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Changing the Consumption Culture

Students and Administrator Band Together to Stem Campus Waste

by D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
posted November 18, 1998

Aiming to stop campus waste before it even starts, a Berkeley administrator is teaming with a student environmentalist group to reduce what the university buys, throws out and recycles.

While recycling is better than throwing something away, it is no longer enough, according to S.O.U.R.C.E. (Students Organizing for Using Resources Conscientiously and Efficiently) and Lisa Bauer, campus recycling coordinator. They say the campus can cut waste through re-use and source reduction.

"People focus on recycling because it is tangible, something they can touch," said Bauer. "Re-use and source reduction can't be measured in the same way so its message gets lost."

Campus departments can reduce the need to recycle by refraining from purchasing unnecessary new items, said Bauer.

For example, instead of buying new file folders, turn older ones inside out and use them again. Instead of recycling paper with text on one side, the blank back side can be used for other purposes.

"I've seen working staplers, un-used file folders and brand new rolodexes in the trash," said Bauer, who searches dumpsters to analyze campus consumption habits. "Quite often, when employees leave the university, their office supplies are thrown out and brand new ones are ordered when the next person comes in."

Bauer and the students at S.O.U.R.C.E. are developing a materials exchange program to facilitate re-use of products on campus. Departments can bring used products to the exchange facility where another person who needs those items can obtain them for free, thereby extending the life of the product and decreasing the amount of waste.

Campus restaurants and dining facilities are also being targeted by Bauer and S.O.U.R.C.E. for their use of paper and plastic dishware. This, coupled with the over-packaging of take-out food, creates large amounts of non-recyclable waste.

While the materials exchange and restaurant waste reduction programs are still in the planning phase, several other joint projects between S.O.U.R.C.E. and campus recycling have already been established.

One such project is the notebook and reader drive that takes place at the end of each semester. Students can drop off old readers and notebooks in bins located throughout the residence halls. At the beginning of the next semester, S.O.U.R.C.E. members go to Sproul Plaza and give the previously-owned readers and cleaned-up notebooks to whomever wants them.

"This helps students save money and cuts down on the amount of trash and recycling generated at the end of each semester," said Rachel Balsley, a member of S.O.U.R.C.E. "Ideally, professors wouldn't assign so many readers in the first place."

In addition to on-campus efforts, S.O.U.R.C.E. is participating in the annual "Buy Nothing Day," the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. "Buy Nothing Day," is an international environmental movement seeking to reduce mass consumption and preserve natural resources.

For information on S.O.U.R.C.E. and campus recycling programs, call 643-4612 or visit the S.O.U.R.C.E. website at


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