovation Award.”  This is just one more in a long list of accolades the campus has received for having one of the largest, most innovative university charging infrastructures in the country.  Read more here!

HDH Eco-Container Pilot Program

UC San Diego Housing•Dining•Hospitality (HDH) is currently piloting a reusable to-go container program available at two on-campus dining locations, Roots and Pines in Muir College. When visiting either of these locations, you can swipe your ID to check out a container and fill it up at a self-serve station or pass a closed container to an employee at any food station.  When finished with it, simply rinse the container out, and then return the container to any residential dining facility. The UCSD Sustainability Resource Center reached out to HDH to find out more about this initiative and how it’s going so far.  Dave DeCaro, the Director of Marketing & Communications at HDH, got back to us with some great answers, providing more insight about the future of this program:  

How was this project started? Where did the initial interest in starting a program like this come from?

“It has been the goal of Dining Services for some time to reduce single use packaging in our operations. With the UC Zero Waste initiative, now more than ever this is a focus for us. Our student advisory committee identified reusable to-go containers as a point of emphasis for us last academic year, and we set about building a program to bring this to campus. Our current program was inspired by the success of a similar program at UC Irvine, and through reaching out to our contacts in University and College Food Services around the country, we were able to come up with what we feel is the best plan for a program like this to be successful at UC San Diego. The use of reusable to-go containers is something that we have tried to integrate into our practices a few times in the past 5 years, but our previous pilots at Café Ventanas and Oceanview lacked interested from the community at that time. With the current climate surrounding sustainability, now more than ever we are seeing an interest from our community and core customers in reducing their use of single use plastic items, and we’re confident and excited that this program will make an impact.”

What are the current goals of HDH with this project? Do you hope to expand across all the dining halls on campus?

“Our initial goals with this project are to determine how to best implement this program in a manner that will make it as customer friendly as possible, and that will encourage our customers – student, staff and faculty – to become active partners in our efforts to reduce single use packaging in our environment. Over the course of Winter and Spring Quarter we will track our success based on customer participation, container re-use, and reduction of single use packaging used at Pines and Roots. Our long term goal is to make this a program that is successful with our guests and operationally sustainable so that it can be expanded to include Residential Dining Facilities in all six colleges.”

This program has now been launched for a few days. Can you speak to its initial success? Are these reusable containers something that students seem interested in?  

“We’ve been pleased with the success of this program after its first week – we’ve seen increased participation each day of the program, and we’re now up to 36 active participants in the program. Compared to our previous pilots, this is already the most successful program we’ve instituted. We’re still working to get the message out to our residents through tabling, advertising in residential spaces and social media. UC San Diego is a diverse community with a number of different prospective – It’s clear to us that while l interest may be varied across the student body as a whole, there is a large community of students here at UC San Diego that are interested in the program and are passionate about making environmentally conscious decisions in how they dine with us. We’ve been pleased with the initial interest in the program and are looking forward to helping it to grow.”

Sign up for the HDH Community Plan to receive a 20% discount at all HDH restaurants and markets.

Did you know Roots is the University’s first exclusively vegan eatery and lounge? Click here to learn more about sustainable dining in HDH.