Berkeleyan: A newspaper for faculty and staff at UC Berkeley
Berkeleyan Home Search Berkeleyan Berkeleyan Archive UCB News UCB Calendar

 Stories for April 22, 1998

Cleaning Up Our Act
Recycling Coordinator Tackles Campus Tonnage

by Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 22, 1998

Lisa Bauer’s job is garbage – Xerox paper, newspaper, post-its, coffee cups; plastic, paper and cardboard packaging, junk mail; styrofoam, plant matter, food – all 25 tons of waste the campus trucks off to the dump each day.

Hired last fall as campus recycling coordinator, the energetic, fast-talking Bauer is here to help reduce campus waste and see that as much of it as possible is recycled rather than consigned to landfill.

Achieving this goal, she says, is “a challenge with a capital C.”

One obstacle, she believes, is the mistaken impression, both off campus and on, that Berkeley must already have its recycling act together.

“That must be really easy,” say colleagues from the recycling world when they learn of her new job. When Bauer tells them that the campus recycles only about 12 percent of its waste, “people can’t believe it.” (The 12 percent is recycled by the ASUC program “File 13,” Grounds and Custodial Services and a variety of individual academic and administrative departments.)

By comparison, UC Irvine recycles 45 percent of its waste, and UC Davis 48, according to Bauer. For the City of Berkeley, the percentage is 42, not counting the university’s tonnage.

“All this percentage stuff wouldn’t matter,” Bauer says, except for AB939, a 1989 state law requiring cities and counties to reduce their waste to 50 percent of their 1990 level by the year 2000.

Behavior Modification

For Bauer, the problem is revealed not by campus tonnage alone, but by the content of our trash receptacles.

An arm’s length away from a half-empty recycling bin, she’ll find a garbage can stuffed with newspapers. In her waste analysis for Boalt Hall (a “fancy term,” she says, “for poking through the garbage”) she found that “40 percent, by volume, was throw-out cups from Caffè Strada,” across Bancroft from the law school.

“Faculty, staff and students aren’t getting it,” she says. “We need massive behavior modification on this campus.”

As in most university settings, Bauer notes, “well over half of our waste is paper.” Our 12-1/2 tons of unrecycled daily paper waste equals 4,000 tons (or 8 million pounds) a year, she calculates – close to 70,000 mature trees.

Paper, meanwhile, is one of the most easily recyclable materials, and white paper especially. (White and computer paper bring the highest price on the recycling market, and recycling them avoids the production of more dioxin, a by-product of the bleaching process.)

In Your Face, at Your Deskside

Altering the habits of 45,000 people working in 13,000 offices is no small feat, especially without the budget needed “to make a splash.... I’m getting inventive,” Bauer says.

Three times this semester, she has collected the trash from just three campus buildings to erect a “wall of garbage” at Sproul Plaza. The message? “This is stuff we need to deal with.”

Meanwhile, she has launched a program to recover a variety of papers from offices throughout campus. So as not to compete with the student-operated recycling program, which collects predominantly white and newspaper throughout campus, Bauer’s Color+ pilot program targets a variety of other paper types.

University Hall, Boalt Hall, and Haas School of Business are the first three buildings participating in Color+. Bauer gives departmental presentations and hands out “nice, touchy-feely paper recycling containers” for people to keep near their desks. Custodians empty the containers into special recycling barrels.

“The custodians have been stellar,” Bauer notes. “They’re my eyes and ears out there.” If she learns that a particular office is still discarding “a ton of garbage,” she can go to the department and offer to review the Color+ system.

Once collection barrels are full, Bauer personally loads them onto a flatbed truck.

“In my dreams there would be so much paper to pick up it would wear me out,” she says.

Valley Life Sciences and Life Sciences Addition are slated to join the Color+ program May 1. Bauer hopes to focus on other buildings “one by one” to help their recycling efforts.

“Lisa is as energetic as one can be, and is absolutely committed to making recycling a success on this campus,” says Ken Schmitz, associate director of Physical Plant/Campus Services. “She is faced with an uphill battle since for some reason, the recycling effort is not high on most people’s lists of things to do.”

In addition to raising recycling awareness and launching Color+, Bauer has “contributed greatly to the way in which we handle solid waste,” Schmitz says. Soon after arriving on campus, she renegotiated the rate the campus pays to dump its trash, cutting the bill in half – for “an annual savings of $175,000 to the University,” says Schmitz.

In cooperation with the city, she is planning to collect a variety of recyclables – from clothing and electronics to paper and cardboard – when students move out of their dorms in late May.

Recycling as Epiphany

Bauer’s current career began with an epiphany at the Pt. Reyes Youth Hostel.

“My idea was to get a truck, pick up glass and metal from restaurants, and take it to a redemption center,” she says. “Some kind of business plan!”

The plan was soon circumvented by a job offer from the San Francisco garbage company Golden Gate, where she became a manager instead of an entrepreneur.

“All I had was enthusiasm and devotion to the concept of recycling,” Bauer recalls.

Ten years and three jobs later, at 37, Bauer’s commitment to recycling has not been dimmed by the realpolitik of the business or the requirement, at times, to exchange her Birkenstocks for pumps and pearls.

A passion for mycology helps keep the fire alive. Hunting for morels in the Sierras or chan-terelles in the forests of the North Coast, Bauer sees with the effects of deforestation close up.

“Mushrooms grow in habitats where there are trees,” she says. “I find beautiful chanterelles one year.” When she returns the next, the trees have been logged – to make the paper she sees in garbage cans on campus.

“Paper is the single largest export from San Francisco Bay,” Bauer notes. “We still haven’t figured out that it’s smarter to recycle than to cut down trees.”

For information on the Color+ recycling program, moveout day plans or campus recycling issues, contact Bauer at 643-4612 or

[ Back to top ]

UCB Home
Copyright 1998, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail